With Cal Crutchlow’s signing out of the way, a few more pieces of MotoGP’s 2014 puzzle are starting to fall into place. The next domino to fall was Stefan Bradl, the German having his contract at LCR Honda extended for the 2014 season as expected. Bradl wil now stay with the team for another season as a factory-supported rider, with direct backing from HRC.
With the 2013 MotoGP season at its halfway mark, now is a good time to take a look back and examine the engine usage for the teams and riders.
In 2012, with the engine durability regulations in their third full season, the factories appeared to have the situation pretty much under control. The only excitement arose when something unexpected happened, such as Jorge Lorenzo have an engine lunch itself after he was taken out by Alvaro Bautista at Assen last year.
For 2013, the engine allocation was reduced from six to five engines per season. Each rider now has five engines to last the entire season, for use in all timed practice sessions during each race weekend. With three seasons already under their belt, no real drama was expected, yet that is not quite how it has turned out.
After months of intrigue as to where the British rider would land for the 2014 MotoGP Championship, Cal Crutchlow has reportedly signed a two-year deal with Ducati Corse.
Taking the seat of the departing Nicky Hayden, Cal Crutchlow has finally bagged the factory position that he has been adamant about for the past season and a half. The official announcement is expected Friday of this week.
MotoGP is show business, and to contribute to the show riders must bring more to their teams than race results. Since 2009, few riders have done more for their teams and sponsors without winning a race than Nicky Hayden has done for Ducati.
For decades the mantra in pro racing has been “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday,” but Ducati has seen its North American market eclipse sales in Italy for the first time, even as they have not had a GP win since Casey Stoner left. There’s no empirical way to determine how much of this is due to Nicky Hayden riding for Ducati, but common sense says these are related. So Ducati’s decision to let The Kentucky Kid go must have been a difficult one.
The Red Bull US GP at Laguna Seca, fan favorite Nicky Hayden will be sporting a new lid. Themed after Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, the Arai helmet has another clever use of Nicky’s face in the livery, giving the impression that the Kentucky Kid is wearing a combat helmet while on his Ducati Demsosedici GP13.
When we asked about any meaning behind the helmet design for the US GP Hayden said he simply liked the camo paint scheme, and that his helmet designer, Roby Marchionni of Starline, had thought of the design for the race. However, it is hard not to make some connections between Nicky’s time at Ducati Corse and some of the themes portrayed in Full Metal Jacket. After all, the former World Champion certainly has that thousand-yard stare down pat.
When Yamaha announced they would be leasing their M1 engines to ex-CRT teams for 2014, the first wave of reaction was overwhelmingly positive. With 24 liters of fuel allowed, and 12 engines instead of 5, the Yamaha engine package looked like being the best thing on offer to the so-called non-MSMA teams, as CRT is to be called from next year.
Then doubt set in. Looking at the Yamaha M1 package, what you’d want from Yamaha was the chassis rather than the motor. The engine is the least powerful of the MotoGP prototypes, but its chassis was by far the best of the bunch. Both the Honda and the Yamaha non-MSMA packages appeared to be offering the worst part of each bike: Honda offering their chassis (good, but not great) and a dumbed-down version of their superlative engine.
Yamaha offering a full-fat engine (the weakest of the bunch), for teams to have someone build a chassis around without Yamaha’s 20+ years of experience building Deltabox frames. Perhaps the Yamaha M1 lease package – a lot of money, just for some engines – was not the bargain it at first appeared.
Confirming what we already knew, Nicky Hayden announced today, at the pre-race press conference in Laguna Seca, that he would not be on a Ducati machine in MotoGP next year. ”I’m not coming back to Ducati in MotoGP next year. I’m not really sure what I’m going to do — I’ve got some options that are interesting,” said the Kentucky Kid.
The news confirms reports that Ducati had told Hayden in Germany that a seat in the factory team would not be available for him in the 2014 season, which has further fueled rumors that Cal Crutchlow could be riding for Ducati Corse next season. As for Hayden, his options in the premier class appear to be rather limited.
Rumors have been rife over the future of Nicky Hayden in MotoGP, as the former-World Champion and five-time Ducati man is seeing his seat up for grabs at the Italian factory team for yet another silly season. With it being no secret that Cal Crutchlow is looking for a factory ride in the premier class, and Yamaha reportedly not stepping up to the plate in that regard (add more fuel to the fire with Pol Espargaro reportedly coming into the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team next year), Crutchlow has all but officially been seen in Ducati livery for next year.
With Ducati keen to retain the services of the Italian Andrea Dovizioso, Hayden is left as the odd-man-out in this game of MotoGP musical chairs. With his options in MotoGP very grim because of the four prototypes agreement the MSMA has inked with Dorna, the American’s options outside of Ducati Corse are limited really to non-MSMA bikes, unless something radical occurs in the Pramac Racing side of the Ducati camp (Ben Spies has a contract thru 2014, and Iannone is hotly tipped to retain his seat for next year).
