Pol Espargaro Renews With KTM For 2 More Years - New Round Of Silly Season Signings Imminent?

With the MotoGP paddock back in Europe and heading to Jerez, the first round of contract announcements is upon us, with the second wave not far behind. First domino to fall for the moment is Pol Espargaro, who will be staying at KTM for the 2019 and 2020 seasons. Ahead of his first home Grand Prix of 2018, KTM today officially announced they will be retaining the services of the Spaniard for the next two years.

Espargaro's signing had been broadly expected. The Spaniard has outperformed his teammate Bradley Smith, and with the Austrian factory's MotoGP project moving from the development phase to the point where they need to start producing results, Espargaro has been favored over Smith. 

Espargaro's contract may not be the only rider signing to be announced in Jerez. It now seems certain that Johann Zarco will be joining Espargaro in the factory KTM team, and the announcement could come as early as this weekend. Zarco also had an offer from HRC to partner Marc Marquez in the Repsol Honda team, but the Frenchman is believed to have preferred to try to beat Marquez on different machinery, rather than face him on the bike developed around him. The logical place to announce Zarco's signing would be Le Mans, but it may not be possible to sit on the news for that long, as the MotoGP grapevine cannot keep secrets for that long.

Jerez is likely to be a very busy weekend for rider managers. UK publication MCN is reporting that the deal between Suzuki and Jorge Lorenzo is as good as done, despite the financial obstacles such a deal faced. As Lorenzo also faced a drop in salary at Ducati, if he had chosen to remain there, he may have decided to jump to a bike that suits his style better, and which he may believe he will be capable of winning on straight away, without having to work so hard to adjust his riding style to. 

Whether that deal gets done or not at Jerez, the Spanish circuit will be a busy weekend for Suzuki. The factory's top brass will be flying in to Jerez for talks with the Marc VDS team about becoming a Suzuki satellite team for the next three years. Marc VDS as Suzuki satellite squad would help, not just with development - it is likely that Suzuki would be providing bikes of almost identical spec to the factory bikes to the team - but also as a conduit for talent. Franco Morbidelli is a hot property in MotoGP, and having the young Italian on the Suzuki would offer the Japanese factory a way to deepen their talent pool. It would also allow Joan Mir to step up to MotoGP in 2019. A deal with Suzuki will have to be signed at Jerez, to allow Marc VDS to be able to prepare in time for next year.

Other contracts to be discussed at Jerez include Andrea Dovizioso, who is still in talks with Ducati and will sign with them again at some point, with only the details to be left out. With Lorenzo likely to leave Ducati, the second seat in the Italian factory is open. Nominally, Danilo Petrucci has an option for that seat should it become available, but the option for that lies with Ducati, rather than Petrucci. Ducati could choose to put Pecco Bagnaia straight into the factory squad alongside Dovizioso, rather than putting him into the Pramac team first. Or they could look at some of the displaced riders, such as Dani Pedrosa - who is certain to lose his Repsol Honda seat - or Andrea Iannone. Having Iannone back would be a stretch, however: the Italian was not a good fit with Dovizioso when the pair were racing together, and with Dovizioso performing as he is, Ducati may not want to risk ruining the atmosphere.

There is still a lot of ground to cover before all of the contracts are signed for 2019 and MotoGP's Silly Season is in the books. Yamaha have to find a team to run satellite Yamahas, and once again, MCN added an interesting wrinkle to this story, Simon Patterson reporting that the Sepang International Circuit is looking to collaborate with an existing team in MotoGP, to keep Malaysian rookie Hafizh Syahrin in the premier class. This tallies with what circuit boss Razlan Razali told Crash.net's Peter McLaren earlier this year, where he mentioned the possibility almost as a joke. The meeting rooms in team trucks will be fully occupied this weekend at Jerez.

The KTM press release announcing Pol Espargaro's contract extension appears below:


Pol Espargaro renews Red Bull KTM Factory Racing contract till 2020

MotoGP Announcement

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing are delighted to confirm that Pol Espargaro has signed a two year extension to his current contract to remain part of the works team for the 2019 and 2020 MotoGP seasons.

Pol Espargaro was one of the first recruits for KTM’s comprehensive and dedicated effort to fight with the very best teams and factories at the pinnacle of motorcycle racing. The new agreement will take the Spaniard into four years representing the Austrian brand as the company eyes considerable expansion in MotoGP from 2019 onwards.

