Moto2 Silly Season: Who Replaces Rins, Lowes, and Zarco?

The first half of 2016 has seen a long and intense period of speculation, gossip and conjecture over which rider ends up where in MotoGP. Big names have jumped from one factory to another, the entry of KTM has opened up opportunities for established satellite riders, and there has been much talk of the rookies entering MotoGP from Moto2 – Sam Lowes to Aprilia, Alex Rins to Suzuki, and Johann Zarco to Tech 3 (though the latter is still to be announced).

What there has been much less talk of is who is to fill their seats. Traditionally, Silly Season for Moto2 and Moto3 starts much later than for MotoGP, speculation and negotiations commencing in the run up to the flyaways and often only being finalized at Valencia. But with three of the strongest teams in Moto2 having seats to fill, team managers are looking ahead a little earlier than usual.

Filling the void

Who will take the place of Lowes, Rins and Zarco? Answering that question varies from easy to hard, depending on the team involved. Starting with the easiest of the three, finding a replacement for Johann Zarco should be very simple indeed. Aki Ajo has set up his structure to bring young riders through from the Red Bull Rookies and into MotoGP.

That pathway has worked for Johann Zarco, and now it looks like working for another Moto3 rider. With Brad Binder currently stamping his authority on the Moto3 class, he is the prime candidate to take the place of the departing Zarco in Moto2. Though a deal is yet to be signed, Binder will be keen to move up to Moto2 after five seasons in Moto3.

Moto3 to Moto2 – a step too far?

That move is no guarantee of success, however. The 2015 Moto3 champion Danny Kent has amassed just 14 points in the first eight races of 2016, the same number as 2012 Moto3 champion Sandro Cortese. That is still more than the 2014 Moto3 champion Alex Márquez, who languishes in 20th place with 13 points. On the other hand, there is the 2013 Moto3 champion: Maverick Viñales is set to join Valentino Rossi at the Movistar Yamaha team for 2017.

While Binder is set to replace Zarco, who will take the seats of Lowes and Rins is much less certain. At Gresini, the obvious candidate to take over from Lowes would be Enea Bastianini. After three seasons in Moto3, the Italian should be ready to take the next step in his career. The question is, however, whether Bastianini wants another year in Moto3 to try to chase a title. With a deficit of 102 points to Binder, the 2016 Moto3 title is out of reach for the Italian.

A tough act to follow

Alex Rins' seat at Pons Racing is a much more interesting and much more difficult proposition. Pons has had a succession of top Spanish riders in their Moto2 team. Pol Espargaro rode for Pons in 2012 and 2013, taking over from his brother Aleix, and winning the title in 2013. He was replaced by Maverick Viñales, who made a devastating impression from the start. When Viñales left after a single season, Alex Rins took his place, and Rins has been almost as impressive as Viñales.

So Sito Pons needs to find a rider capable of filling such massive boots, and preferably a Spanish rider to keep his sponsors happy. Yet the field of eligible candidates is thin: there is no obvious replacement currently in Moto2, and in Moto3, the only talented Spanish rider available is Jorge Navarro. Whether Navarro is ready to make the move is uncertain. The Estrella Galicia rider has been very impressive in the past couple of seasons of Moto3, but the question is whether he has the maturity to adapt quickly to the requirements of Moto2. Some people close to the team believe Navarro needs another year in Moto3 before making the step.

The Monlau/Marc VDS career path

If Navarro were to decide to move up to Moto2, the obvious destination would be the Marc VDS Estrella Galicia team. This, after all, is the structure set up by Michael Bartholemy and Marc van der Straten, together with Emilio Alzamora and the Monlau Competicion organization. Nurture talent in PreMoto3 and the FIM CEV championship, then bring them into Grand Prix racing and offer them a path (and a stable sponsorship environment) from Moto3 through Moto2 to MotoGP.

Yet the Marc VDS Moto2 seats are very firmly filled. Contrary to initial reports, Alex Márquez is likely to keep his seat for another year, the Spaniard finally showing signs of making headway in the tough intermediate class. Franco Morbidelli, the team's other rider, has performed superbly, and is well on the path to success. The chances of either of those two riders making way for someone else are very slim.

Waiting for the young guns

That also has to do with the dearth of talented riders ready to leave Moto3. Apart from Brad Binder and Romano Fenati (who is to race in the Sky VR46 colors in Moto2 for 2017), the only riders showing signs of making the step are Navarro and Bastianini. Niccolo Antonelli has the age and the experience to move up, but he also has a tendency to crash.

The cream of the Moto3 crop are all in either their first or second seasons. Team managers are as excited as the fans about riders such as Nicolo Bulega, Joan Mir, Fabio Di Giannantonio, and Aron Canet, but those young men are all at the very start of their careers. They will be in Moto3 for at least another season or two before it is time to make the move to Moto2, and eventually MotoGP.

While Silly Season may have started for the Moto2 class, it has yet to build up any head of steam. There is still much to play for for the rest of the season, and much to be gained. Names will only start to be matched to bikes after the summer break.


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Comments

I think that Peco Bagnaia has been overlooked. I think he could take Rins place and make a good job of it. He's currently riding the wheels off the Mahindra!

Brad Binder moving up with Ajo is clearly a good idea and Navarro/Bastianini/Antonelli/Bagnaia are not far off being ready to move up.

Beyond that, if Michael van der Mark and PJ Jacobsen are going to come to GPs I think they probably need to be doing it sooner rather than later.

