With the flyaways fast approaching, MotoGP's silly season for 2016 is reaching its climax. All of the factory seats are taken – including the seat at Aprilia vacated by Marco Melandri – and the top satellite rides are filled as well, either officially or unofficially. A few pieces of the puzzle remain, but fitting those together is more or less complex, depending on the team and the rider involved. Here's a look at where we stand so far.
The five factory teams will remain unchanged for 2016. Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi will stay with Movistar Yamaha, Marc Márquez and Dani Pedrosa at Repsol Honda, Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales at Suzuki ECSTAR, and Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl will continue at Gresini Aprilia. Though Bradl is yet to be confirmed, off the record comments from the team make it clear that the German is to stay with Aprilia for 2016, and possibly beyond. Sam Lowes has signed a three-year deal with Aprilia for 2016 onwards, but Lowes will first take his seat in the Gresini squad's Moto2 team in 2016, seizing the chance on the Kalex Moto2 machine to take a shot at the championship.
The Monster Tech 3 Yamaha and LCR Honda teams have also been confirmed for 2016, with Pol Espargaro, Bradley Smith, and Cal Crutchlow all staying put. It looks extremely likely that LCR will be back to a one-man team in 2016, after the misadventure with CWM, whose owner is under investigation on a number of charges, virtually ruling out any chance of further sponsorship for next year. LCR will return to its extremely successful formula of race-by-race sponsorship, which has worked for Lucio Cecchinello since he first started using it in 2006.
LCR's reduction to a one-rider team leaves the place of Jack Miller up in the air. The Australian is in the first year of a three-year deal directly with Honda, so it is up to HRC to find a place to house him. At first, it had seemed certain that he would head to the cash-strapped Aspar squad, but it is looking increasingly likely that Aspar will be abandoning Honda in favor of a cheaper Ducati option.
As a result, Miller is caught between LCR and the Marc VDS squad. Putting Miller in at Marc VDS makes a lot of sense, as the team already has the infrastructure to support a single bike. Miller would be parachuted in as a second rider, complete with crew chief Cristian Gabarrini and the rest of his pit crew. Having Miller would also help solve the ongoing legal dispute between the Australian and the Belgian team, who had originally signed him to race in Moto2 for them.
The issue, as always, is money. The team is said to be willing to pay something towards the cost of Miller, but are unwilling to bear the full cost of having a second rider. Negotiations are still underway, with the issue likely to be settled at Aragon. If Miller cannot be placed with Marc VDS, then HRC would have no option but to bear the full cost of running the Australian in the LCR Honda squad.
Miller is also getting extra support from Honda, in the shape of Dani Pedrosa's former mentor Alberto Puig. HRC are said to be disenchanted by the level of commitment the Australian is showing, and have asked Puig to help focus Miller's mind. Puig will be working on improving the Australian's fitness, as well as providing coaching and guidance at races.
Miller's teammate at Marc VDS looks almost certain to be Tito Rabat. Team manager Michael Bartholémy has made no secret of his desire to have Rabat racing for him in MotoGP, and with the departure of Scott Redding to Pramac Ducati, Rabat is the obvious choice. Some details need still to be settled, but an announcement should come sometime after Aragon, along with the announcement of Rabat's replacement in Moto2. That seems almost certain to be the Italian youngster Franco Morbidelli.
The most interesting question in the Marc VDS MotoGP garage is who is to be Rabat's crew chief. Redding's current crew chief Chris Pike has been offered a job running Honda's World Endurance effort, a job too good to turn down for a role as crew chief in MotoGP. Rabat is currently working with Nicky Hayden's former crew chief Pete Benson, but Benson has shown no inclination whatsoever to return to MotoGP. There are no obvious candidates to take charge of Rabat's side of the garage, but that question will surely be settled soon.
Other rides which seemed already settled turn out to be no such thing. It was widely assumed that Yonny Hernandez would take the second Avintia seat alongside Hector Barbera aboard the Ducati Desmosedici GP14.2s the team will have next year. Now, it seems, Frenchman Loris Baz could be in the frame for that seat. After a modest start, Loris Baz has got up to speed very quickly in the second half of the season, finishing as top Open bike on a number of occasions, finishing in an incredible fourth at Misano in treacherous conditions, and currently leading the Open classification.
At the moment, the future of Aspar is entirely unclear. Up until a few weeks ago, it seemed obvious that the team would continue with Hondas, and hope to attract a rider who could bring in enough money to keep the team going. Eugene Laverty was concerned about his seat, with rumors of Aspar talking to several riders to replace the Irishman, despite the fact that Laverty has a cast iron contract with Aspar for 2016. Plans changed some time between Silverstone and Misano, however, with Aspar now rumored to be looking at Ducati to supply bikes, most likely, Desmosedici GP14.2s. That would suit Laverty, as he is held in very high regard by Gigi Dall'Igna, with whom he retains a very good relationship. With Baz going to Avintia, Yonny Hernandez could move to the Aspar squad to take the second seat.
It had looked like there could be an influx of British riders from Moto2 and Moto3 into MotoGP for 2016, but that now looks like it is on hold. As said, Lowes will stay in Moto2 for another year, but will ride a Kalex in the Gresini squad. And Moto3 championship leader Danny Kent will move to Moto2 with the Leopard Racing squad. Moto2 championship leader Johann Zarco declared some time ago that he was not yet ready for MotoGP, and will stay with his current team to defend the title he looks set to win.
What of Forward Racing? At Misano, team owner Giovanni Cuzari – now released from prison, with at least some of the charges against him dropped – was moderately confident of being back in MotoGP in 2016. It was in the hands of Dorna boss Carmelo Ezpeleta, Cuzari said, and with some of the charges dropped, Cuzari believed Ezpeleta would be more inclined to grant him his two grid slots for 2016. That still leaves him without either bikes or riders, but Cuzari dismissed those concerns as trivial. "I can have Ducatis or Aprilias," he told us.
Below the 2016 rider line up as it stands at the moment:
|Marc Marquez||Honda RC213V||2016|
|Dani Pedrosa||Honda RC213V||2016|
|Valentino Rossi||Yamaha YZR-M1||2016|
|Jorge Lorenzo||Yamaha YZR-M1||2016|
|Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati GP15||2016|
|Andrea Iannone||Ducati GP15||2015|
|Cal Crutchlow||Honda RC213V||2017|
|Marc VDS Racing|
|Tito Rabat||Honda RC213V||???|
|Jack Miller?||Honda RC213V||2017|
|Monster Tech 3 Yamaha|
|Pol Espargaro||Yamaha YZR-M1||2016|
|Bradley Smith||Yamaha YZR-M1||2016|
|Alvaro Bautista||Aprilia RS-GP||2016|
|Stefan Bradl||Aprilia RS-GP||2018|
|Aleix Espargaro||Suzuki GSX-RR||2016|
|Maverick Viñales||Suzuki GSX-RR||2017|
|Scott Redding||Ducati GP15||2015|
|Danilo Petrucci||Ducati GP15||2016|
|Hector Barbera||Ducati GP14.2||2015|
|Loris Baz?||Ducati GP14.2|