Marco Simoncelli has won the unofficial Battle of the HRC Italians. Today, the San Carlo Gresini team announced that Simoncelli would be staying with the squad for 2012, and would be doing so with a HRC contract and a factory-spec Honda RC213V.
With Honda scaling back the number of factory-supported riders in MotoGP for 2012, the question on everybody's lips had been who of the two current Italian riders HRC would choose to support next year, Andrea Dovizioso or Marco Simoncelli. Dovizioso has comprehensively beaten Simoncelli so far this year, finishing ahead of Simoncelli in 12 of this year's 14 races, and sitting a massive 79 points ahead of Simoncelli in the championship, and was pushing for another extension to his factory contract with Honda. But while Dovizioso has been quietly getting results, Simoncelli has been making headlines, and has gathered a massive fan base in the two years he has been in MotoGP. Simoncelli's popularity - especially in Italy, his home country - has helped Italian snack maker San Carlo raise their profile in their key market, and helped persuade them to stay on as sponsor with the Gresini Honda squad.
There is probably more to this decision than just Simoncelli's marketability, though. The sentiment in the paddock is that Dovizioso is also paying the price for his insistence in staying inside the factory Repsol Honda team in 2011. Under the terms of his 2010 contract, Dovizioso was entitled to a seat in the factory Honda team for 2011, but the Italian's presence became a nuisance once Honda announced the signing of Casey Stoner, and the extension of Dani Pedrosa's contract. Honda was forced to create space inside the factory Honda team to accommodate three riders, a situation which both cost them money and involved some difficult negotiations with title sponsor Repsol. With the likely 2011 World Champion, a proven race winner and a high-profile media star on the books - as well as another potential champion in the shape of Marc Marquez on the way - there was little incentive to keep a modest-but-fast rider, especially one who clung to the terms of his contract, rather than play along with Honda's plan.
With Simoncelli now in place with San Carlo, Dovizioso looks likely to switch to either LCR Honda or Tech 3 Yamaha, on a satellite ride. At Aragon, Dovizioso said he expected to make a decision in the time between Aragon and Motegi. No doubt his future will be settled at Motegi.
The press release from San Carlo Gresini announcing the deal appears below:
MARCO SIMONCELLI AND SAN CARLO HONDA GRESINI TOGETHER FOR 2012
Fausto Gresini is delighted to announce that Marco Simoncelli will once again wear the colours of Team San Carlo Honda Gresini in 2012. The new deal sees the continuation of an all-Italian rider-team project that began last year, when Simoncelli made his debut in the MotoGP class, and has continued with excellent results this season. Next year promises to be a crucial one in terms of Marco's development, as he looks to consolidate his already blossoming relationship with Team San Carlo Honda Gresini and HRC and establish himself as a frontrunner in MotoGP. As always the cornerstone of the arrangement is the trust shown in the talent of Simoncelli by HRC, who have offered a factory contract to the rider as well as a factory Honda RC213V machine and all the technical back-up he requires to compete at the very highest level.
Fausto Gresini "I am really happy to announce that Marco will be back with Team San Carlo Honda Gresini in 2012. Over the past two years together we have been able to appreciate Marco's qualities as a rider, as a man and as an extroverted communicator, which made us keen to continue our collaboration. Obviously in order to make this possible we needed a lot of effort from our sponsors, who have shown such belief in this project and I am grateful to them. HRC are going to offer a general level of support that will be very important as well as making a factory RC213V factory available to Marco. All this gives us great pride and is a testament to the close relationship we have built with the Japanese factory over fifteen fruitful years of partnership. Marco's huge determination will give us all a lot of motivation ahead of what promises to be an exciting new season."
Marco Simoncelli "To be wearing the colours of Team San Carlo Honda Gresini for another year and riding a Honda RC213V gives me a lot of satisfaction. To be kept on as part of project that Honda HRC are so supportive of in collaboration with Team San Carlo Honda Gresini gives me a lot of confidence and all the motivation I need to show that I can be amongst the best in MotoGP again. 2012 will be an important season for me and I want to give all those people who have believed in this project plenty to get excited about."