In all the discussion of silly season, there are a few names which keep cropping up and are starting to form the bottleneck preventing the rider line-up from shaking itself out. One of those names, Marco Simoncelli, cleared his part of the deck by announcing he had signed for Gresini Honda for 2010. That move also cleared the way at Yamaha, as both the Gresini and the Tech 3 Yamaha rides are the most keenly sought after in the paddock.
With Simoncelli out of the way, that leaves Ben Spies and Alvaro Bautista as the other main stumbling blocks. Spies had previously told the press that he already knew where he would be going next year, but declined to share that information with the press. But the Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport is now claiming to know just what Spies has signed up to.
According to a story in today's edition of the paper, Ben Spies has signed a new two-year deal with Yamaha. Under the terms of the deal, Spies will stay in World Superbikes for one more season, and will then move up to MotoGP in 2011. According to La Gazzetta, Spies has a guarantee of a ride in MotoGP for 2011, but also has an option to move up earlier, if he wins the World Superbike title this year, or if Jorge Lorenzo leaves Yamaha. The new rookie rule prevents Spies from going straight to the factory team, but the deal is said to guarantee full factory support for Spies in any satellite structure, making a mockery of the rookie rule, as has been predicted here and elsewhere.
Extending the factory involvement appears to be the only option for Yamaha if they are to hang on to their superstar line up. Valentino Rossi is signed through 2010, and is currently considering another two year extension after that. Jorge Lorenzo is currently negotiating a deal with Yamaha, likely to be for two years, within the factory team, a place he has fully earned this season. If Yamaha want to place Spies alongside the Italian and the Spaniard, then an extra structure will have to be put in place to support the Texan sensation.
But Spies could yet end up at Fiat Yamaha. Rumors are growing that Jorge Lorenzo is being chased hard by Honda, under pressure from their sponsor Repsol to produce a Spanish world champion. Though publicly, Lorenzo has stated that his first option is to stay with Yamaha, Rossi's inclination to stay for a few more years may be changing Lorenzo's mind. The Spaniard has been content to wait until Rossi retires before taking over the mantle of #1 rider at Yamaha, initially expected at the end of 2010. But if Rossi stays until 2012, Lorenzo may decided not to wait for that long, and jump ship to Repsol Honda, where he would be guaranteed #1 status by the ousting of Dani Pedrosa to make way for Lorenzo.
Though Spies' deal seems to have been tied up, there is still a lot left to play for in next year's silly season. At least one Tech 3 Yamaha seat is likely to be open, as well as a factory Suzuki and the satellite Ducatis. There are a lot of combinations still possible for next year.