The MotoGP silly season has come surprisingly early this year. John Hopkins move to Kawasaki signaled the first serious sign of the impending rider shakeup, and now, the second major move could be imminent. That stalwart of British motorcycling, Motorcycle News, is now reporting that Marco Melandri is very close to signing a contract with Ducati. The Italian is known to be extremely unhappy with the Honda RC212V this year, complaining bitterly of a lack of support from HRC, and is believed to be very keen to get a factory ride, to have more input into the development of the bike. Although Melandri has also been linked with Suzuki, speculation had been widespread that Melandri would sign with Ducati, after coming close to signing with the Italian factory last year, only staying with Gresini after Fausto Gresini matched Ducati's offer, as meeting the terms of an option he had for Melandri's contract. With no such option this year, there is nothing standing between Melandri and Ducati for 2008.
The deal would suit Ducati as well, allowing them to retain an Italian rider while disposing of Loris Capirossi, who has had a dramatically poor season, managing only one podium and standing 9th in the championship on the same bike that Casey Stoner has used to destroy the competition. The move would also bring the anticipated deal between Capirossi and Kawasaki a step closer to fruition, a deal that has been rumored for some time now.
That leaves the matter of the Gresini Honda ride. At the moment, a satellite Honda is not an attractive prospect, the Honda RC212V so far having failed to perform at the level expected. However, with Honda's history in the class, as well as very deep pockets, it can't be long before HRC have turned the bike around, and turned it into a competitive package. Then, the Gresini ride could start to look a lot more attractive.
The contenders for the Gresini Honda ride fall into three categories: Newcomers from outside; Bumped MotoGP riders; and 250 new boys. The first category consists almost exclusively of James Toseland, the young British Superbike rider looking very close to a switch to MotoGP. The question remains whether he would risk a jump to a satellite team, but Gresini has always had good support from HRC, and if the Honda improves, it might be enough to tempt him. Among the 250 new boys are Andrea Dovizioso, who has been claiming that he was promised a Honda MotoGP ride for 2008, and Alex de Angelis. And then there's the current Kawasaki team, with both Ant West and Randy de Puniet likely to lose their rides at the end of the season. Both have shown that they can be competitive, though West is by far the darkest horse of the pair, and both would be tempting targets for satellite teams.
We shall have to wait and see how this all works out, but with Hopkins going to Kawasaki and now Melandri almost certain to go to Ducati, a major shakeup of the current lineup looks almost inevitable.