The Monster 2016 MotoGP Silly Season Primer, Part 1: Yamaha's Riches, Honda's Dilemma

The 2016 MotoGP season hasn't even got underway yet, and there is already so much to talk about. New bikes, new tires, new electronics: viewed from this point in the season, the championship is both wide open and highly unpredictable. Testing has given us a guide, but it was clear from the three preseason tests that much will change throughout 2016, with the balance of power changing from track to track, and as Michelin bring different tires to different circuits.

All of this will also play in to what is likely to become the biggest talking point of the 2016. At the end of this year, the contracts of all but two of the 21 MotoGP riders are up, with only the friends Jack Miller and Maverick Viñales having deals which extend through 2017. Even Viñales and Miller are not certain to stay where they are, with Viñales having an option to leave, and Miller so far failing to impress HRC. And with KTM coming in to MotoGP in 2017, there could be up to 22 seats available.

That has and will generate a veritable tsunami of speculation and rumor surrounding who will be riding where in 2017. There are so many unknowns that anything is possible, from a total overhaul and general shuffling to just minor tweaking, with most of the protagonists staying where they are. The most likely scenario, of course, lies somewhere in the middle, with a few big names moving around, and plenty of shuffling among the satellite squads.

When the music stops...

Though the horse trading among teams and riders is usually referred to as Silly Season, it makes more sense to view this year's rider market as a giant game of musical chairs. The music has just started playing, and all the riders are up and circling the bikes available for 2017, with all eyes up at the factory end of pit lane. Unlike musical chairs, however, it is not a question of everyone rushing for open seats when the music stops. Instead, the riders slot into garages one by one, as contracts are settled.

Therefore it makes sense not just to look at this year's contract merry-go-round not just from the point of view of the riders, but also from the perspective of the teams and factories. Looking at the strengths and weaknesses of each factory can provide some insight into not just which riders the factory might sign, but what their current riders will be looking for in a new contract.

Yamaha's embarrassment of riches

With arguably both the best bike on the grid and the strongest rider line up, the Movistar Yamaha team will be the axis around which all of Silly Season will revolve. Who they sign and what their riders decide to do for 2017 and beyond will dictate much of the rest of the rider market. A vacancy at Movistar Yamaha would be the most desirable seat available, and Yamaha could take their pick. The question is, will there be a vacancy?

Both Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi could choose to either stay or leave, though their destinations and motivations would be very different. Lorenzo's choice is between staying with Yamaha as his best chance of chasing more MotoGP titles, or taking a chance on Ducati, as well as a very fat paycheck from Ducati's sponsors Philip Morris. For Rossi, the decision will come down to whether he still believes he can win or not.

Jorge Lorenzo has already made the first move in what could turn out to be a protracted game of contract chess with Yamaha. At the team launch in Barcelona in January, Lorenzo told the media he wanted his contract sewn up as soon as possible. He has repeated those comments since then, stating that he would like to have a deal done before the first race of the year in Qatar, so that he can concentrate on the 2016 championship, rather than his future beyond this season.

It is no secret that Ducati are keen to sign Lorenzo to race for them, however. So far, Ducati Corse boss has publicly denied making an offer to Lorenzo, though it is far too early in Silly Season for factories to be admitting to having made concrete approaches to riders. Ducati are confident they have built a motorcycle capable of winning a MotoGP race, but they face four of the best riders in history. Winning a race would be a good deal easier if they, too, had their own Alien, and persuading Philip Morris to throw money at an existing top rider is quicker and easier than bringing on young talent and waiting for it to develop. But not easy: Philip Morris are still wary after spending something in the region of €15 million a year on Valentino Rossi, only to see him struggle on the GP11 and GP12.

Lorenzo – bluff poker, or straight cards?

