Marco Melandri's decision to switch series has paid off handsomely for the Italian. Melandri went from struggling to score top 10 finishes in MotoGP to regular winner and championship contender in World Superbikes, the factory Yamaha rider now challenging Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa for the 2011 WSBK title.
So it comes as no surprise that Melandri has extended his contract with the factory Yamaha World Superbike squad for another year, according to GPOne.com. The agreement will see Melandri remain alongside Irish teammate Eugene Laverty for another season, Yamaha's WSBK team remaining unchanged for the first time since 2008. It is also the first time since 2007 that Marco Melandri will be staying with the same team and riding the same bike for two years in a row.
Melandri's contract extension is the first move in what could be a long and very late World Superbike silly season. The Yamaha team is now set for 2012, but just about every other team is likely to see a radical shakeup. At Aprilia, it is still unclear whether Max Biaggi will stay on to serve the second year of his two-year contract, while Leon Camier is widely rumored to be heading for the door.
At BMW, Troy Corser is almost certain to retire, while Leon Haslam is desperate to leave, having been sorely disappointed by the difficulties in setting the S1000RR up to be competitive. Honda is almost certain to lose Ruben Xaus, and Jonathan Rea is set on moving to MotoGP for 2012, though a lack of seats on Honda MotoGP machines may put paid to that idea.
The situation at Suzuki is even less clear, as there are doubts over whether Suzuki will even be fielding a factory-supported team next season, and Alstare is said to be talking to Kawasaki about running their factory effort. Paul Bird, current Kawasaki factory team owner, is equally determined to retain the contract, but who will be riding for him remains uncertain, the only sure thing being that it will not be Chris Vermeulen, who has struggled with injury this year.
The new Ducati superbike is the most hotly sought-after rider in the World Superbike paddock at the moment, with Ducati expected to return with a two-rider factory squad for 2012. Carlos Checa is almost certain to feature in their plans, but the second seat remains up for grabs. The only question over Ducati's WSBK return is whether they will have any spare cash to run the team. The small Bologna factory is currently spending cubic Euros in a desperate attempt to make the Desmosedici MotoGP bike competitive, with new engines and chassis being thrown at the project while nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi languishes 20+ seconds off the pace. If the factory has to keep throwing money at making their MotoGP bike competitive - an aluminium box section twin spar frame is rumored to make its appearance at the Brno post-race tests in mid-August, the second radical revision of the bike since the start of the season - then running a two-rider factory team in World Superbikes may not be at the top of its priorities. Especially when the nominally privateer Althea Ducati squad is already doing such a sterling job of batting for the title.