You would think, with only two riders not yet signed up for 2020, and both of those (Jack Miller and Takaaki Nakagami) saying they are just working out the details, that there would not be much drama over contracts in the MotoGP paddock. Things are not quite the same in the WorldSBK paddock, where Alvaro Bautista's reign of terror has come to a very premature end, opening all sorts of speculation for the 2020 season.
Those two strands are starting to come together after Brno, amplified by moves in Moto2 and WorldSBK. The rumors are flying, some more sensible than others. And many of them are very much in the category of insanity.
At the core of these rumors is Jorge Lorenzo, and his extended absence from the MotoGP paddock due to the injuries sustained in his crashes at the Barcelona test and practice at Assen. Since then, the rumor mill has gone into overdrive, with questions over whether Lorenzo will continue with Repsol Honda or try to do something else. Over the summer break, there were rumors he would retire, and the latest rumor has him going back to Ducati in some form or another.
Where it started
The rumors appear to have some basis in truth. They first appeared on the GPOne.com website, where rider manager Carlo Pernat, in conversation with Paolo Scalera and Matteo Aglio of Italian website GPOne.com, noted that Lorenzo's manager had been spotted talking to Ducati management at Brno.
This sparked speculation that Lorenzo could be heading back to Ducati, taking the seat of Jack Miller in the Pramac team. This comes on top of reliable reports that Jorge Lorenzo phoned Gigi Dall'Igna after Barcelona, offering to ride for free.
Speaking to the press at the Red Bull Ring in Austria, Jack Miller confirmed that the rumors had some basis in fact. "I think that there is some truth to the rumors about Lorenzo," the Australian admitted. "For sure, he's looking at something because at the moment he can't ride that Honda. It's easy to tuck your tail between your legs and run back."
"They're adamant they want me"
The Lorenzo rumors would explain why he did not have a signed contract with Ducati. It was certainly a thought which had occurred to Miller. " I think that Pramac love me, want to keep me, most people in Ducati want to keep me," he said. "I've got to make sense of why we're in Austria, quite well into the second half of the season and I still haven't signed a contract with two podiums under my belt."
The hold up was not with Pramac, Miller said. "I've had multiple meetings with Pramac, I was face timing Paolo this morning too and he's adamant that they're keeping me. I'm not stressed but I'll have to wait and see. I think they're pretty adamant they don't want him [Jorge Lorenzo] either."
Terms had already been agreed with Pramac, but the contract was stuck with Ducati, Miller seemed to imply. "Pramac has agreed to everything they've been asked to agree but a contract hasn't arrived yet. We'll wait and see, but all I can do is keep doing my best. This is my first year on the latest material in MotoGP and this is the most competitive era of MotoGP and I've already scored two podiums this year, and been in front of the other guys on multiple occasions. I feel that I've being doing everything I can do in order get myself a job. I'm not stressed at all."
Where was the hold up? "Nearly everybody in Ducati wants to keep me. Some people have fond memories." Miller hinted.
Who is it that has fond memories? Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall'Igna has a long history of working with Jorge Lorenzo, all the way back to his days at Aprilia and Derbi. It was Dall'Igna who was instrumental in persuading Ducati to sign Lorenzo, though he was unable to persuade Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali to hold on to the Spaniard.
A Lorenzo return to Ducati would come at some personal cost, however. Jorge Lorenzo would have to swallow some pride to go and ride for a satellite team (though a team with full factory support), but it would be much more painful for Claudio Domenicali. The Ducati CEO was opposed to Lorenzo's arrival from the start, and criticized Lorenzo throughout his stay with Ducati. It was comments by Domenicali which eventually convinced Lorenzo that he would not have his contract renewed at Ducati.
Domenicali might be able to reconcile himself to signing Lorenzo if it allowed him to appease Gigi Dall'Igna, though. Dall'Igna believes that Ducati is very close to being able to win a championship, but they need the right rider to be able to beat Marc Márquez. Once Lorenzo mastered the Desmosedici at Mugello last year, he pushed Márquez very hard, winning three races to Márquez' two, and finishing ahead of him four times in seven races. Of all the riders currently in MotoGP, Lorenzo is the only rider with a legitimate claim to being able to beat Marc Márquez.
No to WorldSBK
If Lorenzo were to move to Ducati, where would that leave Jack Miller? There have been some rumors linking Miller to WorldSBK. The Australian was dismissive of that idea, however. "I've not thought about WorldSBK," Miller told us. "It's not crossed my mind. I've started going well here and I've not thought about leaving."
The rumors link Miller to Alvaro Bautista's seat in the factory Aruba.it Ducati team, but that move seems unlikely. Though Bautista is believed to be close to agreeing terms with Honda to race for them in WorldSBK, there are strong indications that Scott Redding is ready to make the move to WorldSBK with Ducati. He had originally been linked to the SMR BMW squad, but was unable to buy his way out of his PBM contract in BSB. Ducati is in a much stronger position to do that, however.
If Miller isn't going to WorldSBK, where could he end up? The obvious answer is Repsol Honda – Jorge Lorenzo's departure would open up a vacancy there, and there were rumors of Miller moving to Repsol Honda for this year, too. Miller underperformed on the Honda originally, but the Australian has made a lot of progress as a rider since then. The Honda is also a considerably easier bike to ride now than the 2016-spec bike he had in 2017.
Going Orange With Red Bull
There is another intriguing option, however. Johann Zarco's continuing struggles on the KTM are also constantly feeding rumors of an imminent split. Zarco seems as unable to get his head around the KTM RC16 as Jorge Lorenzo has been to understand the Honda RC213V. If Zarco were to decide to leave KTM, that would open up a vacancy for a rider with strong Red Bull ties. Jack Miller has been a Red Bull athlete for many years, and would be a natural fit in the factory KTM team.
The question is, of course, whether Repsol Honda would let Jorge Lorenzo go. While Lorenzo has not been competitive on the RC213V, the Japanese factory may not be inclined to allow the Spaniard to leave to a factory he has proven he can win with. However, they might not necessarily be able to prevent him. Though we have no way of knowing what is in Lorenzo's contract, if he has a performance contract in there, there seems every chance he is underperforming the targets set in his contract. That may also include a clause allowing Jorge Lorenzo to cut his losses with his current lot of results.
Filling the void
And if they did let Lorenzo go, who would take his seat in Repsol Honda? Jack Miller is a possible answer. Could they move Cal Crutchlow up from the LCR Honda team? Would they get Alex Márquez in to race alongside his brother (there are rumors that Marc would prefer to have his brother on easy-to-ride Yamaha, seeing the success of Johann Zarco and Fabio Quartararo after jumping on the M1)? Could they just plump for Stefan Bradl for a season, and trust in Marc Márquez to win in 2020 until the market opens up for the 2021 season?
How much of this is just speculation and how much will actually come to pass? There are legitimate grounds to believe that talks are going on behind the scenes which could see Jorge Lorenzo move to Pramac Ducati. Does that mean that any of this will actually happen? It is very hard to say. But we were not expecting to see excitement in the 2020 silly season. And it looks now as if the world has gone crazy.
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