As the 2013 MotoGP season heads into its final five races, negotiations for 2014 are coming to a head. While the seats on factory and satellite machines were filled some time ago, the next level of competitiveness, both in terms of riders and bikes, is now up for grabs.
Two names and two teams were the focal point of the negotiations, and the log jam behind which many other riders were waiting. It was up to Aleix Espargaro to make a decision on whether to stay at Aspar, or pay off his contract and head to the NGM Forward squad, and up to Nicky Hayden to decide whether his future lay in MotoGP with Aspar or Forward, or if it was time to head over to World Superbikes, and become the first rider to win a title in both series.
In turn, the Aspar and NGM Forward teams had become the hot ticket, because of the packages they had to offer, and how competitive they are expected to be. Forward will be running Yamaha's leased engine package, consisting of an engine, frame and swingarm from the 2013 Yamaha M1 for 2014, with the rest of the bike to be built by FTR. The British engineering firm will then build an entire chassis package for 2015, though the chassis could be entered earlier if it is finished. The package will run the spec Dorna software instead of Yamaha's custom electronics, and this is likely to be the limiting factor on performance.
Aspar will continue with Aprilia, after a brief flirtation with running the leased Yamahas, and after losing their Power Electronics sponsorship for 2014 (the Spanish company has shifted their focus to soccer), they have become a de facto Aprilia factory team. Aprilia will be providing a completely revised bike, featuring an engine with pneumatic valves, possibly a seamless gearbox, and a brand new chassis. The team will be entered as a non-factory entry for 2014, using the spec software while they continue to work on reducing fuel consumption, which would allow them to prepare for a switch to factory status in 2015, running their own custom software.
Though Espargaro was aware of the increased effort and involvement from Aprilia, the lure of a Yamaha M1 has proved too tempting. According to Motocuatro.com, Aleix Espargaro and his new manager Albert Valera - who also manages Jorge Lorenzo - have negotiated the release fee for the current CRT leader down from 650,000 euros to just 400,000. Espargaro will now race for Forward in 2014 and 2015, with an option to leave after 2014. If he does decide to leave, he will have to repay most of his Aspar buyout fee, some 300,000 euros, Motocuatro claims.
While Espargaro is leaving Aspar, Nicky Hayden will be joining the team, preferring to stay in MotoGP than to switch to WSBK. At Misano, Hayden denied the deal had been done (though it would be more accurate to say that he refused to confirm the deal had been done), but sources confirm that Hayden will be at the Spanish squad. His contract, however, will be directly with Aprilia, the factory controlling rider selection in return for providing equipment. Hayden's interest in Aprilia went from rumor to fact after the American accidentally uploaded to his social media exercise app the route to his morning run a week before Misano, which had taken him around Noale, the Italian city where Aprilia is based. Hayden confirmed his interest to the media at Misano, and when members of his family were seen going into and out of the Aspar truck for meetings, the signing seemed all but confirmed. Full confirmation of the deal is expected at Aragon.
Taking the other seat at Aspar is almost certain to be Eugene Laverty. The Irishman has a contract with Aprilia, but with the Italian factory courting Marco Melandri to race in World Superbikes alongside Sylvain Guintoli, there was no room in WSBK. Laverty has long wanted to return to MotoGP on competitive machinery, and being placed inside the Aspar squad on an Aprilia is an ideal situation for him. Laverty will drop the #58 plate he races in WSBK to take his old number, #50, which he raced in both 250s and World Supersport, before being forced to drop it when he moved up to World Superbike where it was taken by Sylvain Guintoli.
With both seats taken at Aspar, there is no room there for current rider Randy de Puniet. The relationship between the Frenchman and the team has deteriorated over the last season, something which could be related to De Puniet's role as Suzuki test rider. For 2014, the Frenchman looks like taking on this role full time, preparing for a return to the premier class in 2015 with the Japanese factory.
