Deciphering the MotoGP Silly Season, Part 2

07/30/2015 @ 10:45 am, by David Emmett27 COMMENTS

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If Jack Miller is parachuted into Aspar, the second seat in the team is up for grabs. Though Dorna are keen to have an American in MotoGP, it is widely believed that Nicky Hayden’s days are numbered.

Despite his denials, there are question marks over Hayden’s wrist, and he has not been as competitive on the Open Honda as he had hoped. Hayden was at the last round of World Superbikes at Laguna Seca a couple of weeks ago, where he was seen talking to a lot of teams.

There is a lot of speculation Hayden could end up on an Aprilia in World Superbikes next season, the American already having visited the factory’s Noale HQ in 2013, before he left Ducati to sign for Aspar.

Could Hayden take the second Aprilia seat in MotoGP? This seems extremely unlikely. The factory already has an experienced development rider in Alvaro Bautista, and is really looking for someone faster and younger to lead the challenge.

One name being bandied about is Stefan Bradl, the German being a particularly attractive prospect for the Italian factory. With Melandri having abandoned the Gresini Aprilia team, the second seat in the team is being filled by Michael Laverty.

A sensible choice under the circumstances: Laverty is already Aprilia’s official test rider, and the RS-GP is still very much a test bed for collecting data, to be used to build the 2016 bike, which will be a full prototype built from scratch.

The downside to having Laverty is that he is also racing in BSB for the Tyco BMW team. The two calendars clash only once, when MotoGP goes to Phillip Island, and BSB is at Brands Hatch, so Laverty is able to fill in on a race-by-race basis.

However, with Bradl having announced that he has rescinded his contract with Forward Racing, due to the fact that they cannot guarantee him a ride for the rest of the season, Bradl becomes a more appealing option for Aprilia.

The German could start racing almost immediately – a start at Indianapolis is probably too early, with the Brno test a more likely date – and could fill in until the end of the season. Bradl is still relatively young – he will be 26 in November – a former Moto2 world champion, and highly motivated.

Signing Bradl to what is effectively an 18-month contract could be a smart move for Aprilia, as they would get someone young, fast, and able to help develop their new 2016 bike. If Bradl is fast in 2016, Aprilia could keep him for the future, if he isn’t, he can keep working on improving the bike for 2017, and his successor.

With so many teams disappearing, it may be possible for the Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Racing team to fulfill their wish of expanding to become a two-rider team.

Honda would rather a competent, well-funded team took over one of the bikes which become available than give it to someone without the resources – financial and human – to make it competitive.

At the Sachsenring, team owner Michael Bartholémy told us that he would very much like to have a second bike, but only if he could run it within budget. To do that, he would require the full IRTA support package, comprising transport allowance and free tires. As a new team, they are not getting that for 2015, and at around €1.2 million, that is a lot of money to find.

If Marc VDS do get a second bike, then Tito Rabat is the first rider who would be eligible for the bike. Bartholémy is keen to hold on to the Spaniard, but Rabat has made it very clear that his priority is to move up to MotoGP.

Adding a second bike would be one way of keeping Rabat, and keeping him happy. Rabat would have to find a new crew chief, however, as Pete Benson is believed not to be interested in a return to MotoGP.

Bartholémy may not get his way, however. There is also a chance that Honda will decide who goes on the second bike. It seems unlikely that they would put Jack Miller there, as there is still a history of legal proceedings between Miller and Marc VDS over a contract the Australian signed with the team two years ago.

But the intriguing option could be having Cal Crutchlow inside the team. Honda are keen to keep Crutchlow on the bike – having a ‘normal’ rider who can be competitive on the bike is important, making it easier for HRC to develop the bike around mere mortals, rather than the freakish talents of Marc Márquez and Dani Pedrosa.

If LCR do drop one of their bikes, then Honda may decide place Crutchlow at Marc VDS and keep Miller at LCR.

Whatever happens with the second bike, Scott Redding is almost certain to remain in MotoGP with Marc VDS. Redding has gotten off to a torrid start since switching to the Honda RC213V, finding it a much more difficult bike to ride than the RCV1000R he had raced in 2014.

All of his career, he has spent his time watching his weight and trying to compensate for his size and weight on an underpowered bike. Finally, he has a bike with a lot more horsepower than traction, and is having to relearn and rethink his approach to riding.