So Lorenzo's choice is likely be between a massive payday, similar to Rossi's during his Ducati period, and a guarantee of being in contention for the championship for at least the next couple of seasons. Lorenzo is hardly underpaid at Yamaha – the exact figures are unknown, despite wildly inaccurate claims from some websites – so the choice is between two types of ambition: the ambition of matching Valentino Rossi's tally of world championship titles, and attempting to be the best Spanish rider in history, or the ambition of proving himself capable of winning a title on different machines, with the added bonus of winning on a Ducati, something which Rossi conspicuously failed to do.

There are those who argue that Lorenzo's public statements on wanting to have his contract settled before the season has started is a way of putting pressure on Yamaha. Yamaha boss Lin Jarvis has refused to be drawn into a bidding war with Ducati so far, both because Yamaha can't afford it, and because they are in the luxury position of having a rider capable of matching Lorenzo's performance, and a package capable of attracting a replacement rider of similar potential to Lorenzo should he leave. As Steve English pointed out in an upcoming episode of the Paddock Pass Podcast, Maverick Viñales has an eerily similar style to Jorge Lorenzo, and could jump at the chance of a factory Yamaha ride if offered. Then there's Alex Rins coming through, who Yamaha will also be working hard to attract.

Which way will Lorenzo fall? I believe Lorenzo is driven more by hunger for titles than hunger for money, and is more likely to stay with Yamaha. If he does, and goes on to win more championships, then he will become one of the brightest permanent stars in the Yamaha firmament, ensuring him of an income for life from the factory. Lorenzo may earn more money in the long term with Yamaha than if he leaves Yamaha now and heads to Ducati.

Rossi – Yamaha legend

Valentino Rossi's choices are dictated by the same reasoning. Rossi's long-term future is with Yamaha, whether he continues racing with the factory or not. His VR46 Riders Academy has just penned a deal with Yamaha to supply bikes and support, and as he starts mulling over his options once he retires – if it is not at the end of this contract, then it will almost certainly be at the end of the next contract – then strong ties with Yamaha would make it easier for Rossi to transition into some form of management position.

For now, though, Rossi still wants to race, but only if he believes he can be competitive. He has no interest in circulating in mid-pack: he wants to win more races, and win another title. If that is not possible, then he knows he has a bright future ahead of him once he hangs up his leathers, and already has most of the pieces in place ready for the next step in his career.

Yamaha cannot wait for ever, of course, and so Rossi will have to make a decision in the first half of the season. Once again, the general feeling is that Rossi will take the first six races to assess how competitive he can be. And once again, the sixth race of the season is at Mugello. It would be an ideal place at which to announce his retirement. But he won't do that from a podium he earned and with a win or more under his belt.

What do Yamaha want? The constant references in their press releases to a "dream duo" makes it evidently clear where they stand. If Rossi and Lorenzo stay, they win, and could still place Alex Rins with Tech 3 ready for the moment one of them does leave. If Rossi retires or Lorenzo leaves, they can either chase Maverick Viñales or Alex Rins for the factory seat, or take Dani Pedrosa if he gets the boot from Repsol Honda, or perhaps even move one of the Tech 3 riders up. If both Rossi and Lorenzo depart, then they face a tougher situation, but even then, they should have no trouble finding suitable replacements. The departure of both Rossi and Lorenzo would make the Movistar Yamaha team a lot more appealing to Marc Márquez, and could even tempt him way from Honda's clutches, should the Spaniard struggle to tame the 2016 Honda RC213V. The fact that the Yamaha M1 is the best bike on the grid makes it an easy sell to potential recruits.

Márquez – a gilded cage is still a cage

It is clear that Repsol Honda have put all of their cards on Marc Márquez for the future, and so HRC will not be keen to let the Spaniard go. In many ways, Honda are in the toughest position of the big three factories in MotoGP: the RC213V is clearly the most difficult bike on the grid to ride, as the differential in performance between the five men on Hondas during testing clearly shows. Honda need to retain Márquez, not just because he is the most talented rider of his generation, but also because if he leaves, it will cast a shadow over the factory's reputation and make it much harder to find someone to take Márquez' place. Unless other riders – Dani Pedrosa, Cal Crutchlow – can succeed on the bike, and persuade talented youngsters that it is a competitive package, the loss of Márquez would also mean the loss of a competitive replacement for Márquez.

