The MotoGP paddock resembles a battlefield in many ways, but perhaps its most striking resemblance is that the truth is a very hard commodity to come by. The fog of war envelops the paddock, and stories which emerge always come out spun in one way or another, depending on which party is leaking a story, and which side of the argument a journalist is on.
So it has been hard to make sense of the stories emerging from the paddock recently of the offer Ducati has made to Jorge Lorenzo. Depending on which source you believe, the amount involved is either a suspiciously precise 3.52 million euros a year, 6.5 million euros a year rising to 8 million, or 7 million euros a year, and by the time you read this, doubtless a new figure will have emerged from somewhere. The numbers being given smell of a mixture of propaganda, sensationalism and guesswork, and all parties involved planting stories in the press to serve their own ends. Riders' salaries are always swathed in secrecy, and contract offers are far worse, with a healthy dose of subterfuge and misdirection thrown in for good measure.
However reliable - or more likely, unreliable - the numbers, they reveal an underlying truth: Casey Stoner's absence has opened a can of worms that his previous success had kept firmly shut. For the stories doing the rounds speak of Ducati offering Lorenzo extremely generous terms, but in truth, it isn't Ducati but their sponsor, Marlboro which is behind the move. Marlboro provide a sizable chunk of Ducati Corse's MotoGP budget, and have both the money and the influence to decide on rider choice.
With one extremely successful rider already at Ducati, why would Marlboro want to secure the services of another, and risk upsetting the only man who has so far brought them a world title? The answer is simple: Casey Stoner may appear on the podium regularly, but as far as appearances off the bike, he is extremely unwilling to play ball. Rider appearances, corporate entertaining, all the boring stuff that persuades sponsors to keep paying the bills, Stoner loathes it and keeps his commitments to a minimum. Even something as simple as a publicity shot is impossible to organize, with body doubles in leathers posing for glamour shots while Stoner's face is photoshopped in afterwards.
Jorge Lorenzo, on the other hand, is reckoned to have both the rider talent and the marketing knowhow to be able to both win races and sell product. He understands that to pursue his dream of becoming world champion, he has to help persuade sponsors to keep filling his team's war chest, and is willing to do his part to keep the money coming in. It is this ability, above all, that Marlboro is believed to cherish, and the tobacco company is prepared to chase Lorenzo hard to obtain his services.
Rumors that Lorenzo could be moved into the Marlboro Ducati team as the undisputed number one rider have been fed by the presence of Francesco Calvo, head of marketing for Philip Morris, in the paddock at Brno. The presence of the driving force behind Marlboro's sponsorship of Ducati when their star rider is at home with a mystery ailment, and about to miss the next three races was bound to set tongues wagging. This was only made worse when representatives of Marlboro, Ducati and Jorge Lorenzo were seen in intense discussions in the Ducati hospitality over the weekend, raising speculation almost to fever pitch.
That there is more to it than speculation has been confirmed in various places, with both Livio Suppo and Lorenzo's manager Marcos Hirsch confirming the interest that Ducati has shown in Lorenzo. Whatever the actual numbers involved, there is no doubt that Ducati will offer way above what Yamaha are offering Lorenzo, to try and tempt him to come ride the machine that is so hard to tame. The deal would give Lorenzo what he wants in terms of influence, undisputed number one status and the machine development entirely in his hands, as well as a tidy pile of cash to start a retirement fund with. But whatever the offer on the table, the elephant in the room remains: No one has so far been able to tame the Ducati other than Casey Stoner, and switching to Ducati is a huge risk.
The judgement call that Jorge Lorenzo must make is whether he thinks that he has a better chance of achieving his goal of becoming World Champion with the number one status at Ducati, or with number two status at Yamaha. The Ducati remains an evil beast to ride, only really comfortable once inside its working zone, a place that only Casey Stoner has been able to find. Lorenzo has previous experience with ill-handling bikes, taking the Derbi 125 that former world champion Emilio Alzamora could only barely score points on and scoring a win, a podium and a pole in 2003. And in 2005, he took a second-string Honda 250 ride and made it competitive against a fleet of Aprilias and the factory-backed effort of Dani Pedrosa.
Right now, though, Jorge Lorenzo is clearly on the best bike in the paddock. The top two positions in the title, the top of the manufacturers standings, the team standings, the first satellite rider and the first satellite team - ahead of a factory effort - amply prove that assertion. Staying at Yamaha would leave Jorge Lorenzo with only his team mate to beat, and though he may be handicapped by being second in line for development parts, at least he knows that the bike is capable of winning a championship; after all, his team mate is doing just that. All he has to do is beat his team mate next year, and the title will be his.
The decision leaves Lorenzo caught between a rock and a hard place, between the Devil Desmosedici and the deep blue Fiat Yamaha sea. Time is running out, and a decision is expected to be taken some time this week, and announced at Indianapolis a week later. Whether they announce any salary numbers at the time remains to be seen, but Jorge Lorenzo will surely have one fact foremost in his mind: Money won't buy you a title.