Red Bull Honda, Repsol Yamaha?
The fact that Red Bull is a huge sponsor of all types of motorsports, adventure sports and other forms of extreme sports needs no explanation. So successful has their involvement been in fact, that a host of other energy drink companies have followed their example, and motorcycle racing paddocks all around the world are now awash with sweet sticky taurine-and-caffeine-based beverages.
As the original, Red Bull has always been the largest, and its involvement in MotoGP has traditionally reflected that. The company sponsors both the US Grand Prix at Laguna Seca and the Indianapolis Grand Prix, riders including Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso, the KTM 125cc team, and of course the Red Bull Rookies Cup, the feeder class for young talent riding identical 125cc KTMs.
But recently, Red Bull's supremacy has been challenged in the paddock. Their US-based rivals Monster have made a splash in MotoGP recently, sponsoring first John Hopkins, then the Kawasaki MotoGP team, and this year, the Tech 3 Yamaha team. The Californian energy drink company then pulled off the biggest coup of all, signing MotoGP superstar and marketing machine Valentino Rossi, reputedly paying over USD 3 million for the right to appear on the chin bar and side of Rossi's helmet, and on Rossi's cap.
Now, according to the ever well-informed Italian website GPOne.com, Red Bull are ready to strike back. The Austrian energy drinks company want to get into MotoGP more explicitly, and are looking for a team to sponsor. According to GPOne.com, Red Bull had been in talks with Ducati, first to sponsor the factory team, and when that failed, as sponsor of the satellite Pramac team, a deal which then fell through over the choice of manager.
Since then, Red Bull has switched its attention to Honda. The initial plan was to sponsor a satellite team, but this too fell through over Honda's reluctance to put more bikes on the grid for the riders which Red Bull had wanted to hand pick. But another alternative may be at hand.
Over the past few weeks, Honda has been making very public overtures to Dani Pedrosa, accepting much of the blame for the Spaniard's failure to win a MotoGP title, admitting the bikes they have been providing have not been up to scratch. HRC are very keen to sign Pedrosa to a new contract before his current deal expires at the end of the year.
One of the problems facing the deal is the role of Repsol. The Spanish oil giant is losing faith in Honda, after years of failure to deliver a World Champion - and most especially a Spanish World Champion - and is growing tired of waiting. Repsol and Honda are still in talks about a deal, the Spanish oil giant publicly saying they are in no hurry to renew, and their focus has been on improving the competitiveness of the bike.
Repsol's impatience may be Red Bull's opportunity. GPOne.com is saying that their could be a major sponsorship shakeup on the cards. Repsol may decide to desert Honda, leaving the path open for Red Bull to take their place. Both Andrea Dovizioso and Dani Pedrosa are both already Red Bull-sponsored athletes, so taking a larger role in the team is a natural step, and with Red Bull more globally focused than Repsol, there would be fewer restrictions on rider nationality in any future signings.
So where would Repsol go? Repsol's priority is to be World Champion, preferably with a Spanish rider, and right now, there best chance of achieving that is with Yamaha. Repsol could take over Petronas' role as subsidiary sponsor, and poised to take over the role of title sponsor after the Fiat deal with the factory team expires at the end of 2010.
There's still a long way to go before any deals are done, though. If the new chassis HRC has provided for the RC212V works as hoped, and Dani Pedrosa wins a couple of races, then everything could be blown wide open all over again. The heat of summer is upon the northern hemisphere, and that means that MotoGP silly season is about to shift up a gear. These look like some of the first moves on that merry-go-round.