Espargaro: “It has been really easy for me to make this decision; I did not think of another possibility for even a minute. I cannot hide how happy I am being involved in this amazing project, despite the challenges and the work we still have to go through. I love the KTM philosophy and I want to continue trying to reach our goals. I don’t know when we will be able to do it, but I’m sure that we will arrive. I have to thank my whole crew for how they push and how they support me, with the leadership of my crew chief Paul Trevathan, and for sure Mike Leitner and Pit Beirer for how they strive every day. And, of course, all the people that work at the races and back at Munderfing. We are a team with an ambitious aim. I’m enjoying my best moments in the MotoGP championship, and I’m really happy to know that I’m going to continue here at least until 2020”.

Pit Beirer (KTM Motorsports Director): “Pol has been such a strong part of our project and gave us a lot of trust and belief as well as the highlights so far with two ninth positions. I’m really happy we can continue together for another two years because we can build on the work we have already done and keep progressing with the bike; he should definitely be one of the people that should benefit from everything we have achieve and learned and how we will push on in the future.”

The 26 year old, born in Granollers and in the shadow of the Circuit Barcelona-Catalunya, is negotiating his fifth term in the premier class since claiming the Moto2 title in 2013. #44 has been the strongest performer on the KTM RC16 with four top ten finishes in MotoGP despite the project clocking only 21 events as a full-time member of the Grand Prix grid in the run-up to this weekend’s Gran Premio Red Bull de España at Jerez.

Source: 

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Comments

Good summary of a fast moving game of choices.  I would love to see Petrucci get the opportunity to race in the factory Ducati squad, even if only for a one year contract.  Was Zarco to Suzuki never considered a real possibility due to the pre-contract they had with him but didn't follow through on?  Seems like that package would suit him very well and clearly has potential for podium fights today.  The Honda seems to suit Marquez and Crutchlow with their agressive style and KTM would need another year or two of development to be a real competitor.  I hope Zarco doesn't languish mid pack just because the payckeck is good.

Total votes: 24

it really is unfortunate that if true, this bad blood or whatever between zarco and suzuki is preventing that combination from happening. 

It seems way too logical for zarco to go to suzuki after being with yamaha for two years.  

But then again, with Lorenzo in the mix, Suzuki has two great options.  

Total votes: 44

I can't see Dani being at home on the Ducati, anyone disagree? Hope he gets a decent ride.

Total votes: 28

I really don't know what Zarco is thinking. If you get an offer from HRC you simply don't refuse!

Total votes: 13

Well, if all the drama on track weren't enough, now we have drama too in the trucks' meeting rooms !  Pol definitely deserves this renewal of confidence and I expect him to do well. But this was sort of expected... What I did not expect at such an early stage is JL going to Suzuki... Oh boy, I cannot even begin to imagine what must be boiling in Iannone's head... If the deal does come through this will be the second time in two years that JL is the cause of AI's downfall. I know it's pretty easy to make obvious conclusions once the chips have fallen, but I said it long ago : Ducati made one big mistake after the other, first pitting the two andreas against one other, then thinking that the unique metronomic style of Lorenzo - and his well documented inability to adapt to anything that is not supremely perfect - could be adjusted to something totally different. They might have a great bike, (they do! Dovi is living proof of that) but their style in handling people  is just awful : they let Lorenzo talk down to Dovi on many occasions. Moreover, I still remember Domenicali, the MD, who had just signed a 20, or 22 or 24 millions cheque to JL boasting  with a grin "well, now,  if Lorenzo wins the championship, it will be a shameful embarrassment for the guy from Tavullia"...  To be perfectly honest, I'm still not convinced that the JL/Suzuki deal is done and sealed... Maybe they are just using the possibility to motivate Iannone, who seems to be triggered into good racing by this type of situation...  But I would love to see Morbido on a Suzuki ! 

on a side note : unless I see a contract with Puig name on it, no way i can believe that Honda wanted to sign Zarco, and that the Frenchman " is believed to have preferred to try to beat Marquez on different machinery"... I'm quoting you David, because I find this phrase so funny! I really do. Right now Honda is  the best sorted out bike of the lot... It's not me saying it, it's looking at Cal and Dani... so, Zarco does not want a great bike ? really?  I'm still laughing.

I love silly season!

 

Total votes: 34

  Man, I had read rumors of Repsol trying to get Zarco to their team, but realized that wasn't going to happen. But I had no idea it was such a sure thing that Pedrosa would be leaving them. Granted, his results have been.... less than stellar. But it's weird to picture him at a different team after 13 years with HRC.

  With Lorenzo to Suzuki, and Rins being the young rider, I assume that Iannone is left high and dry. Any rumors on his place next year, if in MotoGP at all? Quite the silly season indeed.

Total votes: 21

score more podiums than Dani in 2017 was the world champion. 

I don't think Dani's run out of steam at all. His luck ran out ages ago though. 

Total votes: 41

Yeah, the common saying is if it weren't for bad luck, Pedrosa would have no luck at all! I guess I just focus on the times Pedrosa didn't do well, because it was similar to Dovi. If he wasn't fighting for the podium, he was nowhere. Retired from Argentina and Mugello, 13th in Assen, 14th in Misano, retired from Japan, 12th in Australia... it seems those were the results that HRC didn't care for. And he sits 11th in the championship right now. So I can understand HRC's desire to bring in a different rider. I hope Pedrosa gets a good ride, I'm still a fan of his and think he deserves it.

Total votes: 17

To re-sign Pol, he's done a good job last year and has outperformed Bradley easily. Keep a Moto2 champ on as N1 rider who is part of developing the bike from the start is a good base for Zarco to explore it's potential.

Dani losing his Repsol seat to who? The guy looks to have another injury-prone season, sigh, he can't get a break. Maybe he should go to Ducati, would be interesting seeing him fly down the back straight!

Total votes: 17

Well, Lorenzo + Rins / Morbidelli + Mir would be one hell of a lineup, top to bottom. The only group of talent I can think of as equivalent is Marquez...all by his lonesome.

But what are the top brass from Hamamatsu to think if Iannone is on the podium Sunday, and Jorge is served up as the meat in another out of the top ten Espargaro Brothers sandwich? Jorge would have wanted a circuit better suited for showing off his considerable talents in front of the Suzuki Brass, or at least have an Aero Package that worked this weekend (I suspect that Jerez will come down to whoever has the best wheelie control, and not much else. Laugh if you will). Of course, to me at least, the identity of Rins' stablemate for next year is the cart, not the horse. The first order of business is getting Marc VDS signed, sealed, and delivered, because Yamaha just won't take "Nee, ga alsjeblieft weg" for an answer, and the words from Iwata that would haunt Suzuki (if they fall asleep on this) are "we will match whatever Suzuki is offering at the same price". I still think the (eventual) VR46 gorilla in the room queers things for a Yamaha + Marc VDS deal, but Suzuki really needs to buy the horse this weekend to be sure of it. With that done, either Iannone, Lorenzo, or Pedrosa would be fine for the cart bit. And I never thought I would have such thoughts...but does Iannone have more options right now than Jorge? Nothing opens doors like standing on the podium Sunday, though to be brutally honest, "two in a row" would be a streak of tectonic length for Andrea.

Maybe the rider who can most improve his prospects this Sunday is Pedrosa. Hell, he could just go out and win the damn thing (if his skeletal remains hold up). I still think he would be ideal for Yamaha / Suzuki / KTM, though the first and last of these would be as a satellite rider (with first line equipment). And I still think KTM should have snagged Dani to place alongside Zarco and moved Paul to the Tech Trois package, maybe with Hafizh alongside as a "free" rider (courtesy of a deep-pockets Malaysian sponsorship package, and interchangeable with Mika as events warrant). The other rider who can do himself a world of good is Crutchlow. I love Cal's competitiveness, but he is another one who is hardly in a position to have his mailing address permanently changed to read "Podium". Too many good rides followed by a nap in the gravel or disappearing into the MotoGP witness protection program (which is currently results 11 thru 24 on raceday). Fourth, First...Nineteenth...may not be the resume content to get you Dani's seat in 2019, but a few more podiums could well seal the deal. But if Dani moves on, and Cal moves up...who gets the second LCR seat? If I were Honda, I would do whatever is needed to get Joan Mir, even if it meant paying Marc VDS / Suzuki enough for them to essentially also have a "free" rider next year. But I suspect that, blood being thicker than sake, we may see another Marquez (well, in name, not talent) on the grid next year. Somewhere around row six or seven I would imagine. (But that may be too harsh, some riders flourish on the big stage, and he could well prove me wrong). Still, Alex appears to be at the "up or out" stretch of his career, and his emancipation from Marc VDS would certainly come less dear than Mir's. In fact, I think his monetary value to Marc VDS may best be calculated after reading O. Henry's The Ransom of Red Chief

