Yesterday, we discussed who is going where in the factory teams in MotoGP. For the most part, those deals are either public, or really badly-kept secrets. Today, we'll look at the situation among the satellite teams, a situation which is much, much less clear-cut than the factory squad, in part because the factory deals have not all been announced yet. The number of changes are suprisingly few, reflecting in part the problems in MotoGP. As costs rise, the cost of being competitive is growing, and more importantly, the cost of failure is increasing as well.
As a consequence, teams are not willing to take chances on unproven but promising talent. The learning curve in MotoGP is now so steep - electronics, bike setup, but most especially tires - that it takes half a season to start to get your head around the class. Limited testing has made the situation much, much worse, raising the penalty for rookies entering the class even further - the scrabbling around for substitute riders for Valentino Rossi, Hiroshi Aoyama and Randy de Puniet illustrating the case perfectly.
With such high stakes, teams - even satellite teams - want a rider that they can be sure will score regular top ten finishes. But even with just 18 bikes on the grid, there's only so many spaces left open in the top 10, and so someone is going to lose face. The introduction of the CRT teams is meant to alleviate some of the pressure, drastically reducing the cost of "failure", and hopefully encouraging sponsors to spend a little on a backmarker, rather than a lot on a probable backmarker.
So below is our best guess at who will be going where among the satellite teams, and where the MotoGP refugees will be heading off to for 2011. As yesterday, we will also address the question of sponsorship, and alongside the rider lineup for each team, we've added who we think will be footing the bill next year. Riders and sponsors in bold are confirmed (or as good as confirmed), while names in italics are either best guesses or based on firm rumors.
|Tech 3||Monster - The US energy drink giant is stepping up its backing of the Tech 3 team for 2011, funding both MotoGP and Moto2 teams. With a number of top riders already on personal contracts with Monster, the job of filling the two vacant seats at Tech 3 should be eased a little. But replacing the Texas Dream Team is going to be tough.|
|A great deal of Dorna's revenue comes from TV contracts, and with the contract with Spanish broadcaster TVE about to be slashed due to budget constraints enforced by the cash-strapped Spanish government, Dorna is having to shore up their TV contracts in other markets to ensure their income over the medium term. Given the size of the contract with the BBC, a British rider in MotoGP is an absolute necessity, and so the hunt is on for a competitive Brit to fill a seat in the series. Until Scott Redding or Bradley Smith are ready to make the step up into the premier class, team managers are fishing in the World Superbike pond looking for replacements. The prime candidates from WSBK are Cal Crutchlow, Johnny Rea and Leon Haslam, with all three having proven themselves fast this season.
Of those three Brits, Crutchlow is the most likely to be given the nod. The young Briton proved his mettle by dominating World Supersport in 2009, and finally cashed in on the five Superpoles he had snagged by taking the double at the Silverstone WSBK round. Crutchlow has made his desire to move to MotoGP very public, and is probably still young enough to make the switch between the codes. But the leap from WSBK to MotoGP remains a large one, as witnessed by so many of the WSBK champions who have made the switch before him. But Crutchlow has shown the grit and determination needed to stay the course, and with Yamaha firmly behind him, will at least be given the time to adjust.
|The second Tech 3 seat is the most difficult to predict, as the list of suitable candidates to fill the seat is pretty short. Team boss Herve Poncharal still hopes that Colin Edwards will remain with the squad, but the Texan has had enough of scrabbling for the consolation prizes and is off to try to bag a trophy or two in World Superbikes.
Of the men who could take Edwards' place, Leon Haslam looks the best option, the young Briton being both Monster-backed and having ridden brilliantly in World Superbikes, on an underfunded and underdeveloped Suzuki (now where have we heard that before?) Johnny Rea looks to be hanging on for backing from Honda, which will only come if he has a world championship under his belt, leaving the Ulsterman racing in WSBK for at least another season. In Moto2, Andrea Iannone has caught the eye of quite a few team managers, though the Italian's temperament remains under question. Outside of Iannone, though, the pickings are rather slim. The riders doing well in the class still lack experience, and will probably have to spend another season in Moto2 to prove they can be competitive. Until the breakneck pace of development in Moto2 starts to slow down, it is going to be hard to assess who can make the jump into MotoGP and who can't. Coincidence has Herve Poncharal facing the problem alone for the 2011 season, but there will be more team managers with the same issue next year.
