Ladies and gentlemen, we are in the thick of the MotoGP Silly Season, where the best rumors come to light the light of day. Some of the rumors are the tip of the iceberg of truth, while others are grounded in something more resembling idle speculation. Meanwhile, some silly rumors are just bona fide lies disguised as link bait and used to sell paper. It is all part of what we lovingly refer to as silly season, and this latest rumor definitely lives up to that nomenclature.
One of the latest musings to emerge from the Spanish press is the rumor that Valentino Rossi will be leaving Ducati Corse for a satellite Yamaha squad, which features a factory-spec bike sponsored by tobacco giant Marlboro. With the OEMs sticking to the four prototype bikes per manufacturer in MotoGP, and Monster Tech 3 Yamaha surely accounting for two of the Yamaha’s on the 2013 grid, the rumor would presumably mean a single-bike in the official Yamaha Racing factory team, and one in Rossi’s splinter faction.
With Yamaha already locking up Jorge Lorenzo for the next two seasons, there has been a sizable battle for the last remaining seat, which is currently occupied by Ben Spies. With the America struggling thus far in the season, both from factors within and outside of his control, Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow have both been in the running to take over Spies’ ride. However having Spies in the factory team is important for Yamaha USA, and it is not like anyone questions Mr. Elbowz potential or talent on two wheels.
The conundrum has been an interesting one to watch, as Dovizioso is clearly a talent on the Yamaha M1, and Crutchlow continues to mature rapidly into the sport of GP racing. With each rider having a plausible reason why he should get the last spot on the factory team, the question marks about Valentino Rossi’s future throw a wrench into the whole situation. While Rossi is tipped heavily to stay put at Ducati Corse, there has been chatter all season about his possible return to Honda and Yamaha.
Veteran voices in the paddock dismiss these ideas for a multitude of reasons, yet the rumors persist — either out of actual happenings or wishful thinking. There has been talk of a factory Honda in Gresini, a satellite Yamaha with Coca-Cola footing the bill, and now a factory Yamaha with Marlboro’s wallet behind it.
While the conjecture regarding Yamaha’s factory team is convoluted at best, with a web of strings pulling on any decision being made there (Cal has been offered Nicky Hayden’s job at Ducati, Bradley Smith has been guaranteed a prototype bike at Tech 3, and the MSMA seems resolute on the four-bike rule), the most interesting piece of this story is the Marlboro backing. Banned from making its presence officially known in the MotoGP paddock (the highlight of which being the bar code logo on Ducati Corse’s machines), Marlboro has been the long-time backer of the Ducati Corse MotoGP effort, and is said to foot a very sizable portion of the team’s expenses.
Why the tobacco giant would jump ship after some many years of collaboration to support Rossi is an interesting one, if not an unthinkable proposition. While Spanish site motocuatro.com muses over the idea with some detail and observations from the Italian GP, the more likely explanation for appearance of Phillip Morris’s Maurizio Arrivabene (VP of Global Communications and Promotion) at the GP is for the influential sponsor to put some pressure on Dorna and other parties to help Ducati and Valentino become competitive in MotoGP.
Never say never, but this Yamaha/Marlboro rumor doesn’t seem to be too likely — if not unconscionable. Our money says Rossi on a Ducati until he retires from MotoGP racing, though expect some heavy concessions on project management from Ducati Corse.