Once the shock of Casey Stoner’s retirement passed, the speculation began over who would take his place at Honda, and what his departure would mean for contract negotiations among the other riders in the paddock. The permutations are endless, much like a sliding puzzle: will Repsol be able to tempt Jorge Lorenzo away from Yamaha? If Lorenzo does go, will Valentino Rossi be welcome at Yamaha, or could he even go back to Honda, the factory team he left at the end of 2003? What of Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez, and where do Ben Spies and Nicky Hayden fit into this?

But amidst all of the focus on the riders’ market, a bigger catch appears to have slipped under the radar. For Stoner’s retirement means that it is not just his seat at Honda that will be available next year, his current crew, including crew chief Cristian Gabarrini is also up for grabs. Gabarrini and crew – mechanics Bruno Leoni, Roberto Cierici, Andrea Brunetti, Filippo Brunetto, and Lorenzo Gagni – came across to Honda along with Stoner when he left Ducati at the end of 2010, the group remaining intensely loyal to the Australian since winning their first world title together at Ducati in 2007.

The stock of Gabarrini and crew has risen along with Stoner’s at Honda, and especially because of what has happened at Ducati since the Australian left the team. Valentino Rossi took over Stoner’s ride at Ducati at the end of 2010, and brought his highly-regarded crew led by legendary crew chief Jeremy Burgess along with him. But just as Rossi has struggled to get to grips with the finicky Ducati, so have his crew found it much more difficult than anticipated to give the Italian a bike that he can be competitive on. While much of the focus among the fans and the media has been on the comparison between the fortunes of Rossi and Stoner, much less attention has been paid to the fact that Gabarrini & co found a way to set the Ducati Desmosedici GP10 up to allow Stoner to win on, a feat that Burgess & co have failed to emulate.

Clearly, Gabarrini will be much in demand once it comes time to shuffle the seats in MotoGP. Two things seem probable. Firstly that Gabarrini will stay with Honda is an obvious choice, though the Italian has not expressed an opinion on the matter. The second is that the current crop of factory riders all have long-term associations with their crew chiefs, and sometimes with all of the members of their crew. Rossi has Burgess, Jorge Lorenzo has Ramon Forcada (though Forcada also has experience with Honda), Dani Pedrosa has Mike Leitner, Ben Spies has Tom Houseworth and Nicky Hayden is very happy with Juan Martinez, who took over as the American’s crew chief early in the season in 2009. Positions at the satellite teams are also fairly well fixed: Guy Coulon remains at Tech 3, the team he co-founded along with Herve Poncharal, and Christophe Bourgignon is a long-time LCR Honda man.

The most obvious destination for Gabarrini and associates would be alongside Marc Marquez, once the Spaniard makes the move up to MotoGP. But Marquez is firmly embedded inside the Monlau Competicion operation, which seems determined to move up to MotoGP as a whole, along with crew and mechanics. But with Gabarrini’s experience, their learning process in MotoGP could be vastly sped up.

Will Gabarrini join Marquez? Will he return to Ducati? Or will he join whoever moves to take the slot left at Repsol Honda by Casey Stoner’s departure (Valentino Rossi? Jorge Lorenzo?) Right now, we have no idea. But this could be a move which proves just as fascinating and just as crucial as which rider ends up going where. With it becoming ever more critical and ever more difficult to get the setup of a MotoGP machine spot on, crew chiefs are becoming almost as important as riders.

Photo: © 2012 Scott Jones / Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved

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

  • Westward

    I would like to see them go back to Ducati and work with Hayden, or Ducati field a third bike.

  • I’m not a Hayden fan and I’m still amazed he still gets mentioned in articles like this considering the season he won the championship Rossi still won more races that season than Hayden has in his whole career. Hayden has been best on day 3 times since 2003. Rossi was best on day 5 times the season Nicky won the championship.