|Gresini Honda||San Carlo - Gresini continues to build on its relationship with San Carlo, as anyone who has purchased a potato-based snack in Italy can testify. The faces of Team Marco (Simoncelli and Melandri) gaze out at you from every gas station food court, airport waiting lounge and supermarket snack aisle the length and breadth of the Italian peninsula. The Italian food company wants Italian riders, constraining Fausto Gresini's hand a little. Fortunately, he's going to get a helping hand from HRC, most likely.|
|Pity poor Andrea Dovizioso. The Italian has done everything right except winning a race this season, and is third in the championship ahead of Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi. And still he can't get Honda to honor the option he reportedly has in his contract, guaranteeing another year in the factory team. Honda's problem is the signing of Stoner alongside Dani Pedrosa, and their failure to raise the extra funds from either Repsol or Red Bull which would have covered Dovizioso's seat, and so HRC are having to cast round for alternatives.
Realistically, the Gresini team is the best option. The team already has one HRC-backed rider in the team, in the shape of Marco Simoncelli, and the addition of Dovzioso would benefit all sides - though Dovizioso may take some persuading to see it that way. In effect, the Gresini Honda team would be turned into a junior factory team, with both riders on factory-spec RC212Vs and with HRC backing. Gresini gets two popular Italian riders to sell to its sponsors (Italian snack firm San Carlo) without having to pay their salaries (both of them being under contract to HRC), while Honda gets more control of Gresini, and avoids contract embarrassment with Dovizioso.
The only stumbling block is Dovizioso himself. Given the long history of unfulfilled promises between HRC and Gresini (Toni Elias was the last victim, but Marco Melandri suffered a similar fate back in 2007), Dovizioso my be a little wary of being placed in a satellite team, no matter what the conditions. Negotiations to move Dovizioso could be very tough indeed, but in the end, it's probably his best option.
|Like Ben Spies, Marco Simoncelli is the only rider in the middle of a two-year contract, and sure of his job for 2011. Simoncelli got off to a tough start, but has shown steady improvement as the season has progressed. Simoncelli will get one more year from Honda to prove himself, but with Dovizioso also on a factory contract, Simoncelli might have to find another paymaster for 2012. If he continues his current progress, Gresini should have no problem picking up the tab for the Fabulous Furry Freak Brother in 2012.|
|Pramac Ducati||Pramac - Paolo Campinoti, CEO of the Pramac Group, continues to run the satellite Ducati team as a subsidiary of the factory team. That setup is clearest in the pit crews, with mechanics and engineers mostly employees of Ducati Corse, rather than Pramac. The relationship is beneficial both ways: Campinoti gets a billboard for his industrial generator business, Ducati gets a training ground for their race crew.|
|When Loris Capirossi stepped in to take the place of John Hopkins at Suzuki in 2008, the Japanese factory were coming off their best season ever. Since then, it's been all downhill, and the Italian veteran is growing tired of the Suzuki's lack of competitiveness. There were rumors at the end of June that Capirossi was even trying to get out of his contract early, so poorly was his season going, but the likely cost of such a move prevented Capirossi from making the switch. Capirossi will see out the rest of the season, before making the switch to the Pramac Ducati satellite squad.
The move will see Capirossi come full circle. A similar deal was offered to Capirossi when the Marlboro Ducati squad made their ill-fated signing of Marco Melandri in 2007. Capirossi declined and went to Suzuki, and now he can't leave fast enough. The Italian will probably compete in one more season of MotoGP, hoping to salvage some of his dignity aboard a more competitive machine, before retiring to his home (for tax purposes) in Monaco.
|Pramac, like Tech 3, has a dilemma. With the arrival of Capirossi, they will have to lose one of their two current riders, Aleix Espargaro or Mika Kallio. The obvious choice would be to dump Kallio, who is having a fairly dismal season, apart from a decent 7th place finish at Jerez. But Kallio's presence is helping Dorna sell TV deals in Scandinavia, and though small beer financially, they are good for the sport's international profile, and add to the mix of nationalities on the grid. If it comes down to money, then Kallio would be the financially more attractive choice, as his seat would be subsidized by the Spanish organizers.
Dorna would not be willing to do the same for Kallio's current teammate Espargaro, despite the rookie looking the more promising prospect of the two. Espargaro suffers from being Spanish, and with a surfeit of Iberians on the grid, Espargaro's wages would have to come out of Pramac's budget. Judging by his results, however, Espargaro has consistently looked the stronger of the two riders, running faster in practice and qualifying. Espargaro has shown some weakness under pressure, however, crashing out of the last three races as he realizes he is riding for his job. If he can stay on the bike and start racking up the points, Espargaro could still keep his job.
Alternatively, Paolo Campinoti - team manager and CEO of the sponsor Pramac - may decide to look for an Italian to join the squad, to bolster his home market. Mattia Pasini has been linked previously with the squad, and after breaking up with his JiR team earlier in the year over money, the Italian could make the jump into the premier class. Before that happens, there are other options to be explored, though.
|LCR Honda||Event sponsors - Lucio Cecchinello continues to follow his course of selling single event sponsorship for lesser amounts, rather than trying to persuade big companies to fork out very large sums for an entire year. The policy has been successful, and has allowed smaller companies such as luggage maker GIVI, bike clothing manufacturer REV'IT, and of course the fans' favorite, Italian Playboy, to get major exposure at selected events at a price they can afford. No change at LCR, either in terms of sponsorship or in terms of rider.|
|Randy de Puniet||2011|
|2010 is turning out to be Randy de Puniet's best season ever - barring that unfortunate incident in which he broke his tibia and fibula at the Sachsenring. The Frenchman has had his first ever front-row start this season, and has looked a permanent threat. So strong has he been that HRC has decided to supply extra upgrades, putting De Puniet's bike much closer to the spec of the factory machines than the other satellite machines - with the exception of HRC-backed Marco Simoncelli. De Puniet has been linked to the Tech 3 squad, but mainly on the basis of nationality. However, both team manager Lucio Cecchinello and De Puniet know they are on to a good thing, and there is no reason to believe they won't extend the contract for another year.|
|Aspar Ducati||Paginas Amarillas, or another major Spanish sponsor. If there is one person in the paddock who could rightly be described as a one-man money generating machine, it's Jorge Martinez, or "Aspar" as his nickname has it. Aspar's deep connections inside of the Valencian business community mean that he can seemingly conjour up sponsorship at will, and can always find a company to back his projects. The one limiting factor is that his Spanish (well, Valencian) sponsors demand a Spanish (or better, Valencian) rider.|
|Hector Barbera only got the Aspar MotoGP ride after Aspar's anointed rider Alvaro Bautista jumped ship and signed for Suzuki. And Barbera only has the Aspar MotoGP ride while Aspar's anointed rider Julian Simon prepares himself in Moto2, and is ready to make the step up to the premier class. In the meantime, Barbera has acquitted himself with some style, scoring solid points and currently sitting ahead of veteran Loris Capirossi and three of the other MotoGP rookies in the standings. With Simon still struggling to make sense of the Suter Moto2 bike, Barbera will probably be offered another year to fly the flag for Jorge Martinez Aspar's Spanish sponsors in MotoGP.|
|Cardion AB Ducati||Cardion - When you own a company the size of Cardion, and have cash enough to spare to buy a racetrack with, running a race team is relatively small beer. Karel Abraham (Senior) is ensuring that Karel Abraham (Junior) gets a chance to show what he's made of.|
|It is said of Karel Abraham that the only reason he is in the paddock is because his father - who owns both the Cardion medical equipment company and the Brno circuit - is rich enough to buy him a team. This reputation is not helped by the team's decision to move up to MotoGP, something that the Cardion AB team can afford to do because Abraham Sr makes the spending decisions. This, however, is to sell Abraham (Jr) short. The Czech youngster did not set the world on fire in 250s, but since the team ditched the Italian RSV Moto2 chassis for the British-made FTR, Abraham's results have shown marked improvement. Abraham has gone from perpetual mid-pack rider to top 10 - and even top 5 - regular, proving that he can perform given the right circumstances. A test at Mugello saw the young Czech posting a best time of 1'51.0, well on the pace for his first run out. Abraham's participation brings the grid back up to 18 riders - much to Dorna's relief - and he should be capable of scoring respectable finishes in the premier class. He will not win the championship, but he certainly won't embarrass himself.|
