MotoGP Silly Season Update: Feverish Negotiations

07/16/2017 @ 8:20 pm, by David EmmettComments Off on MotoGP Silly Season Update: Feverish Negotiations

The MotoGP bikes have fallen silent for over a week now, the teams and riders dispersed to the four winds, nominally for “vacation”.

And while riders relaxed on a beach somewhere for a week, before returning to their training for the second-half of the season, teams and rider managers have been anything but dormant. There has been a hive of activity in preparation for the latter half of the season, and for some of the satellite teams, for 2018 as well.

For the Silly Season That Wasn’t Supposed To Be has stepped up a gear. The summer break has so far seen extensive negotiations going on over the MotoGP seats which will be free in 2018, and in some cases, whether a seat will become available or not.

Phone calls to team staff start with pleasantries about vacation time, but quickly reveal that vacation consists of at best a day or two taken in between meetings and preparations for the remainder of the year.

The first shoe to drop in the summer edition of MotoGP’s 2018 Silly Season is the revelation by Motorsport.com that Jack Miller will be joining Danilo Petrucci at Pramac Ducati for next season.

After losing his direct contract with HRC – that contract going to Cal Crutchlow instead – the Australian had been in talks with the Marc VDS squad about a contract directly with the team. However, a failure to agree terms over money, and a better offer from Ducati, pushed Miller towards Pramac.

The deal is yet to be announced, and teams are refusing to confirm anything officially. With Miller commuting between Japan for the Suzuka 8-Hour race and his home in Townsville, the Australian has been hard to reach for comment. But an announcement is expected when MotoGP convenes again at Brno.

The Deal that Probably Won’t Be

At Pramac, Miller will be replacing Scott Redding. The Englishman has had a tough first part of the year, struggling both with mechanical issues and with a lack of rear grip during races. Redding is currently examining his options, both in MotoGP and potentially in WorldSBK.

His first port of call was apparently Aprilia, Redding and his manager having a meeting at the Sachsenring with the Italian factory about replacing the struggling Sam Lowes.

The talks were characterized as “a chat, but that was all” by Redding. Any move by Redding to Aprilia would be dependent on a decision by Aprilia on whether to keep Lowes.

Lowes’ position now looks slightly stronger. The Englishman and his manager had talks with Aprilia last week, and though no direct news of those talks has emerged, it is believed that Lowes has some support inside the Italian factory.

That would jive with the improvement that Lowes has shown over the past few races, going from being three seconds off the pace at the beginning of the season to something closer to a second off.

Canning a rookie after just nine races in MotoGP seems rather harsh. Given Lowes has a two-year contract in MotoGP, and Aprilia is still in the developmental phase of its project with a limited budget, getting rid of Lowes does not make that much sense.

Especially given that most of the top talent is already signed up for next year, it may be better to keep the Englishman for 2018, and wait to see who they can attract for 2019.

Of course, what we don’t know is how much direct pressure there is on Aprilia Corse boss Romano Albesiano to deliver immediate results. Piaggio boss Roberto Colaninno is a peculiar figure, and may be demanding podiums and wins from Aprilia’s MotoGP project.

Though the bike is clearly competitive, it is also fundamentally flawed, a design flaw with the pneumatic valve system causing multiple engine failures this season. That should perhaps be addressed first.

Troll level: Grand High Wizard

If there is no room for Redding at Aprilia, what could be his next port of call? The young Englishman has been toying with his followers on Twitter, saying first that the Suzuki’s “look nice”, and the next day that the Yamaha “looks comfortable”.

He deflected it all with the pretense of looking at replacing his motocross bike, throwing in a mention of KTM. Was he throwing out lines in the hope of attracting attention? Possibly. But whatever he was doing, he was certainly stirring up speculation.

The most obvious port of call for Redding would be the Marc VDS team. Redding came close to winning the 2013 Moto2 championship with the Marc VDS team, and they started a MotoGP squad for the Englishman in 2015.

