With the three overseas* races out of the way and MotoGP back in Europe, the thoughts of the teams, riders, and series organizers are starting to turn to the future. At Le Mans, there was much discussion in team trucks and among the organizers. And as a consequence, there was a stream of paddock rumor, interviews, and news articles on what's coming up for the future. Here's a round up of recent news.
Calendar expanding to 22 races
In 2016, Dorna signed a five-year contract with the teams and factories concerning regulations, the number of races, and team support. In it, the maximum number of races on the calendar was fixed at 20, and the MotoGP grid set at a maximum of 24.
Negotiations are set to start for the next contract period, from 2022 through 2026, some time next year, and German language publication Speedweek is reporting that there are changes on the horizon, changes confirmed by reports I also heard at Le Mans. The biggest change is the expansion of the maximum number of races, from 20 to 22.
It should not be difficult to find 22 circuits willing to host a race. Finland is set to join the series next year, once the Kymiring is completed. Indonesia could also have a circuit ready for 2021, with work continuing on the Mandalika circuit on the island of Lombok. Mexico City is still keen to host a round of MotoGP, while there are also persistent rumors of Brazil hosting a race at a circuit close to Rio de Janeiro.
The expansion of the racing calendar will come at the expense of testing. The current plan is to restrict the preseason testing calendar to just one test, at Sepang, instead of the current two (Sepang and Qatar). The teams would be happy to have the Sepang test canceled altogether – teams get paid by Dorna to go racing, but have to fund tests themselves - but the factories are opposed to this. There is also the question of whether they will continue with two tests in November, with many teams wanting to drop the Valencia test. Riders and teams are tired physically and emotionally after a long season, and engineers say that the feedback they get from riders at the Valencia test is not as good as at Jerez, 10 days or so later, after the riders have had some time off.
Finland in for Brno?
The Brno race looks to be a casualty, with solid reports that the 2019 race will be the last one at the scenic and challenging Czech circuit. There have been persistent problems with funding for the race, and rumors that the track has paid the sanctioning fee for the race either late or not in full.
If the Kymiring in Finland is ready for the 2020 season, the Finnish GP could keep the calendar at its current 19 races. When the race would be held is another question, given the challenges posed by the climate. The summer – July or August – would be the best time to hold the race, but as the Sachsenring attracts a lot of Scandinavian and especially Finnish fans, scheduling it too close to the German GP may cause some resistance.
Avintia out, Gresini satellite team in?
There could also be a reshuffling of some of the teams. In the past couple of years, the poorer satellite squads have been squeezed out of MotoGP, the places being taken by better-funded operations. The Avintia Ducati squad is the last holdout of shoestring-budget teams, and there are rumors that they will be moved out of MotoGP from 2022.
Their place – and possibly their grid slots – could be taken by Aprilia, so that the factory can operate its own factory squad, rather than partnering with Gresini. Gresini would then be free to become a satellite team, with rumors pointing to Suzuki as a possible partner.
The people involved inside the team at Suzuki have always been enthusiastic about a satellite team, but there have been problems with the budget in Japan. Suzuki's recent decision to change the organization of its racing department – setting up a separate Suzuki Racing Corporation department, which is capable of making its own decisions based on the budget set by Suzuki management – could create the financial and engineering space to make a satellite bike possible. The competitiveness of the Suzuki GSX-RR would make it relatively easy to find a team willing to run the bikes.
Ducati's second seat
Andrea Dovizioso is currently the only rider with a contract in the factory Ducati squad for the 2020 season, leading naturally to speculation over who will take the second seat next year. The prime candidates are current occupant Danilo Petrucci, and Pramac Ducati rider Jack Miller. Both riders made a strong case for themselves at Le Mans, though Petrucci's case was stronger as he finished ahead of Miller and on the podium. More importantly, he showed that he is a team player, as he was capable of trying to pass Dovizioso, but unwilling to risk taking them both out on the last lap.
Petrucci and Miller have at least two more races to make their case, Paolo Ciabatti told Motorsport.com's Oriol Puigdemont. After Mugello and Barcelona – two strong circuits for Ducati – management will sit down and start to consider their options.
Out of the frame
Two riders who won't be under consideration for the ride are Pecco Bagnaia, the second Pramac Ducati rider, and – surprisingly, to some – Aruba.it Ducati rider Alvaro Bautista, who is currently dominating the WorldSBK series. Bagnaia is still a rookie, and has not showed the kind of progress needed to leapfrog more experienced riders and take the second factory seat.
Alvaro Bautista, meanwhile, looks set to continue in WorldSBK. Sources close to Bautista told MotoMatters.com that the prospect of winning a title in WorldSBK, and competing for more championships in the next few seasons is a more attractive prospect than returning to MotoGP on a satellite squad, and racing for fifth place at best. At 34 years of age, he is unlikely to be considered for the factory Ducati team.
Alex Márquez in MotoGP?
Emilio Alzamora, manager of the Márquez brothers, is continuing in his quest to get Alex, the younger of the two, into MotoGP. At Le Mans, Alzamora told GPOne.com that he had started a conversation with Ducati about getting Alex Márquez into the Pramac Ducati squad.
Any such move is far from a foregone conclusion, however. Alzamora emphasized that these were just preliminary conversations, rather than contract negotiations, with everything still up in the air. Márquez made a strong case for himself at Le Mans, winning his first race since Motegi, in October 2017. But the younger Márquez brother will have to keep up this performance throughout the year, and keep up a sustained challenge for the title. If he can fight for the 2019 championship, he should earn his passage to MotoGP.
* The fact that we still refer to the races in Qatar, Argentina, the US, Thailand, Japan, Australia and Malaysia as 'overseas' races is a symptom of the Eurocentric attitude in MotoGP. This will slowly change, as more tracks outside Europe join the calendar, but with Dorna, IRTA, most of the teams, most of the riders, and half of the factories active in the Grand Prix paddock based in Europe, it will persist for some time yet.
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