After missing the last four races due to injury, Andrea Iannone is to make a return to the Factory Ducati team. Iannone had fractured his T3 vertebra in a practice crash at Misano, and was ruled out of the race. Since then, Iannone has been forced to miss the MotoGP rounds at Aragon, Motegi and Phillip Island.
At Aragon, Iannone was replaced by official test rider Michele Pirro, but Pirro was unable to race at the overseas circuits as he had important test work to do for Ducati, getting the Desmosedici GP17 ready for Jorge Lorenzo, who will get his first chance to test the bike at Valencia, after the last race of the season. After Casey Stoner turned down the opportunity, Hector Barbera was promoted from the Avintia squad to take over Iannone's bike, while Australian Mike Jones stepped in to replace Barbera at Avintia.
The absence of Iannone generated speculation that the Italian would not return again for Ducati. Iannone's injury is serious enough to require a lengthy rehabilitation, and the Italian is leaving Ducati at the end of 2016 to join Suzuki, forced out to make way for Jorge Lorenzo. There have been credible reports that the relationship between Iannone and Ducati has deteriotated since the Italian was told that Ducati had chosen to keep Andrea Dovizioso over him.
Even before then, there had been problems with Iannone, caused in no small part by Iannone's behavior on track. Ducati did not respond well to Iannone putting an impossible pass on Dovizioso at Argentina, and taking the pair of them out of a certain double podium. There are indications that Ducati is none too pleased with Iannone's work ethic. Media engagements have been missed, and at tests, Iannone is rumored to have done the bare minimum number of laps.
Iannone's return puts at least some of those rumors to bed. The Italian is still not 100% fit, but will at least attempt to ride. The expected poor weather may help Iannone, making it less physically demanding to ride in Malaysia. With two weeks after Sepang until Valencia, he should be in much better shape for the last race of the year.
While Iannone makes his return, Dani Pedrosa will still be absent. The Repsol Honda rider crashed heavily at Motegi, breaking his right collarbone and fibula, and, he revealed in his blog on the Repsol website that he also broke a metatarsal bone in his foot. Pedrosa is recovering well after surgery, and is working towards being fit for Valencia.
With Pedrosa out, HRC test rider Hiroshi Aoyama will once again step in for Pedrosa, just as he had done at Motegi. Nicky Hayden, who had stepped in for Pedrosa at Phillip Island, is otherwise engaged, racing in the last WorldSBK event of the season at Qatar. Whether Hayden will be available to step in for Pedrosa at Valencia, should the Spaniard not be fit in time, is not known at the moment.
Pedrosa's injury raised a few rumors in the MotoGP paddock. The Spaniard reportedly took his injury very hard, unsurprising given both the number of times he has broken his collarbone, and his history with surgery. In 2010, Pedrosa broke the same right collarbone in a crash at Motegi caused by a sticking throttle. That collarbone was fixed with a plate, but that plate ended up causing symptoms of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, which left him with a lack of feeling and strength in his hand while in a racing crouch. That problem was diagnosed before the race at Estoril in 2011, and at Le Mans, the very next round of MotoGP, Marco Simoncelli knocked Pedrosa off and the Spaniard broke his right collarbone again.
With Pedrosa now recovering well from surgery, his concerns have been lifted, and he is expected to make a return as soon as possible. Pedrosa's worries generated some speculation that he may not have been able to race again. That appears to have triggered some speculation as to who would take over his seat in such an event, with attention turning inevitably to Phillip Island winner Cal Crutchlow. Crutchlow had been linked to the Repsol Honda ride earlier in the year, when rumors emerged that Pedrosa could head to Movistar Yamaha to replace Jorge Lorenzo. A fit Pedrosa precludes that, however.