Would Márquez want to leave? Financially, he is well catered for at Honda. Like Rossi and Lorenzo, the only thing he truly cares about is winning, and his decision will be based almost exclusively on whether he believes he can do that on the RC213V. The big step forward his team made with the bike at Phillip Island and in the final hours of the Qatar test may go some way to persuading him to stay, if it translates into the races as well.

Márquez' situation is complicated by the relationship his management team has with HRC. Emilio Alzamora and the Monlau Competicion structure have very close ties with Honda, as support to the Marc VDS Racing satellite team, and as the de facto factory Honda squad in Moto3. Márquez' mechanics and crew chief have all been taken on by Honda, and are deeply embedded in the Japanese company. Disentangling all that could be difficult, but if Alzamora helped Márquez move outside of HRC, Honda might be inclined to do just that. Then there are the sponsors, especially Spanish companies Repsol and Estrella Galicia, who benefit enormously from the popularity of Márquez in his home country. There are many powerful factors conspiring to keep Márquez in Honda. He will need a good reason to leave.

Partnering Márquez

The second seat at Repsol Honda is more interesting, and also more complicated than it looks. Dani Pedrosa is the ideal teammate to Márquez: capable of winning when Márquez doesn't, and aware enough of his situation inside HRC to keep the relationship with his teammate entirely amicable. Márquez is a great admirer of Pedrosa's talent, but he does not feel threatened by the Spanish veteran.

That would be very different for any of the possible replacements for Pedrosa. HRC is known to be keen on both Maverick Viñales and Alex Rins, but Marc Márquez would not look kindly on having either of those two as teammates. Both are young, Spanish, ambitious, and fast, and unlikely to respect Márquez as the leader of the Repsol Honda team. Rins, especially, would be very awkward: the Spaniard is still bitter about the way Emilio Alzamora treated him as a manager, so much so that Rins has been rejecting approaches from other managers to look after his affairs. He is also angry at the way Alex Márquez received preferential treatment in the Estrella Galicia 0,0 Moto3 squad, with Alzamora arranging the team so that Márquez Jr. would take the Moto3 title. There is no love lost between Alex Rins and the Márquez clan, so having Rins in the Repsol Honda garage would be an awkward and uncomfortable affair. The distractions that would cause are reason enough for HRC to seek options elsewhere.

Rise and fall and ...

Originally, Jack Miller was being groomed to take Pedrosa's place at Repsol Honda, but his early promotion has been far from a success. Miller has not produced the results expected, but much more importantly, HRC have been unimpressed by Miller's attitude. Alberto Puig, former manager of Dani Pedrosa, has been brought in to help Miller in that respect, and has made a massive difference. To his credit, Miller is now working much harder on his fitness than he did in the past, and is approaching the business of racing much more seriously. He will need to convert that approach into results, however. Rumors of Honda's displeasure with Miller continue to swirl around him.

Honda could do much worse than to hang on to Dani Pedrosa. Though the Spaniard will be 31 in September, he showed last year that he could still be competitive, once he was fully recovered from the arm pump surgery. Pedrosa knows that time is running out if he wants to win a MotoGP title, but at the end of 2015, this year looked like being his best shot at a championship. Testing has not gone well for him, leaving him in a quandary. Pedrosa has spoken before of retirement, and it seems unlikely that the Spaniard would go to a satellite squad should he lose his seat at Repsol Honda. Ducati may be tempted to give Pedrosa a chance if he has won races this season, and if Yamaha loses both Rossi and Lorenzo, then Pedrosa would be a solid teammate to a young talent.

