Money, Power, Expectations: Why Andrea Dovizioso And Valentino Rossi Have Yet To Agree A Deal

With three weeks to go to the official start of the 2020 season for the MotoGP class (Moto2 and Moto3 have already raced at Qatar back in March, lest we forget), the 2021 grid is starting to fill up. Of the 22 seats available next year, 12 have already been filled: Maverick Viñales and Fabio Quartararo in the factory Yamaha team, Alex Rins and Joan Mir at Suzuki, Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira, and Danilo Petrucci and Iker Lecuona in the factory and Tech3 KTM teams respectively, Marc Márquez at Repsol Honda, Jack Miller in the factory Ducati team, Aleix Espargaro with Aprilia, and Tito Rabat, who already had a contract before the start of the season.

There are a few more seats we can pencil in as near certainties: Pol Espargaro at Repsol Honda, Franco Morbidelli at Petronas, Pecco Bagnaia and Jorge Martin in Pramac Ducati, Alex Márquez at LCR Honda. Cal Crutchlow is almost certain to be back, whether that be with LCR Honda or Aprilia – the Englishman appears to be giving serious consideration to what might be an attractive payday before he retires. Johann Zarco is likely to be on a Ducati again in 2021, the odds being that he is forced to accept another season at Avintia.

There are a couple of question marks too: the second seat at Aprilia is complicated, depending on the outcome of Andrea Iannone's appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport against his doping ban. If the CAS upholds his suspension, Aprilia will need a replacement for the Italian. If the CAS lifts the ban, then Aprilia have stated their intent to keep him. If Aprilia don't take Iannone, then Crutchlow could go there. If he doesn't, and stays at LCR, then Takaaki Nakagami could be forced to head off to WorldSBK, and race for the Honda WorldSBK team.

Loggerheads

But all of this is subsidiary to the two biggest logjams in MotoGP: Andrea Dovizioso in the factory Ducati team, and Valentino Rossi at Petronas Yamaha. For both of these riders – and both of these teams – their contracts should be a mere formality. But for a bunch of complex reasons, neither of them are. Indeed, both seats and riders are surrounded by far more uncertainty than anyone ever could have expected.

Andrea Dovizioso's dispute with Ducati revolves around money. His last contract, negotiated in 2018 after a surprisingly strong 2017 challenging Marc Márquez for the title, and in the middle of doing the same the following year, was generous: according to GPOne.com's Paolo Scalera, some €8 million a year. But now Dovizioso's manager Simone Battistella finds himself negotiating in the middle of a pandemic, with Ducati taking a financial hit due to the economic impact of the crisis, and after a season in which Dovizioso managed just two wins rather than the four he scored in 2018.

Ducati, for their part, are demanding that Dovizioso take a pay cut, and a hefty one at that, down to €3 million a year. Perhaps worse than that, Ducati also want Dovizioso to take a pay cut on his existing contract for 2020, citing the shortened season and the pandemic. Battistella counters this by pointing to the fact that in the past three years, Dovizioso has finished second in the championship, and been the only rider to consistently threaten Marc Márquez' hegemony in the MotoGP class.

Then there is the fractious relationship between Dovizioso and Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall'Igna, as was so clear in the Red Bull-backed movie Undaunted, about Dovizioso's 2019 MotoGP season. Dovizioso blames Dall'Igna for not fixing the character of the Desmosedici to make it turn better, and help him be more competitive against Márquez. Dall'Igna, in turn, blames Dovizioso for not using the strengths of the bike to beat the Honda. The two have barely exchanged a word for the best part of two years now.

No alternative

And yet the two parties looked to be condemned to find an agreement, and a way forward. For Dovizioso, the alternatives are few and far between. He is nearing retirement, and wants another season or two to attempt to win the title before hanging up his helmet. The only other factory seat open is at Aprilia, and though the brand new 2020 version of the RS-GP appears to have made huge steps forward in competitiveness, it is still very much an unknown quantity.

At the moment, a rider of Dovizioso's quality jumping on the Aprilia might hope for a podium or two, and perhaps a win. But the bike won't be ready to challenge for the title in 2021, and whether it will be in 2022 is very much open to question. And this is leaving aside whether there will actually be a vacant seat at Aprilia.

So if Dovizioso has any notion of winning a championship before he retires, Ducati is by far his best bet. Though that doesn't mean he should simply accept the pay cut being proposed by the Bologna factory. As a manager, Simone Battistella told me, his priority was always to try to negotiate the best package possible for his riders. That is much more than just salary; it also means the best bike, the best support, and the best prospect of winning. If Ducati has to cut costs by slashing rider salaries, what does that mean for bike R&D? Will they also be spending less on developing the bike? And does that mean the Desmosedici will be less competitive?