Redding is still managed by Marc VDS team manager Michael Bartholemy, and so expecting a return to the team would not be unreasonable.

The stumbling point for Redding would be going back to riding the Honda RC213V, a bike that Redding never really got on with. But that, too many not be too much of a problem. Suzuki had approached Marc VDS with a view to becoming a satellite squad, but the talks never got very far.

The biggest issue is the level of support: with Suzuki not having offered satellite machinery since the 1980s, it is hard to see how the Japanese factory would be willing or able to supply competitive bikes with sufficient support for a two-rider team.

Surprise Surprise?

Whether Marc VDS stays with Honda (the likely option) or switches to Suzuki, the question of who partners rookie Franco Morbidelli in 2018 is up in the air. While Redding may be an option, the team may decide to spring for another Moto2 rookie instead.

Sources remained tight-lipped as to possible candidates, but there is a chance they could include a Moto2 rider already under contract. That rules out Tom Luthi, who is said to be in contention for the second ride at LCR Honda alongside Taka Nakagami.

Could it include Nakagami? Could it perhaps even include Pecco Bagnaia? Unlikely, perhaps, but in the fevered atmosphere of current negotiations, it is hard to resist the temptation to speculate.

Outside of Marc VDS, Scott Redding’s options are limited. Both Avintia seats are currently up for grabs, as is one of the Aspar seats – Alvaro Bautista looks set to continue with Aspar, rather than switch to Aprilia, who had also offered him Lowes’ seat.

Hector Barbera has had a dismal year so far, struggling to get any feeling from the front end of the Ducati Desmosedici GP16. His results are in stark contrast to 2016: at the halfway mark this year, Barbera has scored just 21 points, with a best finish of ninth at Barcelona.

This time last year, Barbera stood seventh in the championship with 65 points, having racked up seven top ten finishes, including a fifth and a sixth.

Barbera’s Avintia teammate, Loris Baz, is doing better, despite being on an older GP15 machine. Baz is fifteenth, two places and ten points ahead of Barbera. Baz’s misfortune, however, is that Johann Zarco has entered the class, giving Dorna a powerful bargaining chip for negotiating with French broadcasters.

Could Redding to go Avintia? Tito Rabat is currently being linked with the ride, the former Moto2 champion bringing important sponsorship to any team he joins. Rabat had been an option at Pramac, but that was before Ducati chose Jack Miller to fill that slot.

Paddock gossip suggests that the stumbling block with Avintia is currently Rabat’s financial demands. But in an interview with Peter McLaren of Crash.net, team manager Augustin Escobar said they have “five or six” riders they are considering, including the current pairing.

The Deal That Wasn’t

There has been much speculation concerning the future of Andrea Iannone at Suzuki. Despite denials, sources with knowledge of the situation say that the situation within the team is poor. Communication between Iannone and the team is below par, and Iannone is not seen as being open to input from the team.

The Italian seems only willing to listen to and interact with the sizable entourage he brings with him, rather than knuckling down to the hard work of trying to adapt his riding style to the Suzuki, and work with the team to adapting the Suzuki to him.

Reports of a poor work ethic and a preference for partying, over training, do not endear him to the team. 

There had been credible rumors that a major upset was in the works at Suzuki. Iannone’s seat was being linked to a rider outside of the current MotoGP line up, but Suzuki was quick to quash any such suggestion.

Suzuki already has two riders under contract for 2018, and do not intend to make any changes, is the official line. The driving force behind such a decision is most likely Suzuki management back in Japan.

A decision has been made on the riders, and looking to get rid of one of them early would be tantamount to admitting they had made a mistake.

That is not to say that Iannone is tied to Suzuki inextricably for next year. If the Italian wants out, then he should have a clause in his contract allowing him to get out.

However, choosing to leave could be costly, potentially forfeiting a multi-million dollar salary for 2018. It looks like Suzuki and Iannone are condemned to one another for next season. Whether that is a successful partnership depends largely on Iannone.

Photo: Suzuki Racing

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

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