Pedrosa has even been linked with KTM, as his former crew chief Mike Leitner is running their MotoGP program. Pedrosa would be an ideal rider to lead development of their RC16 MotoGP machine, the Spaniard also having played a key role in getting the Honda RC212V out of the doldrums where its original design had left it in 2007. But the relationship between Leitner and Pedrosa is uncertain: Leitner resigned as crew chief in part because of Pedrosa's insistence that two mechanics be replaced. If there are still trust issues between the two, Leitner may prefer to take a younger rider to lead development.

A lack of alternatives

Who would take Pedrosa's place if the Spanish veteran left the Repsol Honda team? It might actually be easier to look at who HRC would not sign to the factory team. The most unlikely candidates to join Repsol Honda would be the growing army of ex-Honda riders. Stefan Bradl, Alvaro Bautista and Scott Redding would all be seen as a step back by HRC, and Redding, in particular, would not be interested in going. Cal Crutchlow might be a possibility, as the Englishman has at least shown he can be fast on the Honda, but as he is the same age as Pedrosa, it seems vanishingly unlikely HRC would put into the Repsol Honda team. Pol Espargaro would love to get his hands on a Repsol Honda, and lobbied Michael Bartholémy of the Marc VDS Racing team in 2015 for a Honda. But HRC will not look kindly on either the criticism the former Moto2 champion has made of Yamaha, nor on his second season at Tech 3.

Could HRC take a gamble on Michael van der Mark? Senior executives inside HRC are said to have a very poor opinion of World Superbikes, viewing it as a waste of budget which they could be spending on MotoGP and Moto3. However, HRC are said to have a very positive view of Van der Mark, his Suzuka 8 Hour wins in 2013 and 2014 weighing very heavily with Honda top brass. Though a satellite ride with Marc VDS is a much more likely destination for the young Dutchman, taking the place of Jack Miller if he fails to live up to expectations, a seat at Repsol Honda is not entirely unthinkable. Extremely unlikely, perhaps, requiring a lot of other things to happen, but not impossible.

Predictions

So who will fill the Movistar Yamaha and Repsol Honda seats for the 2017 and 2018 seasons? Here are our predictions:

Movistar Yamaha
Jorge Lorenzo
Valentino Rossi

Repsol Honda
Marc Márquez
Maverick Viñales/Dani Pedrosa

Tomorrow, we will continue to take a look at the possible permutations of Silly Season for 2016, starting with the other three man factory teams. Who will take the factory Ducati seats? Can Scott Redding or Danilo Petrucci move up to the factory team? Will Suzuki be able to keep Maverick Viñales, and what do they do if they can't? Who will want to take a chance on Aprilia? And will KTM go for youth or experience?


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Total votes: 117
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Comments

Is Motomatters more important to me than my morning coffee? I'd have to say yes!!!

Love it, the editorial opinion is just fantastic.

Sorry for raving on like a 6 year old with a new bike, but after reading this article, I felt I had no choice.

Total votes: 175

Cheers David, that's a lot to take in. Just a short post to acknowledge your efforts, thankyou.

Total votes: 151

press conference. I have never been in anticipation of a pre race press conference before, but I am now.

Total votes: 146

Why does every news, opinion, editorial, and blog article I read ask, "When will Rossi finally retire?" He has publicly stated he wants to race for as long as he is winning. He has been 2nd place with multiple race wins two years in a row. He nearly won an 8th premier title last year. He makes tons of money for Dorna and Yamaha.

Asking when he'll "finally" retire is getting boring and cliche. Nothing about his attitude, statements, sponsorship deals, or performance indicate he is ready to retire. The opinion he will retire seems entirely based upon his age.

Total votes: 196

Rossi's retirement is the elephant in the room. It is impossible NOT to write about it, as it remains a possibility. I wrote exactly the same as what you state above: he will race for as long as he believes he can be competitive. 2015 showed he can still be competitive. It is unlikely that his performance will drop off so drastically in 2016 that he will suddenly be uncompetitive. Which is why I predicted he will stay on at Yamaha for 2017 and beyond.