If not Dovi, who?

Likewise, Ducati's options appear to be limited. They already have Jack Miller in the factory squad, and though the Australian has shown a huge amount of progress in the past couple of years, it is a risk to put the full weight of both expectation in terms of a championship and development for the future on his shoulders. Ducati may believe he will be up to the task. But the question is, whether they believe he will be ready to do that as soon as he steps into the factory team.

There is Johann Zarco, but right now, he is still an unproven quantity on a Ducati, and his time at KTM did not leave a favorable impression of the Frenchman at all. Pecco Bagnaia has not made the progress hoped for in his rookie season, and there is no one in Moto2 who looks capable of stepping straight into a factory seat at Ducati.

There is, of course, the very public flirtation between Jorge Lorenzo and Ducati. But the signals from both parties are very mixed. Lorenzo's social media are filled with high fashion and fast cars, not the training and fitness videos you might expect from a rider who still has the burning desire to compete. The three-time world champion told the MotoGP.com website recently that he did miss the feeling of winning races, and that "if the call to try to win the championship came, I would listen and study it." But that presupposes that the call would come in the first place.

For Ducati's part, though some respected journalists claim that Ducati are very interested in Lorenzo, there have been few concrete signs of action. "It is difficult to have a clear idea of his motivations," Dall'Igna told GPOne.com recently. The public messages of Dall'Igna and sporting director Paolo Ciabatti have been vague, and passive. They have not been the sounds of a factory actively pursuing a rider, or expecting to get them to sign.

So at some point, Dovizioso and Ducati will have to come to some kind of accommodation, unless Dovizioso decides to retire. And if he does, that would force Ducati into some hard choices on how to replace him.

The same, but different

Valentino Rossi's delay in announcing a deal with Petronas are a little more complex. There is a financial element to it, but it is far more about structural issues, and the status which Rossi is used to. As I understand it from a variety of sources, the problem is that Rossi wants to bring a very sizable entourage with him to Petronas, and Petronas are not inclined to take them.

There are two parts to this. Firstly, the mechanical side: Rossi has been with his crew, or most of them, since he first stepped up to the premier class. The newest addition is David Muñoz, who takes over as crew chief for 2020. Rossi has taken his crew with him every time he swapped manufacturers: they came to Yamaha from Honda with him, they went to Ducati with him, and most came back again with him. He expects to take them with him when he moves to the Petronas Yamaha squad.

The problem is that one of the lessons of Rossi's switch to Ducati is that taking your entire crew with you is not necessarily a good thing. Ducati felt that the team operated as an independent unit, and lacked the in-depth knowledge of the Desmosedici which might have helped Rossi be a little more competitive on the bike. At the time, Ducati were in no position to refuse Rossi, though if you ask factory teams now, they are not at all keen on riders bringing in an entire crew. They are happy to accept a crew chief, and perhaps a trusted mechanic and a data engineer, but they want those people working closely with long-time experienced factory staff.

Losing a team

There are serious downsides for Petronas too. As Tech3 boss Hervé Poncharal explained to me many years ago, when the Rookie Rule was scrapped to allow Marc Márquez to go straight to the factory Repsol Honda team. Having a big-name rider bring their crew into a satellite squad for a short-term project means sacrificing half of the garage, and saying goodbye to mechanics and engineers who they may have been working with for years.

In the case of Petronas, the squad will only have been together for two seasons by the start of 2021, but team managers Johan Stigefelt and Wilco Zeelenberg were very methodical in assembling a team of mechanics for Petronas, picking some of the most experienced and highly rated people in the paddock. If they take Rossi's crew, they would have to fire one half of the garage, and lose them for the foreseeable future. For there is no guarantee that Rossi's crew will stay on at Petronas once the Italian retires. Several are in their fifties and sixties, and have done well enough financially to consider retiring themselves.

Rossi wants to bring more than just mechanics to Petronas, however, the numbers involved reportedly in the low double figures. That is a major burden on a satellite team, even one as successful and well-financed as Petronas. Even if Yamaha were to bear some or even all of the costs, there would still be a large organizational burden on Petronas. Flights have to be booked, hotels found, rental cars arranged, insurance provided. A large influx of new faces makes that more complicated.

In the driving seat no longer

There is also a more subtle side to this, of ego and status. Throughout his career, Valentino Rossi has been able to ask for pretty much whatever he wants. Deservedly so, both due to his track record of success, and his unparalleled media profile. But now, his status has declined far enough that Yamaha felt comfortable signing Maverick Viñales and Fabio Quartararo to the factory team, leaving Rossi with just the promise of a Yamaha ride with full factory support. The fact that they were able to do this without triggering a massive backlash from the fans speaks volumes. Rossi is still revered, but not even his most devoted fans seem him as the future of Yamaha.