    Hayden is a has been. The more that fall off in front of him, the higher he finishes. Yeah, yeah, to finish first you first must finish, even if it is behind satellite bikes. Final results only tell half the story, look at last season, all you had to do is not fall off and you’d gain points in what was supposed to be the pinnacle of world championship racing, that alone is a joke. The slowest rider to finish got points.

    I once also thought a rider and team combo would always be on top, Rossi, Burgess & Ducati have proved me wrong. Especially in this sport when the rider /team is supposed to be greater than the: bike with the rider / bike ratio compared to say F1 driver / car relationship.

    I’m also not the biggest Stoner fan, but I think his crew will be nothing once he has gone. The results are more Stoner than team or bike. Again, against the bike racing norm of mostly rider, bike secondary.

    So often I would call Casey Stoner “Casey Moaner” for telling it how it is, yet when Colin Edwards would say it is how it is I would admire him. Tall poppy syndrome perhaps as Edwards has always been the underdog in the premier class. (Plus I doubt I’d see a photo of Stoner at a titty bar giving the “shocker” for a photo). But since Casey announced his retirement at the end of the season I admire him a lot more for standing behind what he has always said and what he believes. He’s only said how it is, no icing on the cake.

    Good luck Gabarrini, you’ll need it!

  • johnrdupree

    The rookie rule would prevent Marquez from going straight to the factory squad, right? He and his crew would have move up to MotoGP as a satellite team first. Having Gabarrini run that team would make sense, especially with an eye toward a factory ride for Marquez in 2014.

  • Ed Gray

    Since Burgess has been having some good reasons to call it a day recently, i would say that there is a non zero chance that Rossi may be without his long time partner. If that comes to pass, I wonder if Rossi might give the Ducati a shot with Casey’s crew. Just say’n.

  • Damo


    Haters gonna hate. Christ sakes man, why the beef with Hayden? Is it because he is responsible for the biggest upset in MotoGP championship history? He won the championship straight up, just like Jorge did in 2010. Deal with it.

    Not sure why every bags on Hayden so much, he is an honest guy and a good racer. He has been stuck on and unsorted machine for awhile now and has fared about as good as Rossi (and beat him a few times as well)

    Back on topic. Who ever inherits Stoner’s crew will be in good hands for sure.

  • DareN

    I do not understand Nicky Hayden`s bashing. By Steve`s standards, Colin Edwards is a looser – so many years on factory machine and nothing accomplished… It is not about winning races – it is about winning championships and Nicky is the world champion! (in a great company – only Lorenzo,Stoner and Rossi accomplished that).

  • In a fanboi world, when their heroes win a title it’s because of their skill and the strength of the bike. When they lose, guys like Hayden are slammed as only having won by virtue of the failings of those around them.

    Amazing, those rose-coloured spectacles, no?

  • lumengrid

    What if? Honda takes Bradl on board and give him Gabarrini & Co?

    Nah…it will not happen…Marquez is being groomed by Repsol.

  • New Zealand Dan

    Bradl for a one year contract.

  • Bradl is an interesting option. Since he’ll have already had a year under his belt, he’ll no longer be a rookie. That could leave Marquez room in LCR till he can be signed on with Repsol Honda. Whatever happens, it’s sure to be an interesting winter break.

  • Riccardo

    Steve hates Hayden, Stoner and possibly Lorenzo too. What do they have in common?

    Definitely a die hard Rossi fan that believes no other rider could beat Rossi in a straight fight much less deserve it.

  • Damo

    @Riccardo, Trane Francks and DareN

    100% Agree

    Is it like a trend to dislike Hayden? I don’t get it. He seems to be a humble guy and one only four world champions still lining up on the grid. Next year it will only be three.

  • No, I only dislike Hayden (and Biaggi, but he’s long gone from MotoGP), it’s Hayden’s fanboi club that keeps reminding me of how great he isn’t. I have no #46 merchanise or memorabillia here. (I do have #34 and Doohan stuff though0. I don’t care that it was “Rossi” that lost the championship the year Hayden won it. Hayden tried so hard in the last race a wild card Superbike rider won the last race teehee.

