Marco Melandri has had his last race for Aprilia in MotoGP. The two parties have at last reached agreement to go their separate ways. Aprilia test rider Michael Laverty will replace Melandri for the rest of the 2015 season.
Melandri had always been a reluctant participant in Aprilia's MotoGP project at best. The Italian was halfway through a lucrative two-year deal with Aprilia in World Superbikes in 2014, when Aprilia announced the switch to MotoGP for the 2015 season. Melandri's priority was always to remain in World Superbikes and fight for the championship, and it was clear that Aprilia's first season in MotoGP – a year earlier than anticipated – was going to be a transitional one. At the time, Aprilia's plan was to leave World Superbikes, only later lining up the Red Devils Roma team to run their factory operation. By then, it was too late for Melandri to make the change.
From the very first test, Melandri had no feeling with either the Aprilia RS-GP – an uprated version of the ART which had debuted in 2012 – or with the Bridgestone tires. He complained of a total lack of confidence in the front end, and never looked comfortable or confident on the bike. Melandri was consistently the slowest rider on track, between three and five seconds off the pace, and two seconds or more slower than his teammate, Alvaro Bautista. Melandri never showed any improvement, and any changes Aprilia made did not help improve his confidence.
It was clear that the two parties were heading for a divorce, the only issue being the matter of money. Melandri was rumored to be receiving a seven-figure salary from Aprilia, and was not keen to leave without being paid in full. For their part, Aprilia were unwilling to pay Melandri off in full for what they viewed as an unsatisfactory performance. Negotiations over a departure had been ongoing since Jerez, but it has taken the best part of two months to reach a final accommodation. What that agreement is, is as yet unknown.
Taking Melandri's place in the Gresini Aprilia squad is Michael Laverty. Laverty has been working as a test rider for Aprilia since last year, and has been closely involved in the development of the RS-GP up until now.
Melandri will likely be forced to sit out the rest of the season, but the Italian has been repeatedly linked to a ride with the Yamaha World Superbike team in 2016. That operation is being set up by Andrea Dosoli, who previously ran Yamaha's WSBK team. However, it is yet to be decided which team will run Yamaha's WSBK effort, with both a top BSB team and an existing WSBK team linked to the job. If the BSB team gets the ride, then it seems unlikely they will accept Melandri as a rider.
The official press release from Aprilia appears below:
Noale (Italy), 8 July 2015 - Aprilia Racing and Marco Melandri have reached an agreement by mutual consent to terminate the contractual obligations between Marco Melandri and Aprilia Racing.
Consequently, Marco Melandri will no longer be lined up on the grid with Aprilia Racing starting from the German Grand Prix on 12 July.
Aprilia Racing wishes Marco Melandri all the best in his future endeavors.