At last, the Melandri Saga comes to a conclusion. Gresini Racing has finally announced that Marco Melandri has signed with Gresini for the 2007 season, to ride a Honda V4 800. No details of the deal have been announced, other than that both parties say they are very happy to be working together for next year. Reading between the lines, it seems like Honda has promised extra support for Melandri, the title runner up in 2005, and this is what finally swung the deal for him.
Gresini also stated that he was still looking for a team mate for Melandri next year, so that the team can compete at the very highest level. This does not bode well for Melandri's current team mate Toni Elias, who, after an outstanding debut season on the Yamaha, has struggled somewhat on the Honda.
There was also no mention of sponsorship. If the rumor that Melandri will be receiving € 3 million for his services next year, if Gresini will be receiving extensive support from HRC, and if Gresini hopes to hire another "top level" rider to partner Melandri, then this will require a sponsor with some pretty deep pockets. With the 2007 season rapidly approaching, Gresini had better hurry.
Melandri re-signing with Gresini now means that Sete Gibernau's seat at Ducati, which Ducati had offered to Melandri, looks much more secure, and Ducati is now rumored to be busy trying to re-sign Gibernau before he signs elsewhere. "Elsewhere" being Kawasaki, where he was rumored to be taking the place of Shinya Nakano, who is the firm favorite to replace the disappointing Makoto Tamada at Konica Minolta Honda.
With the rider merry-go-round starting to grind to a halt, as key riders such as Hayden and Melandri stick to their places like a spanner in the works, there are still a number of options open. The biggest question marks on the team side are the Kawasaki and d'Antin Ducati teams, who have no firm candidates, though plenty of names are being bandied about. Those names include several of the riders currently still on the open market, including Carlos Checa, Toni Elias, Alex de Angelis and Andrea Dovizioso. A few more weeks, and it will all become clear. But not just yet.