That declining status also means that Rossi is in a weaker position to make demands. Once upon a time, any factory wanting to sign Rossi to a contract had no option but to accept the conditions the Italian demanded, including bringing as many mechanics, assistants, and other hangers on as he wanted. Now, Rossi is being moved from the factory team to a satellite team, at Yamaha's behest, rather than the request of Petronas. He is not in a position to make demands, but only requests.

Resolving this situation is not easy, as the lack of an announcement on his future clearly demonstrates. Valentino Rossi is going to Petronas or retirement, that much is clear. But he is going to Petronas because there is no room for him in the factory Yamaha team, and because Yamaha don't have the budget (or the inclination) to set up a separate squad for him to finish his career in.

Petronas did not ask Yamaha if they could sign Rossi, Yamaha asked Petronas to make room for the Italian. That is a very different power dynamic, no matter how keen Petronas are to have Rossi in their team. The fact that negotiations are running through Yamaha rather than Petronas illuminates the situation they find themselves in very clearly.

Like Dovizioso and Ducati, the Rossi/Petronas situation will take some time to resolve. There are major stumbling blocks, and no easy solutions to the problems they face. If you are waiting for an announcement, don't hold your breath.


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Comments

For some reason, I kinda stumbled over understanding this comment at first.  Read it again; chuckled (and went Oh!) quite heartily.  Well played!

Please give VR his own team with the full fat factory bike in his own giallo livery. Bring Remy or someone up for the Petronas seat opposite Franco. Franco's bike will be nearly full fat and the rookie will get last years M1. You're welcome

But the bullshit 24 bike rule will put the mockers on it.

I long for the days where if you could qualify you could race.
30+ bikes on an even Moto2 grid vs 24 bikes on a disparate MotoGP grid is bollocks...which is the only thing standing in the way of a VR46 team. Who loses? We, the people paying the bills.

Nah, I'm pretty much over it. There are only so many bells and whistles you can strap on before it becomes a clown car.

Already been dealt with. Team Rossi gets slots no matter what.

Ducati seems to screw over every rider they've had since #65. Miller will get screwed too. Cal was smart to walk on them half way through his contract. 

Was the first of a long line.

This from a Ducati fan (hangs head in shame).

Cal's year at Ducati was defined by mechanical DNFs. I remember he had to pull out of one race because his ECU forgot where he was on the track.

Ducati is a mess. Woo Jorge, uncerimoniously dump him, and then woo him again while making your signed riders feel like crap. If I were a rookie Ducati and Honda would be two factories I'd avoid at all costs.

The Red bike may just now be arriving at a sweet spot. Pre to post Gigi was a very big step, revolution. Then several evolutions, getting it to turn in. Tire conservation. Several innovations, none earth shattering in and of themselves. More consistent set up, an off weekend can mean 5th instead of 12th. The motor and electronics are divine.

But it JUST got big changes. In the sweeper department. If the Honda doesn't want a rider onboard for several years, the Ducati may be the opposite. What did Jorge say? Yam or Duc could take me to a championship right now. Lorenzo! The most "250 guy" out there in a long time, he sees Red. Martin sees Red. Dovi can't NOT see Red.

Again, as great and likeable as Dovisioso has been he hasn't been in very close contention with Marc recently. And three riders have all been quite close on the bike, he isn't standing out so far. And appears to have plateaued, even reached the second shoulder of trajectory. The Red bike? On an uptick, and the new rear tire is likely to serve the long bike well. Miller? He has looked like a Duck in water there and betting that continues. He fits.

Don't forget that the culture in an Italian organization is so very different than a Japanese one. The food, the parties, the emotion. The manner of speaking, including about riders. The belief in racing first. Doing things differently. Having outside shots with riders that manage to ride less conventionally what they have. The ghost of #27 remains. Including a bad mistep management made with Casey around his illness. Perhaps they under supported him in buffering him with the press too. Things got personal.

Spot on re Rossi. Aqua doesn't need him or his money. He isn't ready or willing to do a Yellow garage of his own unfortunately. Looks like compromise is in the air and it is coming together. Perhaps VR46 pays for his staff's logistics and they maintain their Yamaha salaries? Who knows, but it is happening.

The little matter of will there even be an Aspar Ducati team for Zarco to ride with is not a lock. Suzuki and Aprilia have changes ahead. Dorna is in support. The economy just shat its leathers, and it looks like a 2008 again, so a hunker down and attrition is coming, not a swell.

