With Marc Marquez already signed up for 2015 and 2016, and Valentino Rossi on the verge of penning a new deal with Yamaha for two more years, attention is turning to Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo. Will Lorenzo want to stay with Yamaha or switch to Honda? Will Pedrosa be prepared to take a pay cut or head off to a different factory? All these are thing we will learn over the coming weeks.
Pedrosa's case is particularly interesting. Some well-informed sources are starting to report on his options for the future. According to the Spanish magazine Motociclismo, Dani Pedrosa has been offered a substantial pay cut by Honda, with base salary cut from something in the region of 6 million euros a season to 1.5 million euros, with a very generous bonus scheme for winning races and the championship.
But Suzuki have also shown in interest in Pedrosa. The Japanese factory needs a winning rider to help make their new bike fully competitive, times set by Randy de Puniet so far lagging a second or more behind the factory Hondas and Yamahas. Right now, only four riders look capable of winning – in fact, since 2008, only six riders have won, with Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi have taken multiple wins, Ben Spies being the anomaly with a single victory at Assen. If Suzuki want a rider with a proven track record, then Dani Pedrosa is almost their only option.
It is worth remembering here that although Pedrosa has not won a MotoGP championship yet, he is still one of the most successful riders in the history of the sport. Pedrosa is eighth in the list of all-time winners, in both MotoGP and all classes, and has three titles in the junior classes to his name. He has more wins than Wayne Rainey, and has regularly beaten Marquez, Lorenzo and Rossi, as well as his former teammate Stoner. On any Sunday, Dani Pedrosa is a candidate for victory.
Pedrosa knows this, and knows that Suzuki needs him more than he needs them. According to German-language website Speedweek, Pedrosa has demanded 8 million euros to ride for the Hamamatsu factory. Given that this would be a pay rise for Pedrosa, that is a sizable sum. Especially given that Pedrosa is being outclassed by his teammate, and has yet to win a MotoGP title. Signing Pedrosa is no guarantee of success.
So is this a mark of extreme arrogance on the part of Pedrosa? Unlikely. Pedrosa has always been a surprising modest man, at least by the standards which elite athletes are measured by. Is it just Pedrosa's way of politely turning Suzuki down, knowing that they would never be willing to pay that much for his services? Possibly, though like all top riders, Pedrosa has a clear sense of direction, and what he does and does not want to do. There is perhaps another explanation for Pedrosa's salary demands, which has a particular logic to it. It needs explaining with an example from another field altogether.
Back in the early 1980s, many rock bands were known for their increasingly extravagant riders, clauses attached to their contracts dictating what food, drink and other supplies and accessories were to be present backstage at their performances. The most extreme example was said to be rock band Van Halen, who demanded that there was to be a bowl of M&Ms present in their dressing room, with all of the brown M&Ms removed. The contract explicitly specified that if they found a single brown M&M in that bowl of candy, they would be entitled to cancel the concert while still being paid in full.
At the time, this was derided as an example of the extraordinary arrogance of modern rock bands, yet Van Halen had very good reasons for putting the brown M&M clause in their contract. They were putting on massive stage shows featuring huge lighting and pyrotechnic rigs in places which had comparable bands perform. Those rigs needed very specific power and safety facilities for them to function properly, and a very thick contract was provided specifying the complete technical requirements in great detail. If the venue did not do everything right, musicians, crew and audience could all face severe and possibly fatal danger. Checking the bowl of candy was a quick way of seeing whether the contract had been read and complied with, if the band found a brown M&M, then they ran a full check of the rest of the venue. Inevitably, they would find other, dangerous breaches of the contract.
What does this have to do with Dani Pedrosa and Suzuki? The Japanese factory has had only limited success in Grand Prix racing, securing just two championships in the past 21 years: one with Kevin Schwantz in 1993, and the other with Kenny Roberts Jr in 2000. The bike has never been truly competitive, and every rider who ever raced for the factory has complained that the lack of success was down to a lack of investment. The factory stubbornly followed their own path, never spending enough to catch up to Honda and Yamaha.
Any current rider looking at a Suzuki contract should know this history, and will therefore be wary of Suzuki's claims that this time it will be different. There is no doubt that team manager Davide Brivio is being genuine that Suzuki want to invest enough to be competitive, but Brivio is not the person who makes the decisions about budget. Those are made at the highest level, in the Suzuki boardroom by the senior executives.
So how do you test whether Suzuki are willing to spend what it takes to win? As a rider, you have a simple test, if you are clever about it. By demanding a massive salary – shall we say, around the 8 million euro mark – a rider can gauge just how serious Suzuki is. If they won't spend the millions to secure a top rider, how can you be sure that they will spend the tens of millions needed to build a competitive MotoGP machine?
I have a sneaking feeling that Dani Pedrosa's 8 million euro wage demand was his version of the brown M&Ms...