However, it is a subject which has to be broached. Rossi is breaking records for the longevity of his career - yet another marker of his exceptionalism - in terms of seasons in the premier class, GP starts, etc. Nobody has lasted as long as Rossi at this level, and so the question is, how long can he continue? It is a question which must be asked, even if the chances of him retiring are still small.

The whole thing will come up again in 2018, when his contract is due to expire at the end of that season. And at the end of every contract he signs, until he does retire. Nobody can race forever. Or at least, nobody can race forever at the very pinnacle of motorcycle racing.

Total votes: 147

It's one of my dream to actually watch rossi compete in a motogp race sitting live at a circuit(I have never been to one). And I didn't have the Means to do it this year... Qatar is the only choice I have financially. So each time rossi's retirement comes up, I just go crazy. Heck guys! I am saving up all I can for 2017 Qatar. Can't imagine rossi quitting before I make it..

Total votes: 128

You should go even if he does retire. MotoGP races are a visceral experience, nothing compares to them, except maybe F1... those are pretty jaw-dropping as well.

Total votes: 128

I think Honda would want to give him a very genuine shot at the SBK title before putting him in MotoGP to be honest. And if I was Michael van Der Mark, i'd be wanting that shot, rather than the very likely situation of struggling for the top 6 in MotoGP for a while. In SBK he's clearly a cut above. In MotoGP? There's a lot to learn and the competition is fierce.

In SBK he is a known quantity, and fast on the current bike. There's a new SBK machine for 2017, and he's likely to be able to give them a championship there if all goes to plan.

I do think he perhaps has a future in MotoGP, just not sure it will be until at least 2018/2019.

But stranger things have happened I guess.

Total votes: 153

What of the Moto3 scandal with Honda Avintia, when he very publicly criticized his team, bike, and left the team before rejoining?
Then switched to KTM the following year and won the world title for them.
Do you think HRC would still consider hiring him despite this (justified or not)?

Total votes: 150

Great article, looking forward to the second part. Honda is definitely a tricky one, as things stand at the moment, it's not as desirable a seat as previous years although the next few races will either confirm or deny that.

Depending on Suzuki's performance this year I'd love to see Maverick stay put and bring that bike to the top step of the podium and challenge for a title. I can't see him going to Honda but stranger things have happened.

My money is on Rins taking Pol's seat at Tech 3 but stepping up on to the Factory bike may be a long time coming for him if Rossi and Lorenzo both sign another 2 year deal. Looking forward to some younger talent moving up regardless of where they go.

Total votes: 129

Fantastic read David thank you! Perfect for morning coffee:)
The embarrassment of riches in Yamaha could turn into a lose all.... though VR and JL try to keep it professional I hear that the mood inside the garage is pretty awful (and I read somewhere that Biaggi might join JL team in a role like the one of Cadalora for VR: I can't even begin to imagine what this might provoke.... ) if VR is indeed competitive (I do have some doubts he will be, though it pains me to admit it) JL might want to move to Ducati. The whole pressure JL is putting on Yam to sign is like a preemptive strike in regards to VR. But I have the impression that in Yamaha they did not like JL behaviour at the end of last season nor they appreciate to be strong-armed in a bidding war like you underlined. They might be seriously thinking of bringing in Vinales maybe with the help of some back channel talks between VR and Brivio.... what I would definitely rule out for the next 3 or 4 years is MM joining Yam: no matter the talent I have the feeling that they would not want him there when the wounds of last year's war are still open.

Total votes: 134

I don't think that Jorge could ride Ducati as good as Yamaha, BUT, on the other side, I am shure that Marc could ride it as good as he is riding the RCV. Or even better. Plus, he could do sometihg that GOAT could not. Win on a red bike. So, how come there is no speculation what so ever, that MM could join Ducati?

