One of the larger pieces still remaining of the 2012 MotoGP puzzle has just dropped into place. According to reports from both Speedweek and GPOne.com, Andrea Dovizioso has signed a one-year deal to race with Herve Poncharal's Monster Tech 3 Yamaha for 2012, despite having an offer to ride a factory-spec Honda RC213V in Lucio Cecchinello's LCR Honda squad.
The move sees Dovizioso abandon Honda for the first time in his Grand Prix career. The Italian has ridden a Honda since his days in the 125cc class, moving up to 250s and then finally to MotoGP with the Japanese giant, winning the 2004 125cc World Championship for HRC. But Dovizioso had been falling out of grace with HRC in the past couple of years, with the Italian not making the transition to a regular winner aboard the Honda RC212V. His insistence on remaining inside the Repsol Honda team when the factory squad signed Casey Stoner alongside Dani Pedrosa put him even further out of favor, a situation that was underlined when Dovizioso's arch rival Marco Simoncelli was the first rider to be offered a factory contract and a factory RC213V for 2012. Despite the offer of a factory bike at LCR Honda, Dovizioso felt he had more options with Tech 3.
There is some merit in Dovizioso's thinking with regards to the switch to Yamaha. The competition for Honda seats is getting stronger every season: Casey Stoner is looking set to stay with the factory for the long term; Dani Pedrosa's position is still strong within HRC, despite the factory's discontent with the Spaniard's entourage; Marco Simoncelli still has the confidence of the factory, though another year of inconsistency may see him finally fall out of favor; and Marc Marquez looks set to move into the factory Repsol Honda team within a couple of years. Over at Yamaha, Jorge Lorenzo's position is looking solid, and though Ben Spies has shown good signs of progress - the Texan became the only rider besides the four so-called Aliens to win a dry race this season - he has not been as competitive as many had expected. If Dovizioso has an outstanding year aboard the Monster Tech 3 satellite Yamaha, it is possible the Italian could find his way into the factory squad.
This was also one reason Dovizioso only signed a one-year deal with the Tech 3 squad, the Italian told GPOne.com. With the contracts of all of the factory Honda, Yamaha and Ducati riders up at the end of 2012, there could be some movement inside the factory teams. And with the switch to the new 1000cc formula next season, 2012 will probably start off with just minimal differences between the factory and the satellite bikes. At the Brno MotoGP tests, where the 2012 machines got their first outing, the Yamaha proved to be highly competitive with the Honda, making it look like a viable option.
Dovizioso's signing leaves a vacancy with LCR Honda, with the names of Alvaro Bautista and Randy de Puniet the most likely candidates to fill that position. Speedweek is reporting that a "renowned MotoGP rider" has an offer from LCR, and of Bautista and De Puniet, the Frenchman is probably the favorite to secure the ride.
More interestingly, Dovizioso's turning down a factory RC213V at LCR leaves the possibility that there is a spare factory Honda up for grabs. The only rider with both the potential and the backing to afford a factory Honda - the cost of which is rumored to be between 4 and 5 million euros - is current Moto2 championship leader Marc Marquez. The 18-year-old has strong backing from Repsol, and is widely regarded as being groomed to take Dani Pedrosa's place in the factory team at some point in the future. Though Marquez has remained coy on whether he will stay in Moto2 for 2012 or move up to MotoGP, there are more and more signs that the Spaniard will make the transition to the premier class. Marquez has little left to prove in Moto2, and the sooner he gets aboard a MotoGP machine, the quicker he will learn.
With Dovizioso taking the second seat at Tech 3, Eugene Laverty's chances of switching to MotoGP would appear to have disappeared. Despite his impressive debut in the World Superbike class this season, Herve Poncharal had expressed a preference for Dovizioso on several times when he spoke to MotoMatters.com on the issue. With Cal Crutchlow on one side of the garage, still learning his way around a MotoGP machine, having a solid and proven performer on the other Tech 3 machine made more sense than taking another risk on a rookie from WSBK.