When HRC announced that they were to give the factory RC212V to a satellite team to test, very few people were surprised. Well behind in the points race, Dani Pedrosa needs all the help he can get . What did surprise almost everyone, however, was the fact that the bike was given not to Andrea Dovizioso, the rookie who has been most impressive on the satellite bike, and leads the satellite Hondas in the championship table, but Gresini Honda's Shinya Nakano.
Nakano has been mostly anonymous so far this year, riding around in the middle of the pack for the most part. The decision seemed at the very least, a little strange. HRC themselves stated that Nakano had been given the bike because he was Japanese, and he would be able to communicate with HRC's engineers in their native language.
Cynics and conspiracy theorists had another explanation. Pointing to Nakano's Bridgestone tires, they said it was a sign that the official Repsol Honda factory team is preparing a switch to Bridgestones for next year, after two years of problems with their current tire suppliers, Michelin. After all, the cynics said, both Dovizioso and the HRC engineers speak excellent English, and are used to working with riders for whom English is not their first language.
But it's not just the cynics and conspiracy theorists who were surprised. In a story over on Motorcycle News, Michelin's head of motorcycle racing Jean-Philippe Weber publicly expressed his surprise at Honda's decision. Despite Gresini's strong relationship with the factory, Weber had expected Dovizioso to be given the bike. "Based on the partnership we have, we thought the factory bike would be proposed to Andrea," Weber said.
This looks like Weber trying to preempt any move by Honda to Bridgestone. "We also need a strong technical relationship with the teams in order to exchange information on tyre characteristics," Weber was quoted as saying. Michelin has always said that they need to have a factory team on their tires for it to be worth their while staying in MotoGP. With Pedrosa a very strong probability to demand a switch to Japanese rubber, Michelin's time in the premier series could well be drawing to an end.