Amd concidering Rossi and Lorenzo as "the strongest rider line up" is mostley down to perfectly developed and refined M1. Not taking anything away from them, same guys on a D16 would (most probably) never be so competitive.

Total votes: 160

Yeah Yeah... I run faster than my friend not because I am better than him, it's just that I have got better legs. I definitely wouldn't be able to go faster than him if I had his legs... And by the by, my main rival had a fall and broke a few bones, so that definitely didn't help. Thank God, I got the best legs...

Total votes: 131

Super article David, thank you. It is an even better read, being guilt-free, since I decided I should really subscribe a couple of weeks ago after reading, and enjoying, your articles for a few seasons.

Total votes: 117

I don't have insight to how they think, but why would Jarvis or Nakamoto look at bringing up a rider to the factory level who isn't already on the MotoGP grid? I have the feeling that Yamaha and Honda both are taking long looks at Petrux and Crazy Joe.

Total votes: 123

Van der Mark is definitely fast, and there's a very clear precedent for him that Jonathan Rea hung around too long [with Honda] in WSB to have a shot at MotoGP - so if he's coming he needs a way in in a year or two at the most really, probably with one of the satellite teams. A decent run at it in 2017 with the new bike then coming makes sense.

Total votes: 145

I've never understood how it's allowed that riders can sign contracts for next season with a different team while still under contract with their current team? That's a clear conflict of interest and throws into question the integrity of the entire series. As soon as the rider signs with a different team for the next season he's in a Lame Duck status. Who do his loyalties lie with at that point, his current employer or his future employer? Throw in the fact that during the current season the rider might not be doing as well as he had hoped and naturally he starts thinking about the future and not wanting to injure himself for his future contract.

A prime example of this was Cal at Ducati a few years back. Cal signed with HRC in the midst of his Duc contract. The Duc was so unpredictable and crashed with no warning whatsoever that Cal clearly stopped trying after he signed with HRC for fear of injury and putting his future with Honda in jeopardy. Then to compound the situation, Ducati (justifiably) stopped giving Cal any support. Andrea Iannone got all the factory upgrades and Cal essentially got a demoted bike. How is a situation like that allowed to happen in the first place? Both sides had expressly given up on the other side, and the biggest loser is ultimately all of us fans.

The simple solution is apply a moratorium on signing contracts until the season is over. Other sports do it. In the NBA no would-be free agents are allowed to sign until a set date after the season is over. If a team even just makes a joke about interest in an upcoming free agent from a different team who's still under contract the league will drop 6 figure fines on them. If they actually did seriously talk to an upcoming free agent (not just toking) the league would drop the hammer of god on the team and level 7 figure fines, take away draft picks, suspend coaches and management. The NBA doesn't mess around because they know the integrity of the league is at stake and their must be a fair and level playing field for everybody.

Is the argument that teams need to know who their future riders will be in order to build the bike around them (honest question)? If that's the case, too bad. That's why you have test riders. If MotoGP wants to grow and pick up the casual fan, they need to make steps to show that there isn't any funny business going on and everything you see on the track is on the up-and-up (there's already a lot of squishiness with how rules are applied and that certain riders, depending on their status, get rules applied differently). The integrity of the series is at stake and as a fan I want to know that each rider and each team is giving it their all and everything is fair.....or else what's the point of watching.

On a sidenote, when I initially read the title of this post, I thought Monster Energy sponsored it. Haha. Another great post David. Loved reading it!

Total votes: 154

Motorcycle racing is very different from the traditional team sports. A MotoGP team has at best two, and often just one rider on the roster sheet, as opposed to 20 or 30 for a soccer team, 15 players for an NBA team, or 53 on an NFL team.

What this means in practice is that in team sports, when players leave, there is still plenty of continuity for the team. It means they can be certain they will have players on the team next season (and that's leaving the draft system out of consideration). For a MotoGP team, if one rider, or even worse, both riders leave, then the team faces an uncertain future. Without knowing who will be riding for them, they cannot go out and find sponsorship and a budget for the coming year.

