In the final chapter of our summer break round up of the MotoGP season, we turn towards the unknown. After our discussions of the things we know for sure, and the things which are extremely probable, we stray from the path of solid research, head down the trail of the likely, making a left turn into the tangled brush and undergrowth of the possible and onwards to wishful thinking and the frankly bizarre. Once past the certain and the obvious, the options become more open, more varied and more improbable. Whereas you could have safely placed a small wager on the rider movements discussed yesterday, the options presented below are a pretty good way of losing your money.
We shall start our journey with the most likely scenarios, and descend into the unknown from there. Of the riders we have not yet discussed, Randy de Puniet has the best chance of securing a decent ride for next year. Since his switch to the spec Bridgestone tires, the Frenchman has been transformed from the man most likely to crash to a podium hero at Donington, and his stock has risen enormously.
De Puniet is currently in negotiations with his current team boss Lucio Cecchinello about signing for LCR Honda again for next year, but the Frenchman's main demand is not money but equipment. De Puniet wants a more competitive bike, and though Cecchinello would dearly like to oblige, that depends both on the team's ability to raise the necessary funds and HRC's willingness to supply a better bike.
And so de Puniet is also talking to - who else? - Tech 3's Herve Poncharal. At Tech 3 the Frenchman would be assured of excellent support and his best shot at more regular podium appearances. The only point of contention would be money, and unless de Puniet can bring extra sponsorship dollars to the Tech 3 team, his salary demands would have to remain modest.
Helping to keep down Herve Poncharal's wage bill is the fact that competition for the final Tech 3 seat is pretty fierce. Current incumbent James Toseland is still in with a shout, and the money he brings from Dorna for the BBC TV deal leaves the Englishman well in contention. But with young Britons such as Bradley Smith, Danny Webb and Scott Redding on the way and just a couple of seasons from joining the premier class, the need for a British rider in MotoGP is diminished, and Dorna may feel inclined to reduce its contribution to Toseland's cause. If Toseland does lose the Yamaha seat his most likely destination is World Superbikes, where he has options with a host of top teams.
Another former World Superbike rider is also in contention for Toseland's seat at Tech 3. Chris Vermeulen's place at Rizla Suzuki is looking precarious, though it is by no means certain that he won't be back there. But Vermeulen has also expressed his frustration at the lack of progress from the Hamamatsu factory in producing a competitive bike, and so may decide his interests are best served by jumping to a different manufacturer and hoping to score well enough at a satellite team that he will be offered promotion to the factory squad. If not, Vermeulen, like Toseland, will return to World Superbikes, and have another chance of securing the title there.
The other group hoping to take the Tech 3 ride is the Spanish contingent. Alvaro Bautista has been linked to the ride, though the Spaniard looks much more likely to go to Suzuki or possibly Aspar Ducati next year. But fellow Spaniards Toni Elias and rookie Hector Barbera are also serious candidates to take the seat. Elias is certain to be dropped from the Gresini Honda squad at the end of the season and is scraping around for a replacement rider. As a former race winner, he should be able to secure a seat, but with competition this intense he could find himself losing out. Tech 3 and the Pramac squad are just about Elias' final hopes, else he could find himself moving either across to World Superbikes or down to Moto2 if he can't find a ride soon.
Hector Barbera is the rookie with the weakest bargaining position, though he may be able to bring sponsorship to any team he joins. Poncharal has acknowledged that he has had talks with the Spaniard, but Barbera's most probable destination is the Aspar Ducati. The team will most likely be backed by a sponsors from the Spanish province of Valencia, and as a native of the region Barbera would be an attractive proposition. Of course, if Aspar's preferred choice of rider Alvaro Bautista takes the seat, then Barbera could find himself struggling to find another ride.
At the bottom of Jorge Martinez' rather short list of candidates to ride his new Aspar Ducati is Alex Debon. The 250 veteran has been on the verge of breaking into the MotoGP class a couple of times, but has never quite made it. If Aspar runs out of options elsewhere, Debon's Valencian roots will help him secure the seat ahead of non Spanish riders.
After Yuki Takahashi lost the Scot Honda ride to Gabor Talmacsi in mid-season, the ascension of Hiroshi Aoyama to the MotoGP class became a great deal more likely. Aoyama is having his best year ever in the 250 class, leading the championship and in with a very strong chance of clinching the title this year. The Japanese rider has been tipped to progress to the MotoGP class for a few years now and many in the paddock were surprised that Takahashi was picked ahead of Aoyama at the end of last year. With no Japanese rider currently in the series, the Japanese factories - more specifically, Honda - are likely to push hard for a seat for Aoyama somewhere.
