Fears of a tiny grid in MotoGP for 2012 appear to be receding rapidly. As the countdown to next year approaches, the final slots on the grid - along with what may turn out to be a large number of CRT entries, as we reported earlier - are starting to fill up.
The burning question in the MotoGP paddock at the moment is whether Spanish prodigy Marc Marquez will move up to MotoGP from Moto2 next season. Speculation on the matter has been hectic, with negotiations being opened in earnest at the Aragon round of MotoGP, where Marquez' mentor and manager Emilio Alzamora told reporters that Marquez had little to gain from staying in Moto2. Since then, the situation has moved on, and as Spanish petroleum giant Repsol's plans for 2012 have been clarified, a switch to MotoGP is looking increasingly likely.
The final answer to Marquez' future will come at Sepang, however. In an interview on the Spanish TV program MotoGP Club, in response to questions about having been seen talking to LCR Honda's Lucio Cecchinello and other key Honda personnel in the paddock at Phillip Island, Alzamora said that all would be revealed next weekend. "The news is that at the Grand Prix of Malaysia, some time during the weekend, we will tell everyone what decision Marc and we have taken for next year," Alzamora told Spanish TV presenter Ernest Riveras. "I think Malaysia is a good moment to explain about Marc's future."
That the announcement will come in Malaysia would seem to suggest that Marquez will be moving to MotoGP. If the Spaniard was staying in Moto2, it would make more sense to make the announcement immediately. That way, Marquez could concentrate on securing the Moto2 World Championship, free from reporters pestering him about his plans for 2012. Malaysia is the latest moment that Marquez and Alzamora could announce a move to MotoGP without the news leaking out of its own accord. By Sepang, HRC will have to start producing the bikes and equipment to supply the Spaniard, and once that process is underway, the news will surely leak out in the village atmosphere of the MotoGP paddock.
If Marquez does move to MotoGP, the Spaniard has two options: he will either be slotted into the LCR Honda team, Lucio Cecchinello's structure largely moved aside to make way for the Monlau Competicion group which has overseen Marquez' career so far, or Monlau will enter as a separate satellite Honda team, with the backing of Repsol and another large Spanish sponsor. In both cases, Marquez will be a very far cry from a satellite rider: he will have a factory Honda RC213V with factory support and engineers, but to comply with the rules preventing MotoGP rookies from going straight to a factory team, the team will not be a part of the factory Repsol Honda squad. However, the set up will be very similar to the Nastro Azzurro set up which Valentino Rossi spent his first year in the 500cc class with: factory bike, factory mechanics, but a nominally independent team. For this reason, Repsol will not be the title sponsor of the team, despite being likely to be carrying the bulk of the costs.
As an interesting side note, in the Moto3 class, Repsol and Monlau will be fielding a three-rider team. One of the riders is to be an already familiar name: Maverick Viñales looks set to make the switch from BQR to Repsol. Moto3 The other two have come straight from the Spanish CEV championship, with Alex Rins and Alex Marquez set to join the team. Both riders are fascinating prospects: Alex is the younger, and reputedly more talented, brother of Marc, while Rins is the rider who has been beating Alex Marquez all year and leads the championship.
While Marquez' move from Moto2 to MotoGP has been widely anticipated, the other rumor coming out of the MotoGP paddock at Phillip Island is more of a surprise. When the Aspar team decided to switch from a satellite Ducati operation to become a CRT team, that left a Ducati Desmosedici GP12 going spare for next season. The bike and its associated parts are already being produced, and unless a team can be found to run the bike, Ducati would simply have to write off the costs. So while satellite teams such as Aspar and Gresini (who are expected to field a Honda CBR1000RR-powered CRT bike with Yuki Takahashi alongside Marco Simoncelli) have been making the transition to CRT status, one team that had been accepted as a CRT entry looks set to make its debut as a satellite team.
The Marc VDS Racing team had already been given a grid slot for 2012 as a CRT entry, and were expected to field the BMW-powered Suter which they have been helping Suter develop. However, the combination of friction between the team and Suter over the level of Moto2 support and the cost of the Suter CRT bike - reported to be around 1.3 million euros a season - has encouraged the Marc VDS team to look elsewhere, and the team are being linked to the spare Ducati that was being produced for Aspar. The obvious candidate for the Desmosedici is Marc VDS Racing's current rider, Scott Redding; the 18-year-old Briton has outgrown his Moto2 machine, and his size and weight is felt to be better suited to a MotoGP machine. Though Redding, like Simoncelli, could suffer with the 21-liter fuel limit in MotoGP, the extra power and weight of a MotoGP bike would be a much better fit for Redding than another year in Moto2.
The only sticking point for the deal is believed to be financial: while the team already had the budget for the Suter CRT entry, the extra cost of leasing the Ducati will have to be raised through extra sponsorship. With the start of the season so rapidly approaching, time is short to secure the extra cash, and the global economic situation makes it extremely difficult.
The difficulties that Ducati has had this year have also made the Ducati an unattractive prospect, for both new riders and old, but the hope is that next year, the bike will be significantly improved. The different riding style required by the bigger bikes should also help: both Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden have repeatedly told the press that the weak point of the Ducati - a lack of front-end feel - is much less important on the 1000cc bike. With the 1000 (or whatever capacity the bike actually is, 930cc being the most likely option), the bike is easier to turn, as corner speed is less important. "It just seems that with the 1000, we don't have the biggest problem that we have with this bike [the 800], which is turning," Hayden said at Phillip Island. "You're not really finishing the corner leaned over, you're more stopped, picked up, and driving off." That hope may persuade Marc VDS to take the plunge, adding another British rider to the MotoGP grid for 2012.