With the majority of seats now either taken or at least penciled in, the 2011 MotoGP grid is starting to take shape. And with just 18 seats available - and the risk of fewer seats, if Suzuki field only one rider or the current Interwetten team can't find the funds to field a bike again next season - the make-up of the grid is becoming increasingly important to Dorna. There will once again be at least four Spaniards in the premier class (Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, Hector Barbera and Alvaro Bautista certain of a seat in 2011), and a very good chance of Toni Elias making it five. Add to that three Americans and four Italians, and diversity is far to be found on the MotoGP grid.
British rider Cal Crutchlow will help add to the range of nationalities on the grid in 2011, when he joins the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha squad for next year, but the arrival of a Brit will only compensate for the loss of a Scandinavian, with Finnish rider Mika Kallio expected to be out of a job at the end of the season, and strong rumors from Finland that the former 125 championship runner up is even considering quitting racing altogether. So it is unsurprising that fresh rumors have emerged that German rider Max Neukirchner will be heading to MotoGP next season, to ride a Ducati. For GPOne.com is reporting that Neukirchner has found sufficient sponsorship to secure a seat at the Pramac Ducati squad, replacing Mika Kallio.
Similar rumors had emerged about a month ago, with Neukirchner being linked to a single-rider team with German backing, rumors which Neukirchner subsequently denied. But with Dorna keen to have a German rider back in MotoGP, and only a smaller amount required if Neukirchner is to join the Pramac Ducati squad, these reports could well have some legs.
The wisdom of the move remains to be seen, however. Question marks remain over whether Neukirchner ever fully recovered from the monster crash at Monza last year, as his results have been consistently disappointing since them. Neukirchner was released from his contract by Francis Batta at Alstare Suzuki, and switched to the Hannspree Ten Kate Honda WSBK squad for 2010, where he has been thoroughly beaten by his teammate, Johnny Rea. Added to doubts about his current form are the problems faced by so many World Superbike riders when switching to the MotoGP class, the bikes and tires requiring a completely different style than the production-based superbikes to go fast.
With so few bikes on the MotoGP grid, and so many seats taken by so few nationalities, any riders from outside of the current triumvirate dominating MotoGP is being warmly welcomed by Dorna. And with so few Germans coming through from other classes - Stefan Bradl and Jonas Folger the German riders most likely to succeed coming up through 125s and Moto2, but neither youngster ready for primetime just yet - Neukirchner may be Germany's best hope for MotoGP right at the moment.