After the official announcement earlier today that Dani Pedrosa had signed a one-year contract with Repsol Honda, we predicted that MotoGP's silly season in 2010 would the most frantic ever, as the contracts of all of the Fantastic Four - Pedrosa, Ducati's Casey Stoner, and Yamaha riders Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo - are due to expire at the end of 2010. Little did we realize just how prophetic those words would be, or just how soon the hunt would be opened.
The first hints came in a press conference given by Shuhei Nakamoto, vice president of HRC, announcing the contract extension of Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso. During the session, Nakamoto was asked about Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi. If they were interested in joining Honda, Nakomoto said, HRC would be very happy to have them. A statement that seems obvious at first, but given that both Stoner and Rossi have been rather uncomplimentary about HRC since leaving Honda, still an interesting step.
The press conference discussed more than just Honda's rider choice for 2010 and 2011, though. Nakamoto-san was asked about the Bridgestone tires, to which he replied that Honda was only getting about 70-80% of the maximum performance out of the tires. He admitted, though, that Honda could hardly go running to the other manufacturers for advice. As for the choice of Ohlins or Showa suspension next year, HRC had not yet made a decision. The testers in Japan had provided contradictory data and opinions, so a decision on 2010 would have to wait.
One burning question was the role of Alberto Puig inside the Repsol Honda team. Had it changed? A little, Nakamoto told the press. Mike Leitner was the team manager, he said, but Puig was still Pedrosa's manager, and the rumors about HRC wanting to keep Puig out of the garage were not true. As for their personal relationship, "our relationship is not bad," Nakamoto said," But we are not friends."
Perhaps the most interesting tidbit came in answer to the number of bikes HRC will field next year. Honda will definitely be running 6 again in 2010. But they could also field 8 bikes if necessary, supporting rumors that both Scot Honda and LCR could receive an extra bike next year, which would guarantee Hiroshi Aoyama a place in MotoGP for 2010. As the Japanese rider is edging closer to taking the title for Honda, their first in the class since Dani Pedrosa won in 2005, that would seem a just reward.
~~~ UPDATE ~~~
We erroneously attributed the quotes above to Tetsuo Suzuki, President of HRC, but it was pointed out to us that they were actually made by Shuhei Nakamoto, Vice President of HRC and the man in charge of the day-to-day running of Honda's MotoGP effort. The story has been changed to assign the quotes to the right person.