Alongside Espargaro in Forward will most likely be Colin Edwards. The Texan has found a recent burst of speed in the second half of the season, finishing as best CRT rider at Misano. Edwards has long made his desire clear to stay with Forward, especially once the details of the M1 lease package emerged. Edwards has been an invaluable resource in helping to develop the FTR chassis currently housing the Kawasaki engine, and believes that his experience with the previous M1 bikes can be valuable. Though nothing is settled, it looks like Edwards will get his wish and stay at Forward.
Elsewhere, seats are still open, but some clear favorites are starting to appear. PBM will continue with a two-rider team, the current plan being to continue to develop the chassis being raced by Michael Laverty. PBM had been in talks to run Honda's production racer, but had rejected the idea on the grounds of cost. Though the rider line up is not yet fixed, Michael Laverty is close to extending his deal with the team for another year, and he looks set to be joined by Alex Lowes, who has been impressive in BSB.
PBM's current rider Yonny Hernandez, who is to replace Ben Spies at Pramac for the rest of 2013, will likely get to stay in MotoGP, but he will be forced to switch teams. Having a South American is important with MotoGP making a return to the continent next year, and place could be found at the Avintia Blusens team, probably alongside Hector Barbera, who brings personal sponsorship.
As for the IODA team of Giampiero Sacchi, they will almost certainly continue with their Suter BMW package, and with Danilo Petrucci on one of their bikes. IODA, too, are losing their sponsors, security door manufacturer CAME leaving MotoGP altogether, despite being chased by Yamaha and LCR Honda. The IODA team is working on a replacement, and a proposal which looks to be highly innovative and a break from the traditional approach. The second seat at IODA will depend on their success at leveraging that proposal.
The influx of new riders changes the balance of nationalities in the paddock, with Spanish and English speakers predominating. Seven Spaniards will line up next season, and while the three best riders in the world are Spanish, series organizer Dorna is less happy having so many riders from the same country. The Espargaro brothers are highly regarded, but Dorna would very much like to get rid of both Alvaro Bautista and Hector Barbera. Though both are fast, Dorna would dearly like to replace them with riders from other countries who are just as fast. But there is also a distinctly British flavor to MotoGP next year - or more accurately, the flavor of the British Isles. With the arrival of Scott Redding and Alex Lowes, the number of UK passport holders will rise to four for 2014. Add in the Laverty brothers (Irish passport holders, hailing from a town in Northern Ireland), and that makes a grand total of six men from the same region. The common cry of British fans that the series is dominated by Spaniards will ring rather hollow in 2014. At least it will to the Germans, French and even Italians.
The 2014 MotoGP rider line up, as it looks so far:
|Jorge Lorenzo||Yamaha M1||2014|
|Valentino Rossi||Yamaha M1||2014|
|Tech 3 Yamaha|
|Bradley Smith||Yamaha M1||2014|
|Pol Espargaro||Yamaha M1||2015|
|Marc Marquez||Honda RC213V||2014|
|Dani Pedrosa||Honda RC213V||2014|
|Stefan Bradl||Honda RC213V||2014|
|Alvaro Bautista||Honda RC213V||2014|
|Scott Redding||Honda PR||2015|
|Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati GP14||2014|
|Cal Crutchlow||Ducati GP14||2015|
|Andrea Iannone||Ducati GP14||2014|
|Ben Spies||Ducati GP14||2014|
|Aleix Espargaro||FTR Yamaha M1||2015|
|Colin Edwards?||FTR Yamaha M1|
|Nicky Hayden||Aprilia ART|
|Eugene Laverty?||Aprilia ART|
|Karel Abraham||Honda PR||2014|
|Michael Laverty?||PBM Aprilia|
|Alex Lowes?||PBM Aprilia|
|Danilo Petrucci?||Suter BMW|
|Hector Barbera||FTR Kawasaki|
|Yonny Hernandez?||FTR Kawasaki|
All entries with question marks (?) are still uncertain.