He's not had much luck so far this season but Lorenzo Baldassarri has got some pace now he's on a Moto2 bike, I'd like to see him back with Gresini taking Sam's place next season. Personally I reckon Xavi Vierge is better than the Tech 3 bike he's riding too.

The CEV Moto2 championship seemingly doesn't have much of a track record of its alumni graduating to the top of world Moto2, but the two very young rookies Iker Lecuona and Augusto Fernandez are already as fast as the guys in there who've come back down from GPs (Odendaal, Granado, Techer etc) so they've got to be worth a watch. Likewise Alejandro Medina, currently doing CEV Superbikes, has a riding style well suited for Moto2, and ditto Max Scheib is young enough and good enough to try something beyond taking on Carmelo Morales in the superbike class (and being Chilean could bring in some new fans). So if someone wanted to take a punt on someone not already in the paddock they might be some ideas (and with Marc Marquez having come in and won the top class at 21, taking a punt is what's required).

You've got to wonder whether Sito Pons will need two new riders as Edgar Pons is struggling too, although I do understand has been ill. 

There are no spanish names racing competitively in WSS just now either - lots of young italians though. The Spanish CEV Moto2 is being led by Steve Odendaal, a south african, with no other spanish front runners of note.

What about taking on one of the spaniards currently on the Tech3 bikes? As admirable as the team and bike are, they're as uncompetitive as they've ever been (3 pts each this season so far). Surely Isaac Vinales would keep sponsors happy in the interim, especially if he started showing his potential?

Try Nico Terol - the 125cc World Champion in 2011. He's just 27, but he's got a corner named after him at Valencia.

He's on a private, yellow coloured bike called an 'MV Agusta' and he finished 3rd in Spain.

I must agree with the comments abotu Bastianini. I was watching him go into the first corner at Assen on his little Moto3, backing it in like it should be a bigger bike. I thought then he should be riding a Moto2 next year. If he's got the balls to go fast enough I think he might go far.

While the topic of David's article is the Moto3 --> Moto2 --> MotoGP path, I wonder why is it that almost no MotoGP rider ever goes back to Moto2 (the only case I can think of is Toni Elías in 2010). I know MotoGP riders see themselves as top league players and probably consider going back to Moto2 as a demotion if not a humiliation.  But wouldn't it be a reasonable move for guys like Barberá or Jonny Hernández, who have an insurmountable ceiling in MotoGP, limited as they are by antiquated machinery and budget-tight teams?  Riders such as those would surely be race winners and title contenders in Moto2. And it's not like they're making a whole lot of money in MotoGP, so I don't think that's what's keeping them in MotoGP.  Don't non-factory, middle of the pack MotoGP riders ever consider going back to Moto2 even as a possible option? Is it just pride? does Dorna actively discourage it? I'm curious.

Aleix went from 250 to MotoGP and then to Moto2, so Elias wasn't the only one... but it's not that common, indeed :)

When Elias won the Moto2 title, everything was still new at the time, especially the bikes (600cc bikes against the formerly 250cc bikes), so they probably needed veteran riders to help them find their way. There were Alex de Angelis, Roberto Rolfo and Gabor Talmacsi (the ones I can remember) who dropped down from MotoGP and WSBK that year. As the structure was forming and the youngsters rose though, the veterans became increasingly unattractive. In the very next year, there was a certain boy who went up to Moto2 by the name of Marc Marquez...

Just commenting on a matter of grammar that always annoys me - that I noticed in this post.  The use of 'latter' in a list of three things.  Traditionally, and I know language evolves, latter should be used to refer to the second of two things.  'Last' should be used for the last item in a list of three or more.

I love your site, and couldn't do what you do, so don't take this as an insult.  I don't expect you to post this comment.

I did not know that. I always assumed that "latter" just meant the last in a list. Thanks for posting. Learn something new every day.

Brad Binder: MotoGP World Champion, 2021. You heard it here first. ;)

Moto2 seems to be missing something. Moto3 has piles of young talent making the most of small displacement in last-five-lap gang fights, week after week. MotoGP is The Big Show, and it's unquestionably improved in the last couple of years. But from a fan's perspective, and possibly even the rider's, Moto2 doesn't seem to offer much. It doesn't have a lot of volatile close racing, the technology is pretty sterile, and in person it sounds like a gang of local hoodlums causing a ruckus on their CBRs and Gixxers. The riders don't seem excited to be there either.

I don't mean to knock it, but in light of its usefulness as a stepping stone being questioned by people who work bikes for a living, and considering that riders don't want to drop back to it, or move up through it, I wonder if Moto2 is due for a re-work. To what end, I can't say, but it's interesting that the series isn't interesting to some pretty key people.

 

The only people happy with Moto2 are Kalex and the teams at the back of the field. Nobody else cares about it and hasn't cared about it for quite a while. A spec racing series as part of the world championship is a disgrace. But apparently the team bosses of the class have a stranglehold.

That's strange, seeing as he was the second Moto2 graduate (after Lowes) to be officially announced as a MotoGP rider in 2017?

This, after the specific non-mention of Bradl in the other speculation thread? Maybe David's just not into German riders?

Whatever, 'who' replaces 'who' in Moto2 for 2017 is indeed open to wild speculation, as per the entire article, so here goes:

Gresini rider, Bastianini, in for Lowes at Gresini;

German rider, Schrotter, in for Folger at Dynavolt Intact; 

Spanish rider, E. Pons - or maybe even the Portugese rider, Oliveira, in for Rins at Pons;

Ajo rider, Binder, in for Zarco at Ajo.

Both A. Marquez and Morbidelli will need to do much better if they are to keep their seats at Marc VDS. They have no excuse.