With the start of the summer break coming up in ten days’ time, contract negotiations are starting to heat up for the 2013 MotoGP rider market. The two race weekends at the Sachsenring and then Laguna Seca will see a frenzy of meetings, horse trading and secret talks as the few open MotoGP seats for 2014 get closer to be being filled.
The biggest problem facing riders looking to upgrade their seat is the scarcity of good seats available, both for 2014 and beyond. The Repsol Honda and Factory Yamaha teams are fully booked through the 2014 season, and even after that, it is hard to see them changing personnel.
Jorge Lorenzo has shown that he has the potential to win multiple championships for Yamaha, and Marc Marquez looks like doing much the same at Honda. Neither man is showing any intention of going anywhere for the foreseeable future.
Dani Pedrosa is looking stronger than ever, and has to be getting closer to his first ever MotoGP title. Though he considered retiring early after a couple of difficult years with injury, the Spaniard has rediscovered his passion for racing, and is also likely to extend his contract with Honda again once it comes up for renewal at the end of next year.
The only possible candidate to vacate his seat at the end of 2014 is Valentino Rossi. By then, the Italian will be nearly 36, the age at which most Grand Prix racers are in full decline. There had been some speculation that Rossi’s run of mediocre (for a nine-times world champion) results was the first sign of Rossi’s decline, but his convincing victory at Assen seems to have put a stop to such chatter.
More importantly, it appears to have revitalized the Italian and restored the fire of his ambition, which had sometimes seemed to be dying down. There is no doubt that Rossi will complete both years of his two-year deal with the Yamaha factory team, and the odds of him extending beyond that are looking better and better.
That leaves Cal Crutchlow, in particular, with no place to go. The Englishman had been pressuring Yamaha to sign a two-year deal, with a guarantee of a seat in the factory team in the second year of his contract. The problem is, either Lorenzo or Rossi would have to go. Given Lorenzo’s current form, it would be foolish to drop Lorenzo for Crutchlow, as strong as Crutchlow may have proved himself to be.
And dropping Rossi in favor of Crutchlow – no matter how good Crutchlow’s results – simply makes no business sense, as Rossi remains the top draw in the sport, and Yamaha’s biggest sales ace-in-the-hole around the world.
Crutchlow told the venerable British publication MCN that Yamaha boss Lin Jarvis had refused to guarantee him a seat in the factory team for 2015, leaving him to choose between remaining with Tech 3 for the next two years, and fighting on second string equipment, or taking his chances elsewhere.
However, “elsewhere” is a very limited selection of slots indeed. For the LCR Honda seat is taken, with Stefan Bradl set to stay on for another year – though HRC have made it clear that they expect better results from the German, if his pre-contract is to turn into an actual contract.
Alvaro Bautista has a contract with Gresini for 2014, though Bautista’s position is far from certain, given his disappointing results. In a report on Motocuatro, Fausto Gresini expressed his discontent with the results of the Spaniard, and emphasized that Bautista needs to realize just how much effort was going in to ensuring that he had an RC213V at his disposal for 2014.
Even the Tech 3 squad appears to be already full. Bradley Smith has a contract for 2014 with Herve Poncharal, while rumors persist that Yamaha has already signed either a contract or a letter of intent with Pol Espargaro to take the second seat at Tech 3. Even if Cal Crutchlow wanted to stay with the Tech 3 team, it could get very complicated.
And so Ducati finds itself with riders lining up almost around the block. With the Bologna factory the only manufacturer with seats open, there has been a lot of interest expressed in slotting in alongside Andrea Dovizioso, the only factory Ducati rider certain of his seat for 2014.
There are four candidates to take the second Ducati seat, and the places in the satellite team could also be up for grabs, in some combination or other.
Wednesday at Assen is always a rather odd day. At most rounds, Wednesday is a travel day, and the paddock regulars spend the day in airports, planes, and hired cars. But because the race at Assen is on Saturday, the events that normally take place on Thursday such as the pre-event press conference, happen a day earlier.
That leaves everyone with the racing equivalent of jet lag, their bodies and minds 24 hours behind events. Mentally, we are all prepared for a day of torpor and inaction. What we are greeted with is a day of rushing around to talk to riders, team managers, and anyone else foolish enough to cross our paths. Mind battles physical reality, and both come out losers.
Even focusing on the upcoming race is hard. Rolling into the circuit under bright skies and cheery temperatures – not warm, but not freezing either – feels slightly surreal after having studied the weather forecasts for the coming days.
While race day is likely to be dry, Thursday and Friday look like being full wet days. What that means is that practice may not be much of a guide to what actually happens on race day, rendering practice and qualifying relatively meaningless.