Yesterday, we covered the things we know for sure about the MotoGP riders market in 2010. So today, we turn our attention to the known unknowns, the riders and teams that we are fairly sure are going to be in MotoGP but with no certainty as to how or where or with whom. Naturally, that lack of certainty means that what follows is partly speculation, but is based on information which has so far proven to be reliable for the most part. If you're fond of a flutter, it might be worth taking a shot on some of what follows, but I certainly wouldn't bet the farm on any of it.
The biggest dependency in the MotoGP Silly Season so far was touched upon yesterday. Jorge Lorenzo is the juggernaut stopped at the crossroads, holding up the traffic behind him, deciding whether to take the fork to Honda or to continue on along the road with Yamaha. The news emerging from various sources in the media and the paddock is that Lorenzo is most likely to stay the course with Yamaha and demonstrate that he can beat Valentino Rossi on equal machinery.
If, as we expect, Lorenzo stays, then this will precipitate a host of changes through the rest of the field. The most significant of these, as we covered yesterday, will be Dani Pedrosa. With the option of a move to Yamaha effectively blocked - Yamaha could neither afford nor would they want three of the top four riders in the world, as they have their hands full already just handling two of them - Pedrosa will most likely remain at Repsol Honda, perhaps with some extra guarantees of performance from HRC extracted with some extra pressure from Repsol, who grow tired of pouring many millions of euros into the factory Honda squad without seeing the desired return (a Spanish MotoGP champion) on their investment.
Andrea Dovizioso is likely to retain his seat alongside Dani Pedrosa, his hand having been strengthened by his victory at Donington Park just a couple of weeks ago. But as HRC is quietly accumulating talent in the background, with Marco Simoncelli already signed for Gresini next year and one or two other names already popping up on the HRC radar, Dovi will most likely be given another one year contract for just the 2010 season, so that HRC can reshuffle its cards at the end of next year. HRC's hands are also tied by the limited options available. Yamaha has successfully corner a sizable chunk of the talent market, and the only rider eligible and qualified to move up to the Repsol ride would be Marco Melandri, who has proved again this year that he can still ride, just as long as what he's riding wasn't built in Bologna.
With the major factory rides more or less tied up, MotoGP's most desirable destination right now is the Tech 3 Yamaha team. The Yamaha M1 is clearly the pick of the bunch in terms of performance, and the level of support Yamaha is giving to Tech 3 makes the satellite team's bikes much closer to the factory M1s than, for example, the satellite-spec Hondas. This makes the Tech 3 team a talented rider's best hope of a podium on a non-factory machine and the list of interested parties is very long indeed.
Though Tech 3 has two seats to offer, only one of those is decided at the sole discretion of team boss Herve Poncharal. The other belongs to Yamaha Japan, and the factory decides who to put there. Right now, that seat is held by Colin Edwards, and his prospects for remaining are looking strong. With Lorenzo likely to stay at Yamaha, Ben Spies' route into the Yamaha factory team has been closed off. With Spies probably out of the equation for this year (more on that tomorrow), the pressure on Edwards diminishes, and the Texan's strong results and highly regarded bike development skills are likely to secure him the Japanese seat at Tech 3. According to Motorcycle News' Matt Birt, no decision will be finalized until some time in October, but Edwards probably has little to fear. The other seat is wide open, though, and we will cover the options Poncharal has tomorrow.
At Ducati, a similar situation applies. Casey Stoner is locked in for 2010, and Ducati have an option on Nicky Hayden for next year as well. As Hayden's fortunes have started to improve - at Donington, Hayden said that he was finally starting to use his own settings as a base and not rely on settings taken from Stoner - so the Kentuckian has looked more likely to stay. Hayden has certainly looked happier at the last two rounds than he did at the beginning of the season, and Ducati has also shown ever more faith in the American. With Hayden 848 replicas selling out almost as soon as they were announced, Ducati understands the marketing power that the Kentucky Kid has in the USA, one of its most important markets. Ducati has until September 1st to exercise the option they have on Hayden, which would make for a repeat of last year's high-profile announcement at Indianapolis.
The other certainty at Ducati is Pramac's Mika Kallio. The Finnish rookie has impressed Ducati bosses with the speed with which he adapted to the fearsome GP9, and despite his somewhat erratic results - varying anywhere from a strong 8th to being out of the points - Ducati see a lot of potential in Kallio. The Finn is almost certain to stay with the Pramac satellite squad for another year, and have another chance to impress Ducati enough to be moved up to the factory team in 2011.
A year ago, Marco Melandri (whose birthday it is today) was a broken man, with doubts hanging over his future. But his frankly brilliant performance on an underpowered, undeveloped Kawasaki has regained him the respect of the fans he brought to the brink of despair when he was on the Ducati. Although Kawasaki will be gone from MotoGP next season, Melandri has done more than enough to earn himself another chance in MotoGP.
His most likely destination is the Gresini Honda garage, alongside 250cc prodigy and fellow countryman Marco Simoncelli. But this "dream team" in terms of sponsorship is likely to leave Fausto Gresini with a major problem. The Italian will probably only receive one factory-spec RC212V to run from Honda, along with one less competitive satellite-spec bike. Does he give the factory bike to Simoncelli, the man with the HRC backing but still just a rookie in the class, or does he give the bike to Melandri, a proven winner for the team and on the bike?
While Gresini wrestles with an embarrassment of riches, the Suzuki squad is in more difficult straits. On the one hand, the Rizla Suzuki team has an exemption from the Rookie Rule, allowing riders entering the class for the first time to join the squad despite it being a factory operation. But on the other, Suzuki have consistently failed to produce a competitive machine, their bikes never able to build on the form they so often show in pre-season testing. This latter problem has caused Loris Capirossi to demand that Suzuki step up their efforts, or the Italian veteran will walk away from the team. Suzuki is keen to retain Capirex, though, and if they can provide him with the guarantees he wants about the competitiveness of the bike, he is almost certain to stay for a final year before retiring.
Who Capirossi will be sharing the garage with is still open to debate. The hot favorite is Spanish star Alvaro Bautista, who is certain to move up to MotoGP, but whose options are slightly limited. Bautista has two main choices: join the Rizla Suzuki team and enjoy the benefits of being on a factory team; or stay with Jorge Martinez and Aspar to ride the single Ducati the Spanish-based team will be fielding next year. Bautista has not been keen to ride the Ducati, having seen the bike disfigure the careers of so many others, but he also knows Martinez and the Aspar team very well, and knows that they are a quality outfit. In the end, the lure of factory backing is likely to prove too much for Bautista to resist, and the Spaniard will probably end up in blue next year.
The last of the probables is the man with the money, Hungarian superstar Gabor Talmacsi. The former 125cc World Champion has learned quickly on his limited outings on the Honda RC212V, and has closed the gap to the rest of the field. With Talmacsi bringing hard cash in the underfunded Team Scot, through his high public profile in his native Hungary, the odds of Talmacsi holding on to the Scot Honda ride for 2010 are very strong.
Of course, this leaves the team with a problem, as Hiroshi Aoyama, currently leading the 250cc title chase on the Scot Honda, looks set to make the jump up to MotoGP next season. But the future of Aoyama, along with others such as Toni Elias, Chris Vermeulen, Randy de Puniet and James Toseland, is far less clear cut, so we will save that for tomorrow, when we will be discussing the unknown unknowns, or some of the more interesting, if not to say bizarre permutations of riders and bikes.