If anyone still doubted that Jorge Lorenzo has signed for Ducati for 2017 and beyond, then the news that Yamaha Motor Racing boss Lin Jarvis will be at Thursday's pre-event press conference at Jerez should finally convince them. It is not so much that team bosses never appear in pre-event press conferences, but rather that such appearances are vanishingly rare, and often momentous. If Jarvis is not there to discuss Lorenzo's move to Ducati, then something has gone very awry indeed.
We have been here before, of course. When Valentino Rossi finally announced he would be moving to Ducati in 2010, a similar procedure was adopted. So taking account of the lessons from that move, and of Rossi's return to Yamaha, let us gaze into our crystal ball and see what we can expect for the upcoming days.
Blast from the past
Before Jerez, Yamaha and Ducati will send out press releases. That will probably happen on Wednesday, while most of the paddock is traveling. If the press releases are not sent out simultaneously, then Yamaha will first send out a press release announcing Lorenzo is leaving, followed an hour or so later by a press release from Ducati announcing they have signed the reigning world champion. Such announcements are always coordinated, as it makes it much easier to handle for both factories.
On Thursday, Jorge Lorenzo and Lin Jarvis will both appear at the press conference. Lorenzo will speak only in the vaguest terms, uttering platitudes along the line of seeking fresh challenges and new chapters in his career. Any difficult questions will be fielded by Lin Jarvis.
This is good for Yamaha, but bad for journalists, as Jarvis is the consummate politician. The Yamaha boss will deflect any harsh questioning, though it will not stop us trying. Jarvis will heap praise on Lorenzo, thank him for all he has done for Yamaha, and avoid questions about whether the way Yamaha management handled the aftermath of Sepang is directly responsible for Lorenzo's departure.
Later that day – or possibly on Friday – Ducati will also hold a press conference, in which Corse boss Gigi Dall'Igna, and probably Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali will talk about why they signed Lorenzo. Both Yamaha and Ducati management will carefully avoid questions over who is to take the second seat at both factory teams.
What does it mean for the remainder of the season? It seems almost certain that Lorenzo will be allowed to test the Ducati at Valencia, after the final race of the 2016 season. Jarvis is unlikely to confirm that Yamaha will allow Lorenzo to test just yet, however, as they need to have something to ensure Lorenzo toes the Yamaha line for the rest of the season.
Will Yamaha withdraw support for Lorenzo during the 2016 season? That seems unlikely, especially as Lorenzo will be in the running for the championship throughout the year. A title for Lorenzo is a title for Yamaha, and an opportunity to rub Lorenzo's nose in it next season, should the Spaniard struggle on the Ducati. Why pass up a chance to point out what Lorenzo could have had, had he stayed?
Lorenzo's decision will have some consequences for this season, however. Though Lorenzo will get the same upgrades as Valentino Rossi for the rest of the season, he will no longer be testing parts for the 2017 bike. That means he will test at Jerez and Barcelona, but probably not at Brno, nor at any private tests Yamaha hold later this year. Rossi will now more emphatically lead the development direction, however, with Lorenzo's input being listened to, but not acted on as much.
The truth is out there
Jorge Lorenzo's real motives for leaving Yamaha will have to wait until 1st January 2017. His Yamaha contract expires on 31st December of this year, and he is not truly free to speak until then. Although "free to speak" is a relative term: Ducati imposes severe penalties on riders who go off message, and criticize the bike or the organization, with fines in the tens of thousands of euros.
On 1st January, an interview will appear somewhere, on media Lorenzo considers favorable to him. The most likely candidate is Spanish TV, though given the sensitivities involved, it may not be with Movistar. Their role as title sponsor of the factory Yamaha team will be a factor there. One of the two big Spanish magazines will vie for Lorenzo's favor at the end of the 2016 season, hoping to be rewarded with what you might call his Yamaha exit interview.
What might his reasons be? Until we hear Lorenzo's own version in January, we can only speculate. But there are several factors which seem obvious, all of them relating to the fallout from the incident at Sepang. Jorge Lorenzo has always regarded himself as an entirely innocent* victim of the bitter feud between Valentino Rossi and Marc Márquez.
November spawned a monster
With some justification: whatever your view of Rossi's claims about Márquez' actions, Lorenzo had no part in them. Yet Lorenzo was implicated, and treated by fans and the Italian media as if he had some part in a wider Spanish plot. The charge was that he and Márquez had conspired to defraud Rossi of the 2015 title. All Lorenzo had done was be the fastest man on the grid, and win the most races. He had no part of the feud between Rossi and Márquez.
Above all, Yamaha conspicuously failed to defend Lorenzo. The Japanese factory tried to treat the affair as a dispute between Rossi and Márquez, ignoring the fact that Lorenzo's honor was being impugned by implication. Yamaha management did not stand up to Valentino Rossi, and try to tell him to leave Lorenzo out of the battle. They canceled events planned to celebrate what was otherwise an incredibly successful season for the factory. The events of October and November spawned a monster, and Yamaha top brass failed to slay it.
Lorenzo must feel that his championship went unmarked. That must feel totally unacceptable to the Spaniard. Understandably so: the achievements of both Yamaha riders in 2015 were incredible. Rossi, for a brilliant season in which he led nearly all the way to the final race of the year, at an age when most racers are washed up and finished. Lorenzo, for putting in some utterly dominant performances to overcome what looked at times like an insurmountable deficit. If they were not teammates, they both would have been feted beyond imagination by their teams.
Yamaha failed to honor Lorenzo's achievements, for fear of offending his teammate. As difficult a situation as they found themselves in, not to celebrate Lorenzo's title was an act of cowardice. If Lorenzo goes on to beat both his replacement and Rossi on the Ducati, it will prove to be a very expensive act of cowardice indeed.
The next step
Can Lorenzo beat the Yamahas on the Ducati, though? Or will his stint at Ducati turn out as badly as Valentino Rossi's? There are many reasons to believe that this time, things are different. Both the Desmosedici GP and its predecessor, the GP15, are competitive bikes, with multiple riders scoring successes on the bike. In 2010, Casey Stoner may have been winning on the Ducati, but that had far more to do with Casey Stoner than with Ducati. Today's Ducati is clearly capable of winning, a task which will be all the easier when it has one of the best four – arguably, one of the best two – riders in the world on board.
Then there's Gigi Dall'Igna. The Ducati Corse boss has cleaned house in the racing department, turning it around completely, removing the silo mentality which pervaded the place, and replacing it with a spirit of cooperation, and a focus on the bigger picture. In previous years, Ducati used to build a number of components which they assembled to become a motorcycle. Since Dall'Igna took over the helm, they have been designing motorcycles, and building the components needed to make that motorcycle.
Of course, the scenario sketched above could all just be speculation, and I could be horribly wrong. However, all the signs are that this deal is done, and history tells us this is how manufacturers handle major rider movements such as this. It could be that Lin Jarvis is in the press conference to announce that Lorenzo is staying, or to discuss the impact of the spec electronics on MotoGP. But if it is, then I have a hat set aside with a large pot of ketchup, to help make it more palatable on the way down.
* It has been pointed out to me since this article was published that Lorenzo is not completely innocent, as he gave a thumbs down sign on the podium at Sepang, and asked to present evidence at the CAS hearing. While his action on the podium at Sepang is hardly commendable, it is not quite at the same level as the accusations of conspiring to cheat Valentino Rossi out of a championship. Lorenzo said at the team launch at the start of the season that the thumbs down on the podium at Sepang is the one thing he regrets doing last season.
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