Don't overrepresent Zarco in Orange relative to Zarco Black and Blue. The 2019 Ducati can do the business. And so can he. He may leapfrog Bagnaia and join Miller with a lesser but more sorted bike. The "first third of a season" satellite advantage now reaches the two thirds mark of 2020.

The all new Aprilia arrived at pace easy to set up, and their base settings were spot on right away. Good sign. They SAY "who wouldn't want Iannone?" but this rings of off handed ease more than intention. She cheated, clear grounds for divorce. You say that right before she packs her bags, and you don't do anything but smile at the new younger easy partner. Just wondering which Moto2 kid they are taking. It is the common script. They have AE41, and needn't a CC35. He doesn't appear eager either. He got his 600cc start on a yellow Honda, and looks to be wrapping up with a last bang on HRC. Let's hope the bang isn't an injury wreck on the brakes, but podiums.

Wondering if Bagnaia wants off the Duc in order to see what another bike does. If a Yamaha seat comes open, say after a Vale leaves? With his friends and Italian based staff? Conjecture.

Nakagami is off to Superbikes. Two young Japanese riders hold some cards to be seen after Crutchlow pedals off to California. Alex Marquez is where he ought to be. So is Pol. Honda is very fortunate given their bike is a dangerous mess. Marquez leaving is overplayed and under considered. It is THE Spanish seat, and it is glued to him for 4 years.

Here comes Yamaha while we are looking elsewhere. The bike is back, and they just Gigi'd the whole outfit. Where Quarty is going is painted by where he just came from, and it is very promising indeed. He and Maverick can both be drafting in to the pointy end.

Rins isn't done rising. The Suzuki is gorgeous. The Davide family is all at the table. Rins benefits from Mir's push. New rear tire looks to have come a step towards Yamaha/Suzuki/Aprilia and away from Honda.

No one was in second last year. 2020? May see otherwise.

...Cal got his first (well, second) taste of 600cc racing success in the R6 cup. Before that, though, he was on a Honda - a CB500 if I'm remembering rightly. 

...Cal got his first (well, second) taste of 600cc racing success in the R6 cup. Before that, though, he was on a Honda - a CB500 if I'm remembering rightly. 

It's time for Rossi to retire. He's had a great carreer. At his peak unbeatable and when facing serious competition, mischevious in his off circuit tactics and mind games. He even managed to pull off a few questionable WTF moves against competitors on track and somehow come out looking like the good guy. He's still good, but the younger guys are now better. IMHO its time for him to retire gracefully so that he can be remembered as the great he once was (yes I know MM93 will probably change a lot of those records, but he was The Man in his era). The worst thing would be for him to follow the same sort of downward trajectory suffered by the likes of Colin Edwards and others. We tend to forget them at their heights, more easily recalling their sad demise. Casey #27 left on his terms at his peak and many were left saying please come back. It takes real strength to know when it's time to go . . . 

Succinct (and nicely written).

Seems to me VR has shifted his expectations such that he still gets a huge buzz from racing without losing sleep about coming in 3rd, 4th or 5th. If that's the case, good for him, that's still higher up the field than several others on factory bikes and he still a long, long way from being an embarrassment. It's worth remembering that he came within a whisker of another title in '15 (and probably would have got it if he hadn't succumbed to his inner toddler in Malaysia), 14 years after his first 500 crown. True, it's hugely unlikely he'll ever get to that level again but can he still trouble the podium? I think so.

I think this is the thing with Rossi, he is still reasonably fast. I remember plenty of times in these last couple seasons where his race pace has been really really fast, and I assume too with that is tyre management ability. Seemed like quite often he would be setting the fastest laps. But  maybe just lacking the younger guys do or die ability.

I find this interesting. Yamaha knows their racing future will be without VR46. As they showed us with their signing of FQ. This is an interesting dance. Yamaha is Rossi's ticket forward. Sponsorships and brand ambassador among many other perks. On the other hand, Yamaha sees Rossi as a ticket to increased sales. However, the power dynamic has changed. Rossi may need Yamaha these days more than Yamaha needs him. The teams won't be so willing to change everything for Rossi if he's not going to be challenging for a championship. So I have the feeling that Rossi will reluctantly say farewell to the majority of his team when he moves over.

Excellent analysis as is usual!   thank you David!

I want to second Brian's question about Rossi just having his own team.   Motoshrink (in his always excellent extended notes) says Rossi is unready/unwilling to take this option.    concerns over true factory support?    Can Yamaha field 5 bikes?     would Dorna agree to that?   

I am interested in what wiser heads have to say about this.

