Another weekend, another racetrack, but exactly the same story. We all gathered once again to hear what Dani Pedrosa had to say about his future, and once again, Pedrosa had nothing to say. "I know there are a lot of people waiting and wanting to know some information, but unfortunately not yet," Pedrosa told the pre-event press conference. "I can't give any different news from what I already in Barcelona. I expect to, but still things are going slow, so we don't know at this moment exactly. Sooner or later I will have something to say!"
Once bitten, twice shy, the media were a little more prepared this Thursday. Dorna had put Dani Pedrosa into the press conference, a little safer situation than the masses crowded into the HRC hospitality at Barcelona. We were acting on a little more information as well: journalists have been talking to a range of sources since Barcelona, and so there is a much better sense of where we stand on the Petronas-Yamaha story, as I explained on Tuesday. There was some hope Pedrosa might announce something, but a realistic expectation he would not. So the disappointment when the Repsol Honda rider told there was still no news on his future was much more limited at Assen than it had been at Montmeló.
Where do we stand? Sepang International Circuit boss Razlan Razali is at Assen this weekend, but unavailable for reporters, as he is in wall-to-wall meetings finalizing various details. That suggests that the deal is basically done, and he is now going through the laborious business of tying up loose ends. There is a lot of work to be done to get a MotoGP team off the ground from scratch.
The team will consist of Dani Pedrosa and Franco Morbidelli, though Pedrosa has still not put pen to paper on a deal. In theory, Pedrosa could still choose to retire, but he is not talking like a man on the verge of hanging up his helmet. Pedrosa still has the fire, the only question is sorting out how much he is willing to settle for at the Petronas Yamaha team. The bike will be a full factory Yamaha, possibly an update or two behind the Movistar Yamaha team, but still highly competitive.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the equation is that Wilco Zeelenberg could be the team manager. Zeelenberg, currently track analyst for Maverick Viñales, and before that for Jorge Lorenzo, has experience running a team, though the last team he ran was Yamaha's World Supersport effort. My understanding is that Zeelenberg has been approached about running the team, and spoken to Yamaha senior management about the opportunity, but nothing is decided yet.
This, perhaps, is why there has not been an announcement yet. All the pieces are coming together, but they are not yet in their place. It is clear that there will be a Petronas Yamaha team on the grid next year, but the devil, as always is in the details. The length of time needed to resolve those details will dictate the pace of announcements being made. Some announcements could be made as early as Friday, but we probably won't have the full picture – including confirmation of the rider line up – until the German round of MotoGP at the Sachsenring, or perhaps even later.
How do we know that Pedrosa has not yet signed a deal? Because other riders are still hopeful of taking that seat – despite Franco Morbidelli's protestations that he does not know what his future holds, he is a dead cert to be on one bike in the Petronas Yamaha team, so Pedrosa's seat is the only question mark.
Waiting in line
"A certain small dude is holding the rest of us up at the moment," Bradley Smith joked. "Clearly he is the number 1 pick, so once he decides what he wants to do, and if slots into any positions, then the rest of us can follow suit. Just need to be patient a little bit longer until we hear something from him." Smith's management had spoke to the Petronas Yamaha team about the position, but the Englishman was dependent on whether Pedrosa decided to take the ride or hang up his helmet. "I'd like to think that I'm second on the list, so we just have to wait and see what happens then," Smith said, adding, "but what I think and reality is also a different story."
There are precious few empty seats left after the Petronas Yamaha team announces its line up. The factory seats are all filled, as are the Tech3, Pramac, LCR, and Reale Avinita squads. Taka Nakagami and Tito Rabat are still to be confirmed, but it seems vanishingly unlikely they will be ditched for someone else. There will be 22 bikes on the grid next year, with the Petronas Yamaha team taking the Angel Nieto Team grid slots and Marc VDS pulling out of the MotoGP class to focus on Moto2.
That doesn't mean silly season is over, however. With the riders settled, the merry-go-round for crew chiefs starts up, and with so many riders moving around, there are a lot of jobs going begging. There are some moves confirmed, such as Aleix Espargaro's crew chief Marcus Eschenbacher moving to KTM to work with Johann Zarco. Espargaro was not exactly delighted about it, but took it magnanimously. "It's going to be a big loss, but life is like this, everybody is free to choose their future, to choose their project," Espargaro said. "For some reason he thinks that another project is better than this one, and if he will be more happy, I'm happy for him, because he's a really good guy. But obviously it's an important loss because he's a really clever guy."