|Paddock GP Honda||Interwetten - Daniel Epp's MotoGP team is the least well-funded in the paddock, but the Swiss team manager has always been good at striking deals to fund his ambitious plans. Epp will probably find the money to compete next year, and will likely be helped by getting funds from Honda and Dorna to keep Hiroshi Aoyama.|
|The Paddock GP effort (formally, the Interwetten Honda team) is part of an ambitious all-class assault by Swiss team boss Daniel Epp. The downside of that effort is that all three classes are being run on a tight budget, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the MotoGP class. A new team has been assembled around reigning (and last ever) 250 World Champion Hiroshi Aoyama. Under the watchful eye of veteran crew chief Tom Jojic, Aoyama has set about the business of learning to ride a MotoGP bike the same way he learned his craft on a 250: slowly, methodically, and thoroughly. Injury has held Aoyama back: An unreported wrist problem meant that Aoyama was riding with little or no strength in his hands, and a cold-tire crash at Silverstone saw the Japanese rider fracture a vertebra, ruling him out for at least seven races. Hardly the kind of season a reigning world champion would wish to start his MotoGP with.
Despite his problems, there is reason to believe that both the Interwetten team and Aoyama will be back next year. Honda wants a Japanese rider on the grid, as does Dorna, and so both have an interest in seeing Aoyama return. What's more, there are very few candidates to take his place: Yuki Takahashi proved too fragile on the RC212V, and Shoya Tomizawa needs another year in Moto2 to prove himself. The seat of MotoGP's quiet man seems assured, and though the Interwetten team is struggling, it seems more likely that the 125cc team will be dropped before the MotoGP team. Daniel Epp has Thomas Luthi - currently lying 2nd in the Moto2 championship - waiting in the wings, and while 2011 is probably too early for the Swiss rider to make the jump to MotoGP, Luthi is a very good bet to move up to the premier class in 2012, possibly as part of a two-man CRT team.
|Out of MotoGP|
|Colin Edwards||Ducati World Superbikes|
|Anyone reading Superbikeplanet's brilliant interview with Colin Edwards at Laguna Seca was left in no doubt about the Texas Tornado's lack of motivation. Edwards wants to win again, and he knows that this is almost impossible on a satellite MotoGP bike - the last time being Toni Elias in 2006. So Edwards is heading back to World Superbikes, where the competition is closer and he believes he stands a chance of standing on the top step. The less punishing schedule for WSBK also likely plays a factor, as Edwards has just opened his own riding school, the colorfully-named Texas Tornado Boot Camp. This is likely to require more of his time than the MotoGP schedule will allow.
Edwards has had a long run in MotoGP, and plenty of podiums. But he has never stood on the top step in the class, and it looks like he has abandoned any hope of achieving that.
|Marco Melandri||BMW World Superbikes|
|Anyone doubting that Marco Melandri can ride a bike never saw Melandri's glorious one-handed powerslide exiting the final turn at Phillip Island, flashing the V for victory sign with his left hand. But that brilliance only appeared in flashes, and Melandri's mercurial talent eventually cost him his seat in MotoGP. There is no doubt that Melandri can ride, it's just that he has to believe he can, and sometimes, that self-belief is missing, such as during his miserable year on the Ducati in 2008.
The most credible rumors put Melandri in World Superbikes with BMW. The tutelage of Davide Tardozzi, a tough but inspiring Italian, may be just what Melandri needs to relight his fire. Melandri may never make a return to MotoGP, but it would be foolish to believe he is done winning.
|Kallio has been beset by problems this year. The Finn was expected to consolidate his strong rookie year and start becoming a regular feature in the top 10. Instead, Kallio has barely matched his 2009 form, and is looking out of his depth in the class. After a strong run in the 125 and 250 class, Kallio may elect to follow in the footsteps of Toni Elias, and drop back to Moto2 for a year, and hope his chances improve in 2012.|