There are a lot of badly kept secrets in the paddock, and one of the very worst kept was the fact that Marco Melandri would be making a return to the Gresini Honda team next season. Since the rumors started to emerge - at about the same time as Marco Simoncelli announced his signing for the Gresini team at Assen - Melandri has tried to play them down, quipping that although journalists were writing that he'd been signed by Gresini, nobody had told him.
But to paraphrase the bard, the rider did protest too much. For today, Fausto Gresini officially announced that Melandri will be joining the Gresini team for 2009. The deal has been on the cards since it became clear that Kawasaki's backing for Hayate would be a one-year affair, and Melandri has seized the opportunity with fantastic aplomb, getting far more out of the barely developed ZX-RR than anyone thought it had in it. His ability and strength of will has been rewarded with the Gresini ride, with team boss Fausto Gresini acknowledging the long history the two parties share: "Melandri is a huge part of the Gresini story and we have had great results together," Gresini said in a press release.
The tricky problem of the single factory-spec RC212V which Gresini have at their disposal has been settled in Melandri's favor. Speaking yesterday to the press, HRC president Tetsuo Suzuki made it clear that Simoncelli would get a satellite-spec machine, but that Honda's aim is for the satellite machines to be just one or two races behind the factory bikes. That has quite obviously not been the case over the past two and a half seasons, but with Honda now starting to catch Yamaha and Ducati in the development race, a return to Honda's former policy looks increasingly feasible.
Melandri's signing leaves current Gresini riders out in the cold. Both Toni Elias and Alex de Angelis have been hard at work inside the paddock, looking for other options. De Angelis continues to insist he has a pre-contract signed with the Pramac Ducati squad, though no confirmation of this has been forthcoming, while Elias' hopes are fixed on the Tech 3 Yamaha team. But with the second seat at Tech 3 the most hotly disputed ride in the paddock, the Spaniard will have to bring a lot of sponsorship to the table if he wants to take that seat.