;)

 

I think it makes sense. Minimize disruptions at SRT Petronas. Keep the V.R. 46 team together. Give the giallo legions something to cheer & massive amounts of V.R.46 MotoGp Team merchandise to buy. Win win all around.

Wiser heads than mine are pondering this right now. While nothing has been announce there are many possibilities open.

Petronas as the Suzuki sattelite team? Ten 2021 factory Yamahas? Rossi to SBK, I doubt that very much.

Valentino in his own team; Toprak Razgatlioglu wins SBK title in 2020, gets Fabio Q's ride at Petronas in 2021. 

that the only extra grid slots going forward are for VR46, presumably for the sponsors he/they can attract, the professionalism and the continuing rescuing of the Italian Federation and their channelling of talent by Vale's outfit, a fact often overlooked in his pantheon of achievements. Whether Yamaha can build and maintain 4 factory and 2 private machines is debatable but it's not impossible to imagine a VR46 Aprilia team if the bike fulfills its potential, or (Motoshrink at the ready) a renewing of business with Davide Brivio and the Hamamatsu bullets. I do like to daydream..!

But instead Aprilla will scoop up the remaining grid spots. Now I'd expect they run their factory effort there and leave Gresini to find out who to shack up with for his team.  Hoping it's Suzuki personally.

Thinking here instead Aprilla will scoop up the remaining grid spots.

That said I'd expect they run their factory effort there and leave Gresini to find out who to shack up with for his team.  

Hoping it's Suzuki. 

With the new tire i see Ducati slipping further back to where they were and Yamaha coming back to second slot as lead challenger to Márquez.  Lorenzo read the round rubber tea leaves to perfection and even still most could show were sporadic results.  

Dovi May be best here to let his contact run out and at least get fully paid this year and then see what pops up after that.  
 

For Rossi the longer he sticks around the better for his plans to carry on after ridding.   Whether that means running his own team with his own mechanics and own rider from his academy remains to be seen.   It the longer he keeps his nose in the game now the better.   Also having waited out the down years when tire was a disadvantage to Yamaha to leave now would be all the suffering for nothing, as things look to swing back in their direction. 

Mention of CE above reminded me of his last contract with Yamaha and some talk that negotiations if I recall were around setting up his Texas tornado boot camp.  So not uncommon to pull that lever while have one you can reach.  Such things disappear faster than you might think once your out of the game. Even for the greats. 

While Valentino is exceedingly adaptive in riding style, we are seeing him doing a slow adaptation to his next phase after racing. Does that surprise you? Not me. He enjoys racing. He wants to ride. Like always, he remains focused upon racing and the life he knows.

There are shiny interesting things to place his awareness upon. Starting a team isn't one if them, yet. He is adjusting. But incrementally, and primarily via cunning driven racer. It started in 2011 to 2012, not initiated by him but rather in adaptation to make something fruitful of his mentor and friend loss of Marco Simoncelli. Remember that it was he and mate Edwards that found 58 forced into their path. Directly out of THAT came the VR46 Academy. Vale found a pleasant option for difficulty. Sublimated trauma. Same time, Vale had the Ducati experience to adjust to, his first humbling in the sport? Back to Yamaha, no longer clear #1 there.

2015 perhaps was a next chapter, and it was not so graceful an adjustment.

The Marquez displacement of Rossi took quite a while to adjust to. Then, the Yamaha project finds their bike locked in a rut. Rossi has to adjust to having an insufficient bike, and an organization no longer tailoring a bike to him. Adjustment.

He has JUST arrived at where his bike is back where it nearly should be (ahem, horsepower deficit) and enough to do the business with. Boom, recent unprecedented and qualitatively different Yamaha brass push out of the Factory seat to make room for Quartararo and the future.

So NOW, Vale is looking at his sunset as a rider. He is forced to. There is no pleasant possibility to consider as another option. So, he does.

THEN he will be routed into "my new fun adventure" as a preferred awareness to that of being beaten by two Yamaha riders, a Honda, a Ducati, perhaps a Suzuki, and battled by Morbidelli on track. He will genuinely embrace that next thing as a transitional comfort trancending his grief and loss. It will go well, and be epic Yellow. More like loss and VR46 2012. But much bigger.

I was under the assumption there are a possible four slots left available.  Was it Sito Pons that vacated most recently and weren't there another two more vacated before that?

Anyway, it's unfortunate that Vale doesn't want his single garage by himself that's a full factory effort while riding the Basto Azzurro colors. Okay apart from the daydreaming, David, I don't see the huge issue with Petronas making way for Rossi's entourage.  The ones that are displaced should go with Fabio to the Factory Squad, and problem solved.