The past few days have been a veritable whirlwind of news, or more accurately, rumor and speculation, about the future of Jorge Lorenzo. The Spaniard has been holding up the MotoGP transfer market since early July, when he held off on signing a new contract with Yamaha over the conditions of the deal, and explored the options on offer to him from the other manufacturers. He had, as he took pleasure in pointing out, received offers from all the other manufacturers, and was using those offers as leverage with Yamaha, to try and extract promises of equal treatment from the team. The kind of promises that Lorenzo believed he had from the factory when he signed with them the first time around, for the 2008 and 2009 seasons.
At Brno, the market started to show some signs of movement, with Marco Melandri going to Gresini Honda, Alvaro Bautista moving up to the Rizla Suzuki ride, strong indications that Hector Barbera would take the Aspar Ducati, and a statement by the head of HRC that they had reached basic agreements with Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso. At the same time, HRC boss Tetsuo Suzuki also indicated that they would not be signing Jorge Lorenzo. Two different stories are in circulation about the reasons for this: One says that the deal failed because Honda was unwilling to meet Lorenzo's salary demands; the other reports that Suzuki-san's statement was a face saving operation, after Lorenzo had already turned Honda down.
It looked like Lorenzo's role was played out. But Casey Stoner's absence due to illness, the presence of Philip Morris head of marketing Francesco Calvo at Brno despite Stoner's absence, and a series of late night meetings in the Ducati hospitality unit soon gave rise to speculation that Ducati were closing in on signing a deal with Jorge Lorenzo, to take over development of the troublesome Desmosedici, and become the new face of the team. The sums involved were reported to be astronomical, somewhere between 4 and 8 million euros a year, for a two-year deal.
The saga, which reported on on Saturday, Tuesday and Wednesday night, seems to be coming to a head. For Spanish website Motocuatro is reporting that Lorenzo has reached an agreement in principle with Ducati, and will be riding with the Bologna-based factory for the next two seasons. Concrete salary numbers were not reported, but according to Motocuatro, the deal would make Lorenzo the second highest paid motorcycle racer in the world, behind only - you guessed it - his team mate Valentino Rossi. That would put the deal in the upper end of the 4 to 8 million euro range being bandied about.
More than money, though, Jorge Lorenzo is certain to have asked for and received undisputed number one status at Ducati. Lorenzo's signing, it is reported, is at the express request of the most senior figures inside Philip Morris, the tobacco company that bankrolls most of Ducati's MotoGP effort, Ferrari's Formula One program, and pays the salaries of Ducati's riders. The way in which Stoner handled his illness - allegedly, a week before Brno, the Australian simply informed the team that he would not be riding at the next three races without consulting them about the matter first - is said to have been the final straw for Marlboro. Stoner has frequently refused to help out with marketing and promotional activities, believing that his job is that of a motorcycle racer, and as such, his main priority should be to focus 100% on winning races, and not get distracted by the fripperies of marketing. Marlboro disagrees, as they might considering they pay tens of millions of euros to pay for the program which allows Stoner to race.
Lorenzo, who is both aware of the necessity of marketing and promotional activities, and understands the business principles underlying the decision to sponsor motorcycle racing, has shown himself to be a sponsor's dream, turning up and going through the motions at the many activities put on by the Fiat Yamaha team. Added to that is his ability to both deal with a difficult bike and then develop it in the right direction, abilities he showed in the 125cc and 250cc classes, and his undeniable talent, pushing Valentino Rossi to the limit to hold his young upstart team mate off. All these things add up for both Marlboro and Ducati, and signing Lorenzo is an obvious choice.
At first glance, the reports in Motocuatro seem fairly definitive, but read a little further and there is still some reason for caution. The story states that Jorge Lorenzo will be riding with Ducati for the next two seasons, but couches it in the phrase "with almost certain probability." In other words, they believe that the deal is done, but cannot be 100% certain. Given the accuracy of the publication's news stories over the past few days, they would appear to have excellent sources inside the Lorenzo camp. However, they also claimed that Lorenzo had met with Ducati's MotoGP boss Livio Suppo, who according to the Italian site GPOne.com is currently vacationing with his family in the US. On the other hand, the Catalonian paper El Periodico claimed that Suppo passed through Barcelona on his way to his vacation address in the US. A cynic might offer the alternative hypothesis that the Lorenzo camp is using a series of judiciously placed leaks to gain yet more leverage over Yamaha in the negotiations, and finally get some cast-iron guarantees of equality with Rossi, but that must remain nothing but speculation.
One way or another, we will learn the truth of the matter in just a few days time. Jorge Lorenzo is due to announce his plans for the future at Indianapolis. It will be one of the most eagerly awaited press conferences of the year.