The 2009 MotoGP calendar is far from over, yet a few teams have already begun to lock in their rider lineups for 2010—lineups that don’t include teams’ present riders, putting them in the unenviable position of riding on borrowed time until they can find another saddle to fill. Some riders have already signaled their intention to leave and ride elsewhere next year, while much of the remaining rider shuffling will hang in the balance until one particular factory rider announces where he will be riding next year.
Will we see superbike-style...
Will we see superbike-style production-based 1000cc engines in MotoGP next year?
Of perhaps more importance is a self-imposed deadline next weekend on the MotoGP manufacturer’s association (MSMA) to come up with a counter-proposal to Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta’s pseudo-mandate to help solve the problem of sagging MotoGP grid numbers. The lease price for a MotoGP machine is so high that even with sponsorship money, the numerous satellite teams would not be able to sustain their racing effort over the course of the season without substantial financial assistance from Dorna. Unless the MSMA can come up with a plan to lease 800cc engines instead of complete motorcycles to private teams (allowing them to use prototype chassis of their own choice/design), Ezpeleta has stated he will propose that 1000cc production-based engines be made legal for the class, albeit with restrictions to keep them from exceeding the power of the 800cc prototype engines, along with requirements that prototype chassis be used. The manufacturers have agreed that the current MotoGP racing financial model is unsustainable in the foreseeable economy, but they have been resistant to leasing out engines because of cost, labor, and proprietary design concerns. They will need to come up with an answer for Ezpeleta, however, because if Ezpeleta’s reaction to Michelin and Bridgestone’s dawdling on his threat to impose a spec tire rule two years ago is any indication, you can be sure the 1000cc-production-based engine rule will go through.
After three seasons, one MotoGP...
After three seasons, one MotoGP victory (the only one by a Suzuki GSV-R rider) and a total of seven podium finishes, Chris Vermeulen will be looking for greener pastures in '10.
Latest rider signing news comes from Suzuki, where racing website www.crash.net
has reported that Chris Vermeulen will be leaving the factory Rizla Suzuki MotoGP team at season’s end. The team has already announced the signing of rising 250cc star Alvaro Bautista for 2010, and with Grand Prix veteran Loris Capirossi hinting that he will stay with the team next year, it was looking increasingly likely that Vermeulen would be left out in the cold. The former World Supersport champion is the only person to have won a MotoGP race with the GSV-R (at the wet Le Mans race in ‘07), but he and the rest of the team have struggled with a traction and acceleration deficit the past couple of years, with the affable Australian finishing on the podium with the Suzuki a total of seven times in his three seasons with the squad. No sign where he might be headed, and although he wants to remain in MotoGP, a WSB ride might be in the cards for next year.
Most of the MotoGP paddock...
Most of the MotoGP paddock is waiting to see where Lorenzo is headed before making their moves. His management says an announcement will be made at Indy.
Much of the MotoGP musical chairs happening right now is hinging upon the decision of Fiat Yamaha rider Jorge Lorenzo (Valentino Rossi’s teammate), whose contract expires at the end of this year. Lorenzo and his management are pushing for a new contract that approaches the very substantial compensation afforded Rossi, which is said to be near $17 million a year. Regardless of the depressed economic conditions, Yamaha MotoGP team boss Masao Furusawa said that isn’t going to happen from his end. There was talk of Lorenzo going to Repsol Honda, until the new chief of HRC, Tetsuo Suzuki, announced at Brno that the company had reached “basic agreements” with its current riders Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovisioso (even though Pedrosa has denied that he has agreed to anything or signed a contract) for next year. Attention is now focused on Ducati, who have reportedly offered a contract rumored to be anywhere from $3.5 million to $7 million a year, surely more than what current employer Yamaha is offering. The decision will be announced at Indy next weekend, according to his manager Marcos Hirsch.
Much speculation surrounds...
Much speculation surrounds the 3-race midseason "sabbatical" taken by Casey Stoner after the Donington Park race. Some are wondering if he is suffering from motivational issues as well.
