After months of secrecy, the announcement is finally out in the open. Ducati and Honda today officially announced the news that Casey Stoner is to leave Ducati and is heading to Honda. The move has been expected for a long time, ever since news leaked out after the Jerez round of MotoGP. Stoner's father and manager Colin accompanied his son to the Jerez race, and has not been seen at a race since.
The news is no real surprise: Stoner is known to have a very strong relationship with Livio Suppo, and when the former Ducati team boss left Borgo Panigale to join HRC, he reportedly told Ducati's management that his first target would be the young Australian, and that he intended to bring Stoner to Honda.
Since winning the championship for Ducati at his first attempt, in 2007 on the brand new 800cc Desmosedici GP7, Stoner's success - though still phenomenal - has waned. His 2008 championship defense faltered at Laguna Seca and was scuppered by consecutive falls at Brno and Misano, and his 2009 challenge was halted by a mystery illness that was later diagnosed as lactose intolerance. Problems with a different set of forks being used in the 2010 bike caused Stoner to crash out unexpectedly early this season, though reverting to the forks from last year appear to have resolved the issue. Despite the problems, Casey Stoner still has 20 victories in MotoGP, putting him level with the legendary Freddie Spencer.
For Stoner, a switch to Honda would be a return, rather than a new adventure. The Australian rode a 990cc satellite RC211V for Lucio Cecchinello's LCR Honda team in his debut year in 2006, where he made an instant impact, taking pole in his second ever MotoGP race and gaining a reputation for being incredibly fast, but prone to crashing. That the crashes were down to the nature of the front Michelin tires became clear when Stoner's crashing ceased overnight after switching to the Bridgestone-shod Ducati.
Press releases were issued simultaneously by Honda and Ducati announcing Stoner's move to HRC, but the Honda announcement contained perhaps the most interesting nugget of information. In an almost casual comment, HRC vice president Shuhei Nakamoto confirmed Honda's intention to run a three-man factory effort in 2011, hoping to retain both Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso for HRC. Current expectations are that two riders will figure in the Repsol team, while a separate team will be created under Red Bull sponsorship, with full factory support. Casey Stoner's name has been most often linked to the one-man Red Bull team, but given Andrea Dovizioso's long association with Red Bull, it could make more sense for Dovizioso to take that spot.
Speculation will now intensify over who is to take Casey Stoner's spot at Ducati, but the results are almost a foregone conclusion. Apart from some last minute wrangling over alternatives, Valentino Rossi seems almost certain to join the Marlboro Ducati team for 2011. That announcement is likely to come by Brno.
Below are the official press releases announcing Casey Stoner's switch from Ducati to Honda.
Marlboro Ducati press release:
Ducati and Stoner to part company at the end of 2010 after four fantastic years together
JULY 9, 2010
The Valencia Grand Prix on November 7th 2010 will be the event that concludes four years of extraordinary collaboration between Ducati and Casey Stoner. An important relationship characterized by a strong reciprocal esteem and many victories, among which the first MotoGP World Title for both the Italian manufacturer and the Australian rider.
Stoner arrived in Ducati in 2007 and, riding the Desmosedici GP7 that was making its debut in the new 800cc category, he took his first victory in the very first race, embarking on a path that would lead to the world title later in that same year and many more successes during subsequent seasons.
Ducati would like to thank Casey Stoner, who has decided to undertake a new challenge, with gratitude and affection that will always remain.
"I would like to thank Casey on behalf of our fans and our sponsors, but most of all on behalf of all the people working at Ducati," commented Filippo Preziosi, Ducati Corse General Director. "The victories and emotions he gave us, rewarded all the hard work and sacrifice we made. In these four years together we have had a lot of great moments. Securing the 2007 MotoGP World Championship title and the victory at Mugello in 2009 were moments that we will never forget. In Casey we not only found an incredibly talented rider, but also an honest and loyal guy and that's why there will always be a strong and sincere bond between us, even as a competitor."
"I must thank Ducati for giving me such a great opportunity to race and win with them over these past four years" commented Casey Stoner. "They took a gamble when they signed me at the end of 2006 as I was unknown, but as we worked together we were able to win a Championship, many races and challenge for the Championship in the last two seasons. I have now decided to move on and I will have new challenges in the future and different obstacles to overcome, but I will not forget these years with Ducati and the people I have had the privilege to work so closely with. So a big thanks to Ducati and all our sponsors who we have shared success with while achieving lifelong goals"
HRC press release:
CASEY STONER TO JOIN HONDA IN 2011
HRC is delighted to announce that Casey Stoner will become a factory Honda rider in next year's MotoGP World Championship. The Australian 2007 World Champion, who rode in the Honda LCR Team in his debut MotoGP season in 2006, will rejoin Honda after four seasons with Ducati. Honda's complete factory team line-up for 2011 will be officially presented later in the season.
HRC Vice President Shuhei Nakamoto said:
"We are very pleased that Casey will join Honda again next year. Clearly he is one of the top riders in MotoGP and he will bring valuable speed and experience to our team. In the factory Honda squad we already have two very strong and experienced riders in Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso who are performing very well and currently hold second and third positions in the 2010 World Championship. HRC hopes also to retain these two riders for next year - giving us what would be a truly formidable line-up."