MotoGP Silly Season Update - Summer Break Means Feverish Negotiations

The MotoGP bikes have fallen silent for over a week now, the teams and riders dispersed to the four winds, nominally for "vacation". And while riders relaxed on a beach somewhere for a week before returning to their training for the second half of the season, teams and rider managers have been anything but dormant. There has been a hive of activity in preparation for the latter half of the season, and for some of the satellite teams, for 2018 as well.

For the Silly Season That Wasn't Supposed To Be has stepped up a gear. The summer break has so far seen extensive negotiations going on over the MotoGP seats which will be free in 2018, and in some cases, whether a seat will become available or not. Phone calls to team staff start with pleasantries about vacation time, but quickly reveal that vacation consists of at best a day or two taken in between meetings and preparations for the remainder of the year.

The first shoe to drop in the summer edition of MotoGP's 2018 Silly Season is the revelation by Motorsport.com that Jack Miller will be joining Danilo Petrucci at Pramac Ducati for next season. After losing his direct contract with HRC – that contract going to Cal Crutchlow instead – the Australian had been in talks with the Marc VDS squad about a contract directly with the team. However, a failure to agree terms over money, and a better offer from Ducati, pushed Miller towards Pramac.

The deal is yet to be announced, and teams are refusing to confirm anything officially. With Miller commuting between Japan for the Suzuka 8 Hour race and his home in Townsville, the Australian has been hard to reach for comment. But an announcement is expected when MotoGP convenes again at Brno.

The deal that probably won't be

At Pramac, Miller will be replacing Scott Redding. The Englishman has had a tough first part of the year, struggling both with mechanical issues and with a lack of rear grip during races. Redding is currently examining his options, both in MotoGP and potentially in WorldSBK. His first port of call was apparently Aprilia, Redding and his manager having a meeting at the Sachsenring with the Italian factory about replacing the struggling Sam Lowes. The talks were characterized as "a chat, but that was all" by Redding. Any move by Redding to Aprilia would be dependent on a decision by Aprilia on whether to keep Lowes.

Lowes' position now looks slightly stronger. The Englishman and his manager had talks with Aprilia last week, and though no direct news of those talks has emerged, it is believed that Lowes has some support inside the Italian factory. That would jive with the improvement which Lowes has shown over the past few races, going from being three seconds off the pace at the beginning of the season to something closer to a second off.

Canning a rookie after just nine races in MotoGP seems rather harsh. Given Lowes has a two-year contract in MotoGP, and Aprilia are still in the developmental phase of their project with a limited budget, getting rid of Lowes does not make that much sense. Especially given that most of the top talent is already signed up for next year, it may be better to keep the Englishman for 2018, and wait to see who they can attract for 2019.

Of course, what we don't know is how much direct pressure there is on Aprilia Corse boss Romano Albesiano to deliver immediate results. Piaggio boss Roberto Colaninno is a peculiar figure, and may be demanding podiums and wins from Aprilia's MotoGP project. Though the bike is clearly competitive, it is also fundamentally flawed, a design flaw with the pneumatic valve system causing multiple engine failures this season. That should perhaps be addressed first.

Troll level: Grand High Wizard

If there is no room for Redding at Aprilia, what could be his next port of call? The young Englishman has been toying with his followers on Twitter, saying first that the Suzukis "look nice", and the next day that the Yamaha "looks comfortable". He deflected it all with the pretense of looking at replacing his motocross bike, throwing in a mention of KTM. Was he throwing out lines in the hope of attracting attention? Possibly. But whatever he was doing, he was certainly stirring up speculation.

The most obvious port of call for Redding would be the Marc VDS team. Redding came close to winning the 2013 Moto2 championship with the Marc VDS team, and they started a MotoGP squad for the Englishman in 2015. Redding is still managed by Marc VDS team manager Michael Bartholemy, and so expecting a return to the team would not be unreasonable.

The stumbling point for Redding would be going back to riding the Honda RC213V, a bike which Redding never really got on with. But that, to many not be too much of a problem. Suzuki had approached Marc VDS with a view to becoming a satellite squad, but the talks never got very far. The biggest issue is the level of support: with Suzuki not having offered satellite machinery since the 1980s, it is hard to see how the Japanese factory would be willing or able to supply competitive bikes with sufficient support for a two-rider team.

Surprise surprise?

Whether Marc VDS stay with Honda (the likely option) or switch to Suzuki, the question of who partners rookie Franco Morbidelli in 2018 is up in the air. While Redding may be an option, the team may decide to spring for another Moto2 rookie instead. Sources remained tight-lipped as to possible candidates, but there is a chance they could include a Moto2 rider already under contract. That rules out Tom Luthi, who is said to be in contention for the second ride at LCR Honda along with Taka Nakagami. Could it include Nakagami? Could it perhaps even include Pecco Bagnaia? Unlikely, perhaps, but in the fevered atmosphere of current negotiations, it is hard to resist the temptation to speculate.

Outside of Marc VDS, Scott Redding's options are limited. Both Avintia seats are currently up for grabs, as is one of the Aspar seats – Alvaro Bautista looks set to continue with Aspar, rather than switch to Aprilia, who had also offered him Lowes' seat. Hector Barbera has had a dismal year so far, struggling to get any feeling from the front end of the Ducati Desmosedici GP16. His results are in stark contrast to 2016: at the halfway mark this year, Barbera has scored just 21 points, with a best finish of ninth at Barcelona. This time last year, Barbera stood seventh in the championship with 65 points, having racked up seven top ten finishes, including a fifth and a sixth.

