MotoGP's rider market has moved into overdrive this week. Over the weekend, reports came in from the Spanish media that Maverick Viñales had signed with Yamaha, with that deal to be announced at Mugello on Thursday. Confirmation that Viñales will be leaving Suzuki came from our friends over at Asphalt & Rubber on Monday. Later that day, Repsol Honda announced they had extended Dani Pedrosa's contract for a further two years, leaving another of the top seats filled.
The deluge of announcements continued today, with Ducati announcing that they have chosen one of the two Andreas to remain in Ducati and partner Jorge Lorenzo for the next two seasons. Unsurprisingly, Ducati have gone with Dovizioso to stay in the team, selecting the Italian's long experience of developing the bike over Iannone's raw, and sometimes uncontrolled, talent.
The announcement follows something of a reversal of fortune for Andrea Iannone, the Italian who will be losing his seat at Ducati. Iannone had been the early favorite to stay, with the framework of an agreement reached after Qatar, which was due to be announced at the Austin round in April. However, Iannone's ill-judged pass on his teammate in the penultimate corner, which took both him and Dovizioso out of a certain double Ducati podium, caused the Bologna factory to have a drastic rethink.
A podium at Austin won Iannone back some of the credit he had lost in Argentina, but the tide had turned. His crash at Le Mans appears to have been the last straw in the making of the decision, Ducati choosing to stick with the rider they can trust to bring the bike home.
It should not be underestimated just how big a role Dovizioso's experience over the past four years also played a role in the decision. The Italian has helped bring the bike from the badly understeering Desmosedici GP13 on to what is basically a very strong bike with excellent handling in the 2016 version of the machine. Though Dovizioso is said to run a very peculiar set up - a lot of weight on the front of the bike - his feedback is very precise, and he is capable of describing in great detail what is happening with the bike. Having a solid asset like that alongside the undoubted speed of Jorge Lorenzo should help Ducati turn the 2017 version of the Desmosedici into a bike which is capable of challenging for the championship.
Though Andrea Iannone is out of Ducati, he is still in high demand. Talks have been ongoing for sometime with Suzuki, and with Viñales now gone, Suzuki will be taking a long hard look at the Italian. But Iannone is also believed to have a very big money offer on the table to race for Aprilia. Iannone has strong links with the factory through his time in Moto2 with Speed Up, who had raced 250s with Aprilia before the switch to Moto2. But the Aprilia RS-GP is still very much a work in progress, and rumors so far suggest Iannone is less interested in taking that risk.
The Ducati announcement now leaves both Movistar Yamaha seats filled, and both factory Ducati seats. Dani Pedrosa will take one Repsol Honda seat, while Marc Marquez is almost certain to take the second seat. With Sam Lowes already having a contract with Aprilia next year, and Bradley Smith taking one seat at KTM, that leaves both Suzuki seats, and an open seat at both KTM and Aprilia left to fill of the factory seats.
The Ducati press release announcing Dovizioso's signing appears below:
Andrea Dovizioso confirmed in Ducati Team for 2017 and 2018
Ducati wishes to announce that it has reached an agreement with Andrea Dovizioso for the 2017 and 2018 MotoGP seasons. The Romagna-born rider, who has been with Ducati since 2013, will team up with Jorge Lorenzo for the next two seasons aboard the Ducati Team’s Desmosedici GP bike.
Andrea Dovizioso: “I am very satisfied to have reached this agreement with Ducati and to be able to continue the adventure begun back with them in 2013. In the last few years we have worked with a lot of commitment and we have succeeded in taking the Desmosedici GP to an excellent competitive level, and so I am convinced that soon we will obtain the satisfaction that we deserve.”
The 2016 championship will therefore be Andrea Iannone’s final season with the Ducati Team. The Abruzzo-born rider, after two years in the “factory-supported” Pramac Racing outfit, moved to the factory team in 2015, immediately showing his great talent and pace, and he will undoubtedly give his utmost in the remaining rounds of the season in order to conclude his experience in Ducati in the best possible way.
Andrea Iannone: “Obviously I am sorry that my time with Ducati will draw to a close at the end of this season, but I am grateful to the Bologna manufacturer for the opportunity it has given me in the last few years. I made my MotoGP debut with Ducati and I have grown up with them, always succeeding in improving my level of performance. In the remaining races I will give my all, as I always do, because I am convinced that thanks to the competitiveness of the Desmosedici GP we can achieve some great results.”
Luigi Dall’Igna: “It’s never easy to take a decision like this one, especially when you have two great riders like the two Andreas in your team. We are very happy that Dovizioso has agreed to stay with us for the next two years, and together with him we can continue the successful work we began four years ago in order to reach the ambitious aims we have set for ourselves. We are sorry for Andrea Iannone, who at the end of the season will no longer be a part of the team. Andrea has carried out an important job in these years and has made a significant contribution to the development of the Ducati Desmosedici GP. For this reason we would like to thank him and we will provide him with our maximum commitment in the next rounds of the championship, in order to obtain the prestigious results that are for sure within his reach.”