    I was simply stating fact when I mentioned the season that Hayden won the championship that Rossi won more races in that single season than Hayden has in his whole MotoGP career. Do the Hayden fanbois not want to acknowledge that and think it’s made up from pro Rossi people?

    Besides that. Bradl would be a good option for Casey’s seat.

  • Westward

    Not the biggest Hayden fan, but I do like him, especially while he is at Ducati. However, 2006 is more like he was lucky to have won it, because of circumstances that were unlucky to others. Specifically at the circuits of Catalunya, Le Mans, and Laguna Seca.

    Gibernau’s debacle at the start of Catalunya, that injured Capirossi causing him to miss the race, as well as affecting his performance in the following race at Assen, effectively hurt Capirossi’s real championship title shot (unlike Pedrosa’s incident who had no shot at realistically winning the title, that involved Simoncelli).

    Then there was the total failure of Rossi’s M1, on the last turn of the last lap at Le Mans, a race that he was dominating. Add to that the additional engine failure of the M1 at Laguna Seca too (which I might add Furusawa personally admits blame), and that is how Hayden wins the title having only won 2 races, over Capirossi who won 3, and Rossi with 6 victories…

    Fortune masquerading as consistency…

    Though I like Hayden, he is also misguided in his affection for Elias, (knocking Rossi out in China and nicking him at Estoril) crediting him for being instrumental for his championship title…

  • DareN

    You keep harping about winning races – what seems lost to you,again, that the championships count,not races won. It is not Isle of Man (with all the respect) – you have to be good troughout the WHOLE season and that is hard! I am just courius, how,in your opinion, poor racer like him won MotoGP champinship – something that eluded all but 3 other guys….

  • DareN

    Love conspiracy teories….Ah, dominating races….Pedrosa dominates every single race (on the 1st lap, that is), then he falls apart or falls off. He is a true champion, just unlucky (sarcasm).

  • Bruce

    Among MotoGP Premier class riders on this sesaon’s grid, four riders (Rossi, Stoner, Lorenzo and Pedrosa) have more MotoGP premier class race wins than Hayden. Two of them (Rossi and Stoner) have more MotoGP premier class championships. Those are the statistics. Whether you think that’s a good record or a bad record is up to you.

  • Westward

    Rossi was nearly 4 seconds ahead of the rest of the field and getting faster before his M1 just stops. I will also like to correct, that it was on the 21st lap of 28, not the last one at Le Mans.

  • Heh. I’m no fanboi, unless that counts for every one of the riders who line up on the grid. I just like good racing.

    This year, it hasn’t escaped me that very often Hayden has been the one making a silk purse out of the sow’s ear that has been the Ducati. Props where props are due. And, as DareN stated, Mr. Consistency was in the right place at the right time in the points table when the game plan fell apart for the other riders. You can colour it with any disdain you like, but it stands as its own statistic. You don’t win championships by not placing well enough in the points to do so. On the F1 side of motorsport, Alonso is leading the championship by virtue of his consistency with an otherwise uncompetitive Ferrari. Respect.

    Re: “a wild card superbike rider won the last race teehee”. I guess you’re new to the sport if you think that’s something about which to be shocked. Wild card riders have historically been the wrench in the factory gears. If you want a good reminder, go back in time (it’s in the motogp.com video archives) and watch Norick Abe’s wild card ride at Suzuka. It was the ride that got KR’s attention and ended up netting Abe further seats. (It was also the inspiration for Vale taking on the nickname “Rossifumi”, for those who like trivia.) Great, great race. 1994.

    Actually, Abe is good example of a rider who really added to the spectacle of MotoGP despite his stats not looking all that impressive. Few podiums and only 3 wins make it look as though he wasn’t much of a rider, yet he never had a season where he finished outside the top 10.

    What was the topic again? ;-)