UPDATE: GPOne.com (probably the most reliable source in the Italian Media) has gotten word from Livio Suppo that “no one has signed anything yet”, which probably confirms that Stoner is talking to HRC, but obviously hasn’t made his mind up about anything.
Silly season is officially underway starting today as the Italian press is full of accounts (all penning their source as being from Sportmediaset) that Casey Stoner has signed with the Repsol Honda MotoGP team, with a sub-headline that Valentino Rossi has been offered a two-year contract with Ducati. Sportmediaset cites the deciding reason for Stoner jumping ship as being the Australian rider’s disappointment in how Ducati backed him during his mysterious illness last year.
Despite headlining Stoner’s move, the bulk of their article concerns Rossi’s switch to Ducati, which may be a tip-off on the validity of the news, as the Italian press loves to pair the two marquee names together. We wade through the silly season possibilities further after the jump.
The 2010 silly season is sure to be a special event, with all four of the top riders under contract renewal. Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo, and Valentino Rossi have set themselves above and beyond the rest of the MotoGP field, which only adds to the importance (and speculation) during this period, where manufacturers try and secure the very best rider for the following seasons.
While we remain skeptical on this news, there is some support to its validity. Sportmediaset claims the contract was inked during MotoGP’s stop at Jerez, Spain, during the Spanish GP. During this time, Casey Stoner’s father was on-hand for the race, and talked to both Honda and Ducati, presumably about his son’s future.
Part of the Honda equation may be Livio Suppo, who Casey Stoner had close ties to when the Italian worked at Ducati. Stoner’s animosity with his team, and the prospect of working with Suppo again are apparently cornerstones of the alleged deal between the Aussie and Honda. Honda was also reportedly expected to make early moves in the silly season in order to secure a rider, as being late to the party could be disastrous (more on that in a minute).
Of course with any rumor…or headline…coming out of Italy that involves Valentino Rossi and Ducati, has to be treated with some skepticism, as time and time again we’ve seen inaccurate reports from the Italian media concerning their local heroes teaming up.
Before the silly season began, it was clear that all four riders would be talking to the major OEMs in MotoGP before making a decision. It was also clear that Ducati was very keen to keep Casey Stoner on-board, as the Australian has proven in the past to be really the only man in the paddock capable of wrestling the Ducati into shape. Considering the abrupt about-face on this remark, and the fact that the other OEM’s weren’t considered, there is a bit of evidence to suggest that this is just idle speculation.
Sportmediaset‘s description of the Rossi deal also wanders greatly from the reasons Rossi turned the Italian company down back in 2003. Ducati is reported to be offering Rossi everything under the sun, including technical guarantees. With Rossi looking for teams that are rider-focused, and not bike-focused (the Italian ridre likes to be the center of attention, not only on the track, but in the garage), it’s hard to see a team like Ducati, who are very centered around their GP10, making a sudden shift in philosophy. Despite this aspect of the news, Sportmediaset says Rossi has until the Mugello round to decide on taking the job with Ducati.
It’s impossible to tell definitively on this rumor where the truth lies, especially since the only actual source is from the unreliable Italian racing press. Neither Honda, nor Ducati have commented on the matter, which adds further cause for concern, since at the very least we’d expect an announcement from HRC if Stoner has indeed inked an agreement.
With more news likely to come at the next MotoGP stop (at Le Mans in two weeks), we have some time yet to fully digest these possibilities. We do know one thing for certain though, if these rumors prove to be true, Jorge Lorenzo would look to be SOL, and forced to re-sign with Fiat-Yamaha with almost zero negotiating leverage…but maybe that works into Rossi’s plan afterall?