The summer break – if an extra weekend off can be counted as an actual break – marks the end of the first half of the 2018 MotoGP season, but it also marks a significant point in the MotoGP Silly Season. With Marc van der Straten telling the riders and crew of the Marc VDS MotoGP team that the team will not be competing in MotoGP in 2019 and beyond, the final shape of the 2019 MotoGP grid is almost clear.
There was no official announcement to mark the withdrawal of the Marc VDS squad, it was indirectly confirmed when the team sent out a press release (shown below) announcing that they had extended their deal with Alex Márquez for the Spaniard, younger brother of Marc, to remain in Moto2 for another season. Emilio Alzamora, who manages both Márquez brothers, had been pushing for Van der Straten to keep at least one grid slot in MotoGP for Alex Márquez, a move which had the strong backing of his brother Marc. Alex Márquez remaining in Moto2 is tacit confirmation that there is no seat in MotoGP for the Spaniard.
The withdrawal of the Marc VDS team, and the transfer of the Angel Nieto Team's grid slots to the Petronas SIC Yamaha team (whose existence was confirmed officially in a press release between the Dutch and German rounds of MotoGP) means that the MotoGP grid will be smaller in 2019. There will be 22 riders lining up at Qatar, rather than the 24 who started at Losail this season. The loss of two riders from the grid will not overly trouble Dorna: with uncertainty over who will broadcast MotoGP in Spain next year, saving around €6 million in team subsidies will create some negotiating room for the series organizer.
Of the 22 MotoGP bikes on the grid, 17 riders have already been officially announced and signed up. Of the rest, both Taka Nakagami at LCR Honda and Tito Rabat at Reale Avintia are certain to continue, though contracts have yet to be signed. That leaves the two Petronas SIC Yamaha seats still open, and the second seat in the Avintia squad.
The two Petronas SIC Yamaha seats are also close to being finalized, though here too we are awaiting official announcements. Franco Morbidelli will be taking one seat, assisted by crew chief Ramon Forcada, who will be leaving Maverick Viñales at the end of this season. The saga of the second seat took quite some time to nail down: first, Jorge Lorenzo turned down the offer in favor of Repsol Honda. Then Dani Pedrosa chose retirement over a late-career switch to Yamaha.
Now, it seems, Fabio Quartararo is to be brought up to MotoGP at the request of Yamaha, as they look for a way of channeling young talent into MotoGP. Morbidelli is to have a full-factory Yamaha M1 at his disposal for 2019, while Quartararo will learn the ropes in MotoGP on a satellite spec bike. This, and the creation of a test team using a European former GP rider as a full-time test rider are part of Yamaha's plans to improve their competitiveness in the coming season, made partly as a result of pressure from Valentino Rossi.
The role of Yamaha test rider is open, though Bradley Smith and Jonas Folger have been linked to the position. Smith may have the choice of being a test rider for KTM, if Mika Kallio's injury, sustained in a crash at the Sachsenring, proves to be career ending. Folger, meanwhile, has offers to race in Moto2. Whether he tests or races depends on how fit he feels, and if he believes he is capable of racing for a full season.
The one truly unknown on the 2019 grid is who will take the second Avintia seat alongside Tito Rabat. Though Xavier Simeon ostensibly has a contract for 2019, he has failed to adapt to MotoGP. The Belgian rider has crossed the line either last or second to last in the seven races he has finished so far this season, and despite the money he is bringing to Avintia, the team needs results to show to its sponsors.
That opens up the second seat to other riders, though they will probably have to bring money with them. Karel Abraham is currently favorite to take the ride, as he has the financial backing to pay for the ride and is losing his ride at the Angel Nieto Team due to the team selling its grid slots. At the moment, Alvaro Bautista is also a candidate for the seat, but Bautista's problem is that he wants to be paid, rather than pay for the ride. "Now where can I go?" he lamented at the Sachsenring. "A top five rider with no bike for next year."
When can we expect formal announcements of the as yet unconfirmed riders? It is very likely that the remaining rides will be officially announced in the next couple of races, either at Brno, or between Brno and Austria. The only seat that may remain unclaimed for a while is the second Ducati at Avintia, as the team sorts out its financing and its priorities.
Below is the line up for 2019 and beyond:
|Valentino Rossi||Yamaha M1||2020|
|Maverick Viñales||Yamaha M1||2020|
|Marc Márquez||Honda RC213V||2020|
|Jorge Lorenzo||Honda RC213V||2020|
|Alex Rins||Suzuki GSX-RR||2020|
|Joan Mir||Suzuki GSX-RR||2020|
|Aleix Espargaro||Aprilia RS-GP||2020|
|Andrea Iannone||Aprilia RS-GP||2020|
|Johann Zarco||KTM RC16||2020|
|Pol Espargaro||KTM RC16||2020|
|Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati GP19||2020|
|Danilo Petrucci||Ducati GP19||2019|
|Pecco Bagnaia||Ducati GP18||2020|
|Jack Miller||Ducati GP19||2019|
|Cal Crutchlow||Honda RC213V||2019|
|Takaaki Nakagami||Honda RC213V|
|Miguel Oliveira||KTM RC16||2019|
|Hafizh Syahrin||KTM RC16||2019|
|Petronas SIC Yamaha|
|Franco Morbidelli||Yamaha M1 (factory)|
|Fabio Quartararo||Yamaha M1 (satellite)|
|Karel Abraham?/Alvaro Bautista?||Ducati GP18|
|Tito Rabat||Ducati GP18|
Names in italics not confirmed yet. Names with question marks still undecided
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