This is also a mechanical sport. The development of a MotoGP machine has a long lead time. The factories start work on the bike for the following season some time around June, based on data collected so far. It allows them to try radical things with test riders, discard what doesn't work and narrow down their choices for the coming season. The contracted riders then get their first crack at the machines for the next year in late August. And the riders signed for the following season get their chance to try the machines in November, after Valencia, the last race of the season. The factories then have 2 months to convert that data into a better bike, and be prepared for the coming season.

As for torn loyalties, riders go out and do their best every race. They are deeply ambitious, and want success now, not just next season. 

The example of Crutchlow, you have exactly backwards. Ducati stopped giving Crutchlow new parts, because they felt he wasn't performing. That informed his decision to jump to HRC. Ironically, his performance improved once he had made the decision to leave Ducati and join LCR Honda.

As far as I can tell, NASCAR also has no set time for contracts. In fact, only the big three (four?) US sports do it. In that, they are unique. In the rest of the world, contracts are either freely negotiable, or allowed mid-season within certain parameters (see soccer's transfer window system). The NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL approach to contracts is more a reflection of just how tight of a grip the commercial bodies running the sports have on every aspect.

Total votes: 140

A contract is nothing but a piece of paper, and there is one thing that can always make the words on a paper useless: money.

Big teams with big sponsors can afford to pay the penalties connected with breaking a contract if they so wish.

Total votes: 115

A racer's true loyalty isn't to his current or future team, it's to himself. You only get to that level by performing. There are half as many riders in all of MotoGP as there are players on just one football team. The skill, dedication, and luck in timing make the odds of ending up their astronomical. A racer who would throw away part of a season because they had signed with a different squad would be risking serious damage to the future of their career. Motorcycle racing is an incredibly small community at the top and a racer has to constantly prove their worth if they hope to continue at that level. MotoGP seems about as fair as any of the other sports mentioned for comparison. Some teams have more money and resources. Those teams have better chances at success, and with success comes bargaining power... regardless of if we are talking MotoGP or the NFL.

Total votes: 108

Barring MGP career ending accidents or at least 2016 attrition resulting in any number of racer's being ruled out of contention for much of the early part of the season, I see it going thus:
Movistar Yamaha stay stet...Lorenzo and Rossi, probably both to sign until 2018 pretty early and probably prior to Jerez.
That off the table, HRC. Marquez will sign early, Pedrosa will most likely accompany him. It makes sense. Nose gunner and tail gunner are equally important and equally capable for them right now.
That leaves the rest in the jungle.
I reckon Vinales will pre-empt the rest of the musical chairs pending results with Suzuki in the first 3 races. Successive top 6's and he will sign a 2 year contract with Suzuki.
I will reserve comment regarding Tech 3, sattelite, Ducati, Aprilia and KTM until the scribe gives his well thought out observations in part two.
Overall, whether part one or part two, necks on the line post early testing surely include Dovi and Miller pertaining to future factory contracts.

Total votes: 128

That Pol was chasing the VDS seat, what probably has stuffed him is implying he needs a superior bike to beat Bradley Smith. I don't think there will be any changes in the only seats capable of winning the title.

Total votes: 123

For Pol the issue has been riding style. His doesn't really gel with the M1 and Yamaha hasn't been hugely keen on him trying it either. So Pol's probably be sat there looking at the Hondas thinking that he could ride them like they need to be ridden.

Total votes: 118

Thats not the way I remember it. Yamaha went through a conscious process of hiring a rider from Moto2 who had a style very different from the mantequilla of Lorenzo.

The philosophy being the riders coming through in the 4 stroke era and the 'backing it in' Moto 2 riders would not ride with a wheels in line - high corner speed 250 2 stroke style.

