This is the second part of our silly season overview. Before starting on this part, make sure you have read the first part of the review, published yesterday.
If Jack Miller is parachuted into Aspar, the second seat in the team is up for grabs. Though Dorna are keen to have an American in MotoGP, it is widely believed that Nicky Hayden's days are numbered. Despite his denials, there are question marks over Hayden's wrist, and he has not been as competitive on the Open Honda as he had hoped. Hayden was at the last round of World Superbikes at Laguna Seca a couple of weeks ago, where he was seen talking to a lot of teams. There is a lot of speculation Hayden could end up on an Aprilia in World Superbikes next season, the American already having visited the factory's Noale HQ in 2013, before he left Ducati to sign for Aspar.
Could Hayden take the second Aprilia seat in MotoGP? This seems extremely unlikely. The factory already has an experienced development rider in Alvaro Bautista, and is really looking for someone faster and younger to lead the challenge. One name being bandied about is Stefan Bradl, the German being a particularly attractive prospect for the Italian factory. With Melandri having abandoned the Gresini Aprilia team, the second seat in the team is being filled by Michael Laverty. A sensible choice under the circumstances: Laverty is already Aprilia's official test rider, and the RS-GP is still very much a test bed for collecting data, to be used to build the 2016 bike, which will be a full prototype built from scratch. The downside to having Laverty is that he is also racing in BSB for the Tyco BMW team. The two calendars clash only once, when MotoGP goes to Phillip Island, and BSB is at Brands Hatch, so Laverty is able to fill in on a race-by-race basis.
However, with Bradl having announced that he has rescinded his contract with Forward Racing, due to the fact that they cannot guarantee him a ride for the rest of the season, Bradl becomes a more appealing option for Aprilia. The German could start racing almost immediately – a start at Indianapolis is probably too early, with the Brno test a more likely date – and could fill in until the end of the season. Bradl is still relatively young – he will be 26 in November – a former Moto2 world champion, and highly motivated. Signing Bradl to what is effectively an 18-month contract could be a smart move for Aprilia, as they would get someone young, fast, and able to help develop their new 2016 bike. If Bradl is fast in 2016, Aprilia could keep him for the future, if he isn't, he can keep working on improving the bike for 2017, and his successor.
You would think with the deluge of words which has washed over the incident between Marc Márquez and Valentino Rossi in the last corner (and to which I contributed more than my fair share, I must confess) that there were only two riders and one race at Assen on Saturday. Beyond the clash at the GT chicane, there was much more to talk about after Holland.
Whatever the immediate aftermath of the clash between Márquez and Rossi, the longer term implications of the result have made the championship even more interesting. Márquez' decision to switch back to the 2014 chassis for his Repsol Honda RC213V has been proven to be the correct one. Though the engine is still as aggressive as ever, the old chassis in combination with the new swingarm and new forks tested at Le Mans has made the bike much more manageable. Márquez can now slide the rear on corner entry in a much more controlled way than before, taking away the behavior the reigning champion has struggled with most. The Spaniard showed he could be competitive from the start of the race to the end, instead of crashing out as the tires started to go off.
The bike is still a long way from cured, however. Márquez switched to the medium front tire rather than the soft, the only rider to do so. The medium provides a bit more support under braking, compensating for the reduced braking from the rear wheel. That support comes at the cost of extra grip provided by the softer front. Whether Márquez will be able to employ that same strategy for the rest of the season remains to be seen. For a start, Assen is not a very typical track, featuring a lot more flowing corners than usual. At circuits with more corners needing hard braking, the challenge will be greater. The next race is at the Sachsenring, where asymmetric front tires will be on offer. How the Honda deals with that will be interesting.
A more competitive Márquez will certainly liven the championship up. After Lorenzo swept the previous four races, a Rossi comeback gave him back the advantage in the championship. Without Márquez, Rossi would only have extended his lead by five more points, but the Repsol Honda man put himself between the two Movistar Yamaha teammates, meaning that Lorenzo's deficit grew to ten points. With ten races to go, the championship is still wide open, though realistically, it is only between Rossi and Lorenzo. But the influence of a rider who is consistently capable of inserting himself between the two Yamahas could end up having a major effect on the championship.
Press releases from the teams and Bridgestone after Saturday's exhilarating Dutch TT at Assen:
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and others after qualifying at Assen:
Press releases from the teams, Bridgestone and others previewing the Dutch TT at Assen:
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone after Sunday's race at Mugello:
Press releases from the MotoGP teams after qualifying at Mugello:
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone ahead of this weekend's Italian GP at Mugello:
I shall spare you the "rolling Tuscan hills" patter. That cliché will be trotted out in most of the press releases and previews you will read. Indeed, it is one I have done to death in many of my own previews of the race. Like all clichés, it is based on an underlying truth: the Mugello circuit is a breathaking track, set in a stunning location, and scene of some of the greatest racing over the thirty Grand Prix which have been held here since 1976. So good is the track that it has remained virtually unchanged, with only minor tweaks to improve safety. There are still a few spots which could use some improvement. The wall at the end of the main straight could use being moved further to the left, and the gravel trap on the exit of Poggio Secco is terrifyingly small, but fixing these would require moving some serious quantities of earth about. But this is Mugello, and so we look away and carry on. At least the astroturf has been removed, removing one possible source of danger.
The setting and the racetrack mean that this is always one of the highlights of the year, but 2015 could be even better than usual. It might even live up to the hype, of which there is justifiably plenty. But where to begin? With Valentino Rossi, the man who once owned Mugello, winning seven races in a row between 2002 and 2008, and who is both leading the championship and in the form of his life? With his teammate perhaps, Jorge Lorenzo, who has won half of the last six races here, and finished second in the other half? A Lorenzo, we might add, who is now firmly on a roll, steamrollering the opposition at both Jerez and Le Mans? How about Ducati, the factory just an hour up the road from their official test track, and a place where Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone had a test just three weeks ago, lapping at pretty much race record pace? Or with Marc Márquez, perhaps, the reigning championship struggling during the defense of his second title, the Honda clearly having taken a step backwards over the winter (or rather, taken a small step sideways while Yamaha and Ducati have taken giant leaps forward)?
Perhaps we should allow seniority, both in years and in championship position, to prevail. Can Valentino Rossi do it again at Mugello? If ever there was a year where the Italian could emerge victorious at his spiritual home, this is surely it. Rossi returned to the podium here last year, for the first time since 2009. He had appeared on the podium for each of the three years previously, but only after being called there to greet fans after the real podium ceremony, for the three riders who finished first, were over. Those appearances were painful, most of all for Rossi. He wanted to earn it, be on the podium on merit, rather than popularity. In 2014, he did just that, finishing in third behind Marc Márquez and Jorge Lorenzo. Not close enough to do battle with them, but close enough to dream of more.
Press releases from the teams and Bridgestone after Sunday's fascinating French Grand Prix:
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone after qualifying at Le Mans:
Previews from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone ahead of this weekend's race at Le Mans:
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone ahead of this weekend's race at Jerez:
Press releases from the teams, Bridgestone and the circuit designer after Sunday's thrilling MotoGP race in Argentina: