Since news of Kawasaki's imminent withdrawal from MotoGP hit the internet, speculation has positively boiled over about the future of the two riders under contract to Team Green, John Hopkins and Marco Melandri. Hopkins' future is thought to be relatively secure, as the Monster Energy sponsorship money which helped fund the team is firmly tied to the American, and will go wherever Hopkins goes.
Melandri, though, is another matter altogether. Although highly popular, he doesn't have a huge sponsorship deal tied directly to him personally which would ease his way into another team. However, his popularity in Italy and beyond, as well as his previous success (Melandri's manager Alberto Vergani likes to point out that Melandri has 5 MotoGP victories to Dani Pedrosa's 6) mean that he is a popular target for the Italian satellite teams.
Initally, speculation centered on Melandri making a possible return to the Gresini Honda team. The switch seemed plausible, as Fausto Gresini had made no secret of his attempts to get Melandri to return to the team he left at the end of 2007. Now, though, GPOne.com is suggesting that Fausto Gresini was forced to turn down Melandri's offer to ride for the Honda satellite squad for virtually nothing, Gresini not wanting to release the two riders - Toni Elias and Alex de Angelis - he already has under contract.
Instead, it looks like Melandri could be heading to Team Scot, the team which fielded Andrea Dovizioso in 2008. Team Scot currently have 250cc rider Yuki Takahashi under contract for next year, and as with some of the earlier suggestions - such as a possible move to LCR Honda alongside Randy de Puniet - Melandri would not displace Takahashi, but join the team alongside him.
The problem, as with the LCR Honda proposal, would of course be equipment. Honda has made it perfectly clear that it is not able to field extra bikes, upping its participation from six bikes to seven in MotoGP. Though, in this case, one motorcycle actually means two motorcycles, as each rider has two bikes at his disposal at each race weekend.
And so if Melandri joined Takahashi at Team Scot, the two riders would have to share the two Honda RC212Vs allotted to Team Scot for Yuki Takahashi under the existing agreement with HRC. The problems with this arrangement are self-evident, as any crash during practice would mean a lot of time spent waiting in the pits for mechanics to repair the damage.
But intriguingly, GPOne.com suggests that an agreement has been found to get around this. Under the arrangement, Gresini would hand over one of its bikes to Team Scot, meaning that each team would then have three bikes at its disposal, one spare machine for each pair of riders. The benefits for Team Scot are clear, giving them the chance to field an extra rider next year, while Gresini could make some of the substantial cost savings he has been asking for recently in the press.
Of course, Team Scot would be forced to take on the financial liabilities for the extra machine, but even this need not be a big problem. If such an agreement could be reached, Dorna would be almost certain to foot the bill for the extra expenses incurred. After all, Dorna has a vital interest in keeping at least 18 bikes on the grid, as any number under this total would breach the contract Dorna has with the FIM to allow it to call MotoGP a world championship. And if MotoGP loses its world championship status, then Dorna is likely to find itself facing problems with TV rights contracts it has concluded around the world. Ominously, Melandri's manager Vergani has already said that Melandri's fate is in Dorna's hands, so it's clear that Vergani is thinking along the same lines.
There is, of course, one obvious fly in the ointment in this arrangement. Any plan to share three bikes among two riders require that all three bikes are of the same spec. However, Gresini's original arrangements with HRC allowed for two factory-spec RC212Vs for Toni Elias, and two satellite-spec RC212Vs for Alex de Angelis. If Gresini hands over a satellite spec bike to Team Scot, then de Angelis' motivation to fall out and bend the handlebars of his satellite-spec bike would be greatly increased. After all, if his satellite-spec bike is out of action, then he would be "forced" to go out on the factory-spec spare bike normally assigned to Toni Elias. And just how Elias would react to this is another matter entirely. The alternative arrangement - whereby Gresini hands over a factory-spec RC212V seems even more unlikely to happen, without Toni Elias going justifiably ballistic and fanning the flames of the Italian-Spanish MotoGP war even further.
While it's an attractive proposition, it's clear that any arrangement whereby Gresini hands over an extra bike to Team Scot is fraught with difficulties. This story is set to run and run.