Espargaro was hired specifically for his completely different riding technique to help Yamaha shape the chassis design for future seasons to allow the new factory guys get up to speed far quicker and was initially encouraged to be as loose and he wanted to be.

Also the reason he was getting chassis aft chassis when Smith wasn't.

Wether the experiment worked or not and wether the sliding style is still a focus for Yamaha is up for debate, but we all know 2015 didn't go the way either party wanted.

Total votes: 121

Yes yes, we know "he wont race". But he sure is getting a lot more time on a bike AND in the media lately. And outclassing both factory riders in the test will most likely tempt Phillip Morris into offering him a VERY big paycheck for racing again.
That + he feels Ducati are finally listening to him and developing the bike properly + Rossi still being around - could definitely get him in the mood to race.
He could prove he is still great, beating Rossi AGAIN on the bike Rossi couldn't get a win on.

So... Stoner on a Duc in 17? I'd say its definitely possible.

Total votes: 136

until the media circus is less of a commitment, and until the bikes electronics are removed/dumbed down way more I very much doubt he'll be back.

very little has changed, and the crap with Rossi vs. Lorenzo and the way Dorna handled it all is an example of exactly the crap I don't think he wants a bar of.

Total votes: 128

i think rossi still racing is the core reason why stoner won't race again.. just my opinion

Total votes: 129

Doesn't Crutchlow have a deal with LCR through 2017 or at least an option?

Total votes: 112

Has he given a reason for only signing a 1yr deal with MVDS?

Total votes: 114

Have his performances been that bad? The bike was woeful and it was his rookie year, and yet he was still faster than Nicky Hayden on quite a few occasions on the same bike. And regularly faster than Abraham and Laverty. His racecraft and consistency need work to be sure, and he needs to show more professionalism, but I thought there were enough promising signs that HRC wouldn't be too disappointed.

Total votes: 115

.... by vinales as a rookie, on a Suzuki.

Whilst I don't think his performance has been terrible, I also don't think it has merited the enthusiasm that HRC showed for him initially.

And I think they are realizing this. They took a punt on him being an alien, he's clearly not.

Total votes: 115

Call me crazy on this one if you want - call me crazier than Crazy Joe that time at Misano in 125s if you'd like.

I think that of the top four seats, the rider *least* likely to move is Dani Pedrosa.

We've had years of people saying "when's Dani going to be replaced by ______?" and it never happens.

My thinking?
Jorge and Marc have both won multiple titles with their current manufacturers and have also ridden with other manufacturers in the lower classes. Whilst Marc is a Repsol guy, you can also see that he's young enough to want to do something else at some point. For either of them really, the potential of winning a title with another manufacturer must appeal - rather than 'more of the same' (I know it's not that simple but you see what I mean) with the manufacturer they've already won with.

Controversy aside, Valentino is still riding as well as ever - but the minute he slips from being a title contender again he'll retire rather than be a midfield runner. Last year was a great chance to get the title again and whilst he will most likely be in contention again this time, if he isn't he has a decision to make sooner rather than later. He certainly is defying his age, but I'd still be amazed if he raced for more than a couple more years at the most.

Dani has been a Honda company man his entire GP career and before, he keeps his head down and gets on with it - and never says the wrong thing which is important (noting David's point about Jack Miller and attitude to HRC). He has been unlucky with injuries in terms of a title campaign (2012) but you can't argue with the consistency of him being on the podium for the last decade and his best career choice is staying put. He looks to be fully recovered from the surgery and is riding brilliantly, so why change?

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As for KTM next year, I think Johann Zarco or Mika Kallio would be a more realistic choice.

Total votes: 132

Interesting interview with Rossi in the Gazzetta dello Sport, which they have translated into English and put up on their international website. He basically confirms what I wrote, that he intends to continue for two more years, but that he will wait to see how competitive he is in the first five or six races before making a definitive decision. He also talks about the Marquez situation, of course.

Rossi interview.

Total votes: 125