Redding was starting to make real progress at the Sachsenring, but a first-lap crash put an end to his hopes of improvement. Though there is a performance clause in his contract with Marc VDS, Bartholémy told us he does not want to invoke it.

He still has a strong belief that Redding will come good. The British rider has the second half of the season for that to happen.

While the combinations of Hondas and teams are pretty endless, the satellite Ducati teams look pretty well sorted. Pramac will continue to act as the Ducati junior team, and will get the bikes from this year’s factory team for 2016.

Having a GP15 will be a big step forward for Danilo Petrucci, who has a two-year deal with Pramac. The second seat is still open, with Yonny Hernandez, Stefan Bradl and perhaps even Eugene Laverty a possibility.

This is perhaps the most highly prized seat available in MotoGP, all the more so because the bike will be a GP15. Bradl, Tito Rabat and more are looking at this bike, and team manager Francesco Guidotti can almost take his pick.

As much as Yonny Hernandez would like to get his hands on a Ducati Desmosedici GP15, it is not looking likely to happen. There are strong indications that Hernandez will move back to Avintia, as the Colombian has good ties with his former team.

That would mean racing a GP14.2, basically the same bike he is on now. As the third-ranked Ducati team, Avintia are last in line, and will be racing the GP14.2 in 2016. The other seat at Avintia will almost certainly be taken by Hector Barbera, as the Spanish rider brings both money and results to the squad.

We may know what Ducati will be doing, but just what Honda and Yamaha will be doing for the private teams is still uncertain. The AB Motor Racing team of Karel Abraham is believed to be eying a switch to World Superbikes, though Abraham himself is much less keen on the switch.

Abraham Sr. was seen talking to KTM’s Pit Beirer in Assen by Dutch site Nieuwsmotor.nl, after which Beirer admitted he had spoken to Abraham about running the KTM factory team.

AB Motor Racing is attractive not just because they have a MotoGP team, but also a MotoGP circuit, as Abraham Sr. owns the Brno track. Beirer said they were talking to several different teams about this, and it was still very early. Any deal made would still leave AB Motor Racing out in the cold for 2016, as KTM are only looking at an entry in 2017.

If the team leaves MotoGP next year, then Abraham’s grid slot will become available, though it may not be such an appealing prospect.

IRTA has already announced that it will only be providing financial support for the top 22 riders, ranked according to the special system they use to measure a rider’s performance (based on the championship standing, but taking finishes outside the points into consideration).

That means that 3 of the current 25 grid slots are due to lose their support. At the moment, Abraham, IODA Racing’s Alex De Angelis, and Marco Melandri (or his successor) are in the hot seat.

IODA is almost certain to leave, the team having struggled ever since they joined the class, losing first CAME and then OCTO as sponsors. The second Aprilia rider (whoever it is) should start scoring enough points to lift them out of trouble.

That would put Mike Di Meglio (and the second seat at Avintia) into the firing line, and potentially Eugene Laverty. The disappearance of Forward Racing, should they prove not to be able to continue until the end of the season, may just save their bacon.

If IODA goes, as seems certain, and Forward Racing cannot make it onto the grid next year, who could take their place? IRTA and Dorna have always said that 22 is the optimum grid size they are aiming for, though they are happy to have 24 or 25 on there.

If nobody moves up to replace Forward and IODA, that would be fine. But there are candidates to replace them. Sito Pons has been eying a return to MotoGP for a while now, and 2016 could be a good opportunity. 2017 would be even better, though, as it would allow Pons to take Alex Rins up into the premier class.

Aki Ajo is the other man looking at opportunities in MotoGP. The addition of a Moto2 team for Johann Zarco has been a success, the Frenchman closing in rapidly on a Moto2 title.

A seat in MotoGP would allow Ajo to move up and take Zarco with him. Having both Pons and Ajo in MotoGP would please Dorna immensely, as the aim is to fill the grid with the best teams in racing, and both Ajo and Pons have shown they are extremely competent.

2016 looks like being a difficult year for MotoGP, with so many teams in financial disarray. The year after should be better, however, as the new deal for private teams will come into effect, with each team getting around €2 million per rider from IRTA, rather than the €1.3 million they receive at the moment.

Combined with a cap on lease prices, that should ease the financial pressures on the team, and allow for more continuity. We may be getting new rules in 2016, but the new era really begins in 2017.

Photo: © 2015 Tony Goldsmith / www.tonygoldsmith.net – All Rights Reserved

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.