Espargaro does not yet know who his crew chief will be, but he has set his sights on a new crew chief with whom he hasn't worked before. "I have one name super clear in my mind, and I think we are close to close with him, but still very early."
In the factory Ducati team, the departure of Jorge Lorenzo and arrival of Danilo Petrucci also means a change in the engineering staff. Petrucci is bringing his current crew chief Daniele Romagnoli to Ducati, along with his data technician Christian Batalla. "It was a thing that I asked for," Petrucci said. "I will be with Daniele Romagnoli for next year and it will be the fifth year with him – more years than Cal because he was the previous crew chief of Cal. He’s a very good guy. He will join the factory team for the second time, after Cal in 2014. I will bring my data engineer Christian Batalla. He was first in Yamaha then Honda and after Ducati. I will have at least the people closest to me, who I talk most with in the session, for the electronics and mechanical side. Even Ducati is happy about this because they’re Ducati people; it’s not external."
The arrival of Romagnoli means that Lorenzo's crew chief Cristian Gabarrini is on the move as well. He will not be moving to Honda with Jorge Lorenzo, but will instead take charge of Pramac rookie Pecco Bagnaia. This, of course, means that Lorenzo will be looking for a new crew chief, though the obvious step for Honda would be to keep Giacomo Guidotti, currently Dani Pedrosa's crew chief. But Ramon Aurin, who was Pedrosa's previous crew chief is also available, as the Marc VDS team pulls out of MotoGP.
Early Silly Season is Stupid Season
The fact that it is still June (just) and almost the entire grid for next year is a massive source of frustration for many riders. Aleix Espargaro was particularly vocal about this at Assen on Thursday. "I don't like it at all," he said. "It's big ****. I don't really understand, this is like a fashion." The problem for Espargaro was that team managers and factories were basing their decisions far more on preseason form than on actual performance during races. "For me it's bull****, because if you're competitive in the preseason test, then you can have a ride already, and we are here for racing. It was good in the past where everybody started to talk and get ready in Brno."
Having his own deal sorted was nice, but it still didn't outweigh the downsides, the Spaniard opined. "Obviously I have to say that now I'm relaxed, because my future for I can say the next three years – because we have just started this one – is clear. But I think it's better to wait and show the potential. But anyway, I think that the level in MotoGP, the riders and the bikes, is very very high. So everybody's really fast to close the deal. And also it doesn't give the opportunity to the young riders to show their potential in the Moto2 and Moto3 classes, and also in MotoGP it's difficult if you have a bad start to the season. I don't like it. "
The example of Joan Mir, Moto2 rookie and already signed up as a factory rider to the Ecstar Suzuki team for next year was put to Espargaro. That situation left him almost incredulous. "We are only half a season, and Mir's deal is closed from a lot of months ago, if what they say is true," he said." Because I think that Suzuki and Davide Brivio are the best team, and one of the best team managers in the paddock, and if he knows what Andrea Iannone did now, he didn't sign Joan Mir, I'm completely sure. So that means that Joan Mir signed when I was still skiing in Andorra." Espargaro was competing in cross-country skiing races back in the off season, in January and February.
But how to change this? "It's impossible," Espargaro said. "It's impossible. I mean, for me the next fashion will be to sign like in football, more than two years. I'm pretty sure. Because we start to sign everything super close. So for me the next fashion will be to sign young riders for four seasons. Because I don't see also, there are a couple of really talented riders in Moto2 and Moto3, but not more than two or three. I don't see like a lot of super riders coming. So the manufacturers, when many riders will retire, the old ones like Vale, Dani, all of these guys, and the few good ones coming from Moto3, they will have a long contract, because there are not many ones coming, I think."
Having a rule as there is in professional cycling, which does not allow contracts to be signed before the 1st of August in each year, was a nice idea, but Espargaro was not convinced it would work. It's not bad. I like the idea," he said. "But anyway you can have a private contract always, and nobody knows. I don't really understand why this fashion arrived here, because it's just the last four years. Before everything was normal. And now, if you don't sign before June, everything is closed. It's unbelievable."
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