Barbera's Avintia teammate, Loris Baz, is doing better, despite being on an older GP15 machine. Baz is fifteenth, two places and ten points ahead of Barbera. Baz' misfortune, however, is that Johann Zarco has entered the class, giving Dorna a powerful bargaining chip for negotiating with French broadcasters.

Could Redding to go Avintia? Tito Rabat is currently being linked with the ride, the former Moto2 champion bringing important sponsorship to any team he joins. Rabat had been an option at Pramac, but that was before Ducati chose Jack Miller to fill that slot. Paddock gossip suggests that the stumbling block with Avintia is currently Rabat's financial demands. But in an interview with Peter McLaren of Crash.net, team manager Augustin Escobar said they have "five or six" riders they are considering, including the current pairing.

The deal that wasn't

There has been much speculation concerning the future of Andrea Iannone at Suzuki. Despite denials, sources with knowledge of the situation say that the situation within the team is poor. Communication between Iannone and the team is below par, and Iannone is not seen as being open to input from the team. The Italian seems only willing to listen to and interact with the sizable entourage he brings with him, rather than knuckling down to the hard work of trying to adapt his riding style to the Suzuki, and work with the team to adapting the Suzuki to him. Reports of a poor work ethic and a preference for partying over training do not endear him to the team.

There had been credible rumors that a major upset was in the works at Suzuki. Iannone's seat was being linked to a rider outside of the current MotoGP line up, but Suzuki were quick to quash any such suggestion. Suzuki already have two riders under contract for 2018, and do not intend to make any changes, is the official line. The driving force behind such a decision is most likely Suzuki management back in Japan. A decision has been made on the riders, and looking to get rid of one of them early would be tantamount to admitting they had made a mistake.

That is not to say that Iannone is tied to Suzuki inextricably for next year. If the Italian wants out, then he should have a clause in his contract allowing him to get out. However, choosing to leave could be costly, potentially forfeiting a multi-million dollar salary for 2018. It looks like Suzuki and Iannone are condemned to one another for next season. Whether that is a successful partnership depends largely on Iannone.


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Total votes: 26
Total votes: 153

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Comments

when you started out with "canning a rookie after just nine races" but fortunately you finished it with the fact that the Aprillia is not sorted :-)

I am still wondering why then they actually took a rookie into the team.  KTM didn't go down that route and from memory once Cagiva realised that Mladin was way way out of his depth they didn't do that again either.  It is fine for Honda, Yamaha and to some extent the current Ducati to take on rookies as they have a general understanding of where their bike sits in terms of overall performance and effort required from the rider, but Aprillia???

Anyway, nice article but I bet you can't keep it up for another 3 weeks, ha ha ha ha :-)

Total votes: 18

I assume you mean that all of those riders joined factory teams as rookies (which they did)?

Total votes: 12

"who is said to be in contention for the second ride at LCR Honda alongside Taka Nakagami."

'alongside' should be 'along with'?

Total votes: 24

Thanks for pointing that out. Rewriting sentences to blame, as usual. I am always grateful to readers for pointing out typos to me!

Total votes: 30

Hi David,

Great read as always.

What about Alex Marquez? I know he has just signed a contract extension with Marc VDS for 2018 in Moto2, but why has he not been promoted to MotoGP? Alex and Franco Morbidelli have a great partnership this year, and previously. 

Total votes: 20

Alex Marquez is generally not regarded as ready for MotoGP yet. He needs to spend another year in Moto2. But his season so far has done his prospects of MotoGP a lot of good.

Total votes: 23

I'd like to see Avintia take on Redding assuming they can get him a GP17 for next season. He seems to get on better with Ducati machinery compared to anything Honda could provide. Suzuki satellite or Aprilia would be too risky I think.

Total votes: 23

I think Miller on the Ducati could be pretty good. I hope Scott gets a good ride in the end though. The biggest shame is that Ianone burned his bridges with Ducati. I think if he and Petrucci were on factory or close to factory machines next year it would make the racing and the championship very exciting all the way down to 10th place.

Total votes: 23

It probably never happen; however, this could add a lot of drama to the silly season. 

Johnny Rea has nothing left to prove in WSBK and assuming he stays healthly, he will have won three title in a row. Additionally, out of 68 races he's been on the podium 60 times.

Could Suzuki throw a bunch of money at him and give him Maniac Joe Iaonnes seat?

Total votes: 31

...but can't see it happening in 2018 as he'll still be contracted to Kawasaki. Lots of MotoGP contracts up for renewal at end of 2018 so 2019 would perhaps be more realistic. Rea would be 32 by that time but if he's got another 2x WBSK Championships in his pocket then no doubt he would be worth a serious punt.

Total votes: 9

The Ducats should suit Miller, as his strengths should align well with bikes. Redding would be making a big mistake going back to the customer Honda I think, as it's a shit bike and has been for years. Especially if his issues have been rear grip!

Total votes: 9

So all this big deal is much ado about nothing redding. He won once in 125 & 3 in moto2, he wasn't really close to 'winning' the championship. Pol had 6 wins on his way to claim the crow, not to mention his tussle w MM previous season.

2 seasons in 125 - Highest of 11th overall

4 seasons in moto2 - Highest of 2nd - (8, 15 & 5th positions respectively)

4 Seasons in motogp - Best of 12th overall

Scott has done nothing in motoGP (yes, 2 podiums) in the dry or in the wet or shown to be competitive during a normal race. He constantly whined about his size or the lack of horse power or something else.

Yeah, he's a brit & the commentators love to see their countrymen succeed.

Motogp is the premier class - deliver or make room. He's not gonna suddenly change & get competitive.

So him being a hype train with no results isn't really a big surprise. Unless of course the FIA throws money to have a red coat in the garage.

Total votes: 18