Ducati seems on the verge of snatching mayhem from the jaws of success (the headlines in Italy read "Dog bites man"). They appear to have made the classic mistake of trying to breed a racehorse to satisfy two completely different riding styles, and turned a potential thoroughbred into a bit of a camel. Jorge's affinity to having a Fokker Triplane bolted upside down to the front of his Ducati, as opposed to Dovi's general aversion to most things "Aero", should have set alarm bells ringing in Bologna. As always, successful teams have to make a choice as to who's bike it is, and who's it is not, because it can't be chalk and cheese at the same time. Based on the data, it would have been clear that they should have given Andrea whatever he needs. Instead they seem to have made an attempt to mitigate the enormous financial package they gave Lorenzo by making the worst choice any card player can; throwing good money after bad. Better to fold and get a new hand dealt than to try and buy an inside straight. And even without Jorge, they have Dovi, Petrucci, Miller, and Bagnaia as cards to play in 2019...if they can mollify all the egos involved. Not a bad hand, and Iannone could slot into a Pramac seat (most definitely not next to Dovi) if things all go pear-shaped over the next month of contract talks...assuming Iannone doesn't just ride the wheels off the Suzuki over that same time period and thoroughly confuse multiple factories. Miller and Bagnaia have youth and speed on their side, Iannone and Petrucci will be 29 and 28 next year...but Danilo doesn't have Iannone's speed or indifference to his own mortality. Dovi, of course, is in a class of his own (and of his own making...well played, Maestro!).

Anyways, this is all harmless prattle, as the events will unfold based on budgets, results, availability, budgets, cunning, budgets, and treachery...and the eventual rider slots for 2019 will be influenced not a whit by anything I am typing. That is my one prognostication you can bank on. Cheers.

PS - Where the hell is Suzuki getting all this scratch from? I have my doubts their checking account balances can cover all their options.

Total votes: 44

So there are really no known concrete deals handed to Dani for next season?

Total votes: 15

So easy to sit at home and wonder about the riders...

Zarco turning down Repsol (to an outside sider looking in) for KTM seems about as wise as Barros turning down an RCV for an M1 back in 2003.

Shouldn’t he be sweetening the deal for whoever takes on the satellite Yams (team owner “we bring Zarco. You bring factory support” that would also put Zarco in a good position for when Yamaha realise they haven’t actually won a championship since 2015, and Rossi hasn’t won one since 2009) 

I can’t see Cal being offered the Repsol seat... He’s making the satellite Honda look good, and seems to be something of a test mule for the factory squad

I hope Dani doesn’t end up on a ducati... although he may surprise a few people if he does... perhaps he’ll retire.. it’ll always be a shame that he never had a go on an M1... and that the Honda developed sticky brakes or throttle whenever he had a sniff of the title

If Dani is out, and if Zarco truly isn’t interested, then I wonder who? Stranger things have happened than Dani staying...

Iannone is a tricky one... to embezzle a witticism from motogpnews website... he does appear to be the new Melandri random number generator

I PERSONALLY feel JL’s tenure at Ducati has been far more embarrassing than Rossi’s. Afterall it had won two races with two different riders the year before, and (obviously) took the championship to the final round the year he joined, just not with JL having anything to do with that. If I recall correctly (if...) Vale at least managed to finish top Duc in his time there

Isn’t it high time that Aleix got a shot on something that hasn’t just got out of the affirmation prototype stage of its existence?

I’m not up enough on the smaller classes to have much of an opinion on who’ll be big and should step up... but Oliveira seems to be better than some people credit... 

 

  

Total votes: 13

The answer, I think, lies in Gigi's angry response to the banning of Ducati's 2016 winglets. You don't recruit Jorge, who committed to Ducati before the ban, unless you think you've a bike with a pinned front end. With winglets, Gigi and Jorge thought they had. Or at least were very close. That plan and around €12m went straight out of the window last season when the redesigned aero proved unsuccessful and it still isn't delivering this year despite further revision. Lorenzo has failed because the bike he was recruited to ride isn't on the grid. Put him on a Suzuki or back on a Yamaha - even this year's one - and he will be off like a scalded cat.

Total votes: 22