The reason for Ducati’s sudden interest in Lorenzo is reported to be team sponsor Marlboro becoming worried that Casey Stoner will not ever return to form due to suffering from a mystery Epstein-Barr-like illness since the Catalunya round that has caused him major fatigue and robbed him of the energy and stamina required to compete at full strength. There’s been a lot of talk around the paddock about Stoner’s unusual mid-season three-race sabbatical, as well as the circumstances leading up to it. Former 500GP World Champion Kevin Schwantz noted in a recent Indy MotoGP teleconference that “as a rider, my gut feeling is Casey needs to be out there competing. This championship—when he made a tire choice at Donington that seemed to be a little bit off of the norm—had him right at the top of it. I mean, he didn't need to be making a gamble on tires like that when he was in a championship hunt. For me, that kind of told me that there was something more going on with Casey than just ‘I don't really feel all that good but I'm finding a way to perform.’ And for me, to have signed a contract…you're signing a contract to compete unless something is medically wrong with you. I'm out there doing the best that I can. Whether I can give 100 percent every weekend or not is kind of the question. But for me it's a real disappointment, and I think Casey is a great competitor, and I think maybe a little bit more of this has to do with something behind the scenes that maybe none of us quite yet know about...to just decide you're going to skip three races and see if you feel any better at the end of it, to me, is a little bit out of the norm.” To lose Stoner—the lone rider so far who appears capable of getting the latest generation of the Ducati Desmosedici to run up front—would be a huge blow to Ducati, and the offer of serious money to bring in Lorenzo could easily be seen as a hopeful insurance policy.
After being saved by Dorna...
After being saved by Dorna this season to allow the Hayate (Kawasaki) team to continue for this year and allow him to ride, Marco Melandri now has a more certain future with the Gresini Honda team.
The Gresini Honda satellite team has already locked up its two riders for next year—but neither of them are the current riders. Team manager Fausto Gresini had already announced the signing of 250cc World Champion Marco Simoncelli at Assen in June, and when it was announced last week that fellow 250cc world titlist Marco Melandri had signed on to return to the team where he made his mark in MotoGP back in 05-’07 (5 victories and 17 podium finishes, including finishing runner-up to Rossi in ‘05), it was basically confirmation of the worst-kept secret in the paddock. This unfortunately leaves current riders Toni Elias and Alex De Angelis with the prospect of hunting for a ride at the end of the season (although De Angelis has been linked with a Moto2 team), a situation that Elias found particularly galling during the podium interviews at Brno last weekend where he finished third. “This is strange, because every year I have some podium finishes, and every year I don’t have a bike or team,” said Elias. “I want to know how many riders have podium finishes every year and don’t have a bike at the end of the season? This is something that everybody will have to think a little bit about.”
Despite riding for Aspar Martinez...
Despite riding for Aspar Martinez (who will soon be fielding a Ducati satellite MotoGP team) in the 250 Grand Prix class, Alvaro Bautista has signed with the Suzuki factory MotoGP team for '10.
Current 125/250 team owner and Spanish 125cc racing hero Jorge “Aspar” Martinez will finally get his opportunity to move up to MotoGP (past overtures to Suzuki and Kawasaki to run factory satellite MotoGP teams fell on deaf ears) when he takes over the customer Ducatis formerly run by the now-defunct Grupo Francisco Hernando squad that suddenly disbanded mid-season, leaving racer Sete Gibernau in a lurch. His current 250cc star Bautista chose to sign with the Suzuki factory team (the new rule prohibiting MotoGP rookies signing with a factory team doesn’t apply to singular factory outfits such as Suzuki), so Martinez signed up fellow 250cc contender Hector Barbera. There is no word yet on whether the Aspar Ducati team will have the equipment, means, or desire to run a second rider.
With Stoner out, Pramac Ducati rider Mika Kallio is filling in (hopefully) temporarily on the factory Ducati Marlboro machine. Kallio’s spot on the Pramac team is now opening up some opportunities for other riders, with current World Superbike contender (and factory Ducati Xerox rider) Michel Fabrizio getting a chance last weekend at Brno that unfortunately ended up with a torn shoulder muscle that ended his race prematurely. At Indy and the following race in Misano, 250cc rider Aleix Espargaro will be the designated rider. The 20-year-old Spaniard gained notoriety as the youngest rider ever to win the Spanish 125cc championship at 15, but his 125/250GP world championship career has been unspectacular at best, and this year he didn’t even have a World 250GP ride, and only competed in a few rounds as a stand-in replacement for Gabor Talmacsi (who moved in to save the Scot Honda MotoGP team this year from financial meltdown with his Hungarian sponsorship money) and injured rider Balasz Nemeth on the Balatonring 250 team.