His most likely destination is either LCR Honda (as De Puniet's replacement if the Frenchman goes to Tech 3) or possibly inside Scot Honda. Gabor Talmacsi is almost certain to remain at Scot Honda, but Dorna and Honda may find enough money to fund an extra bike for the Japanese rider. Honda's motive would be to have a Japanese rider in the series, while Dorna will want to compensate for the loss of Kawasaki and keep 18 riders on the grid.
Alex de Angelis' future is among the most uncertain in the MotoGP series at the moment. The man currently riding the second Gresini Honda will be out of a ride at the end of the year, and with very limited options. He recently told the Italian press that he was close to a deal with Pramac Ducati, but since then, no more news has been heard. His manager, Carlo Pernat, was seen recently at the Misano round of World Superbikes, but de Angelis vehemently denied he was interested in a ride in the rival series. De Angelis may not have much choice, though the man from San Marino may instead choose to move down to the Moto2 class, where his experience with four strokes could give him an advantage over the 250 riders in the first year of the class and put him in the frame for a championship.
While de Angelis' future in MotoGP is uncertain, Ben Spies is almost certain to move up to MotoGP. Herve Poncharal put Spies' chances of being in the series in 2011 as "99.999%" but that still leaves the question of next season. If Spies fails to secure the World Superbike title, then the consensus is that the Texan will remain another year in the series for a second shot at the championship, but after that he is certain to make the switch.
The question is, with whom? Yamaha is still the odds-on favorite, with the seat currently occupied by Colin Edwards being reserved for Spies. But with Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo likely to be hogging the seats at the factory Yamaha squad, Spies could be tempted to look elsewhere. The most obvious alternative would be Suzuki, though Rizla Suzuki boss has refused to be drawn on whether they are attempting to attract the man they rejected last year back to the fold. Spies himself, though, may feel that Suzuki is a bad bet, with the bike failing to perform and the factory at the top of the list of manufacturers most likely to pull out of MotoGP in the near future.
Honda would be an alternative for Spies, but at the moment, HRC doesn't have a suitable destination for the Texan. That could be remedied relatively easily if HRC smelled a chance to get their revenge on Yamaha, and sign the one rider from outside the series thought capable of challenging the Fantastic Four currently dominating the series.
Then, of course, there's Ducati. Livio Suppo recently told Motorcycle News that they were very interested in Spies and were keeping a seat free for him at the Pramac squad, but Ducati continues to suffer from the reputation the Desmosedici has for being impossible to ride. Spies is unlikely to want to risk his reputation aboard a bike that he has no guarantees of being able to get to perform. Suppo's comments seem more like angling rather than a calculated and serious approach to Spies.
There is one final rider who could also make his way into the MotoGP series. Swiss 250cc rider Thomas Luthi has made no secret of his ambition to make it into the premier class, and his Emmi Caffe Latte team is also keen to make the switch, team boss Daniel Epp saying so to the press at every opportunity. The problem, as ever, is one of equipment, and until the manufacturers start making more machinery available - either as complete bikes, or just leasing engines which they could do under a recent proposal made by the MSMA and due for further discussion at Indianapolis - then Luthi's options, like those of many other riders keen to take a shot at the class, will remain very limited indeed.
Yet help could be on the horizon, and coming from Luthi's native Switzerland. Former MuZ, Kawasaki and Ilmor designer Eskil Suter has announced that he is currently building a new bike, powered by a 240 horsepower V4 engine. The engine, Suter has been keen to emphasize, has nothing to do with the Ilmor power plant, and has been designed completely from scratch. Suter will be embarking on this project together with Jean Christophe Ponsson and the Gil Motor Sport team, currently racing in the World Supersport series. The project is due to be finalized on September 30th, and Ponsson and Suter have presented their plans to Dorna already.
But plans are not enough, as has been made amply obvious many times before. The main problem is one of money, of course, with designing, building and developing a racing motorcycle a very expensive business indeed. There are also worries about the likely performance of the bike itself, though. The projected power output - 240 bhp, according to Suter - would make it the most powerful bike on the grid by a significant margin, but that power may not be enough. The Swiss designer's previous projects - the Ilmor chassis, the early Kawasaki - suffered problems with chassis stiffness and weight distribution, and were incredibly difficult to set up and make competitive. Suter will undoubtedly have learned a great deal in the intervening period, but the question is whether it will be enough to make the difference between being several seconds off the pace and close enough to the rest to attract the necessary millions in sponsorship.
Of course, much of the above is all based on speculation, hearsay, rumors and guesswork, but until Jorge Lorenzo signs with Yamaha, that's all we have to go on. The 2010 MotoGP grid could turn out completely differently, but right now it's too early to tell. We'll be keeping track of the official signings over on our 2010 MotoGP rider line up page, which we'll be updating regularly. Bookmark that page and check back regularly if you want to know who will definitely be going where next year. Meanwhile, we shall be keeping up with the rumors and speculation on our news pages.