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.

Chief among the candidates for the second Ducati factory seat is Cal Crutchlow, the Englishman having renewed his talks with the Italian factory after the management clear-out instigated after Audi took over the company.

Officially, discussions are only at an exploratory stage, but an increasing number of insiders believe the deal to be very close to being agreed. Crutchlow continues to deny rumors of the deal being nearly done, but there is so much smoke that some kind of fire must be present, however small.

If Ducati decides against a seasoned MotoGP rider – a decision which they could come to regret, given the amount of development still needed to make the Desmosedici competitive – they could go for a younger rider. Two names are being linked to the ride, those of Andrea Iannone and Scott Redding, though both are outsider for the ride.

Iannone has a contract with Ducati for 2013, with Ducati holding an option to extend that for 2014. That option is due to expire after Laguna Seca, but Iannone continues to be a possibility for the second Ducati seat. The Italian has adapted well to the new category, though problems with arm pump meant he has been hindered to some extent in his first year.

Scott Redding remains the other option, though the factory Ducati seat is the least likely of the young Englishman’s choices. Redding impressed the Ducati organization last year during the tests, when he was faster than Andrea Iannone, who had already had some time on the bike. Redding and his management team are in the same boat as Crutchlow, having rebuilt their bridges once the old guard were removed by new management put in place by Audi.

And then of course there is Nicky Hayden. Hayden has a wealth of experience on the bike, and is a one-man sales machine for the Italian factory, working as hard at promoting the brand as he does to go racing. Hayden has been an outstanding ambassador for the Italian brand, and has helped to shift large amounts of product, especially in the US, Ducati’s most crucial market.

The question is, of course, does Nicky Hayden need to be on a Ducati in MotoGP to help ship Panigales in the US? The answer to that question is obviously no, and a sideways move to World Superbikes would be an obvious move. It would be good for Ducati, to get someone with experience of the frameless chassis in MotoGP try to figure out the same concept in World Superbike aboard the Panigale.

It would be good for Dorna and World Superbikes, too, raising the profile of the sport in the US, and helping Dorna sell TV rights in the country.

According to both Superbike Planet and GPOne, Hayden already has a contract offer for World Superbikes, GPOne believing that contract to be with Ducati. Hayden has repeatedly said he wishes to remain in the MotoGP paddock, but that may not be possible for Hayden, if he is to retain his current position.

Then there’s the situation at Pramac. Ben Spies has a two-year contract with Ducati, though so far, Spies has not stated explicitly that the contract specifies him racing in MotoGP. As a rule, Spies’ contracts are locked down pretty tight, and so to expect him to do anything other than stay in MotoGP for 2014 is probably incorrect.

The one angle of attack which Ducati may have in negotiations is the Texan’s extended absence, with Spies badly hampered by an early return to testing and racing after major shoulder surgery. The Texan is currently scheduled to make his return at Indianapolis. If he still isn’t strong enough then, it may mean his shoulder will never recover the strength needed to race in MotoGP.

If Andrea Iannone’s contract is renewed, and Ducati hire Cal Crutchlow for the second factory seat, Iannone could remain in the Pramac squad – or whatever structure is thrown up to replace it – for next year. If he doesn’t get another year on his contract, then he has options with Gresini as well.

The Gresini team has made no secret of their desire to hire Italian riders, and a slot riding one of Honda’s production racers alongside Alvaro Bautista would be a boost for the Italian team, making it easier for them to find sponsorship.

A more intriguing possibility is for Scott Redding to take the second satellite Ducati, but in a separate team to be run by Marc VDS. His current team has been in talks to move up to MotoGP with a number of people, with a leased Yamaha engine in a Kalex chassis one option, and a production Honda another.

But perhaps the most attractive option is to take over the running of the Pramac squad, and field the Ducati junior team. That would allow Redding to retain much of the team that currently surrounds him, and have been instrumental in his success. It would also give Marc VDS a foothold in MotoGP, something the team has been interested in for a while.

But Redding has other options outside of the Marc VDS team, with talks ongoing with Gresini about a production Honda there. Yamaha have also expressed an interest, but the Japanese factory already has all of its slots more than filled, and so has nothing to offer the Gloucestershire youngster a the current time. Redding told MCN earlier this week that he expected to make a decision after the Sachsenring, at some point during the summer break.

Why, though, would anyone want to take a gamble on a Ducati, when the brand has been struggling so badly ever since Casey Stoner left the team and went to Honda?

Two factors. Firstly, the Audi takeover changed a lot of things inside Ducati, some of the significant changes underlying the heart of the organization. Changes in communication, in some key personnel, and in business processes are underway, but that kind of change takes a very long time.

Ducati has to get it right some time, or they will have no future in the sport. Those looking closely at Ducati contracts have been listening very carefully to what they have been told of the changing processes inside the Italian factory, and of their hopes for progress.

There are signs of a more methodical work process, though that has yet to bear fruit. But a gamble on Ducati is a gamble that the small Italian factory can once again triumph through ingenuity and application, just as they have done before.

It is surprising that Ducati should be the hot ticket in MotoGP, but at the moment, they are the only factory with anything to offer. With a strong hand, the Italian manufacturer looks set to pick up a bargain or two in the next few days. Interesting times lie ahead, starting in Germany.

Photo: © 2013 Jensen Beeler / Asphalt & Rubber – Creative Commons – Attribution 3.0

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

  • paulus

    There is always ‘chaos theory’… too many variables between here and the signings

  • Damn

    duc aint no hot ticket! absolutely not. its the only option left for brainless people. if riders are smart they wait 1 year and join eighter yamaha or honda. or lease yamaha engine. or even wait for Suzuki is a better…way better option! for years and years now ducati is a carreer killer. we’ve seen many riders come and go and looking very ill riding for ducati.

  • TexusTim

    it may be too soon to speak of who’s contracts will still be in place by the end of this year..especialy rossi and hayden..these guys are so important that all we will hear is speculation when they may be ready to do somthing else..lots of races left lots of teams and riders trying to figure out who’s in and who’s stepping out or getting pushed out…to speculate that rossi will stay with so much left this year when in fact he could just as easly hang it up if he doenst have good finishes the rest of the season. same with hayden,spies and edwards..these guys no matter what contracts are in place right now can either retire or be pushed aside if perfomance isnt consitent….just sayin these other teams are not going to let ducatti suck up all the future riders because of contracts..we may see a new yamaha and honda satlite team announced that would throw all this into 6th gear. a third ducatti team is over saturation really too much when they cant land a podium to save there country let alone a riders future,i would guess this is cals last choice..how about a full factory aprilla effort ? that would be very cool…there is more going on then even the best journeilst cant dig out yet and may get fed propaganda to keep us all guessing….o man if suzuki would just come in next year they would be roome for everyone…who made suzuki wait till 2015…if the reason to hold till then could be discoverd and written about then I we might know juts what the hell is going on here…moto gp needs them next year ! the riders need them next year…THE FANS WANT THEM NEXT YEAR…..MR EMMIT FIND OUT THIS ONE FOR US…..my money goes to pressure not suzuki saying were not ready thats b.s.

  • smiler

    Though not a huge fan of Ducati in MotoGP. To say it has been a creer killer is to overstate most of the riders. Bayliss was from WSB and as with all but Crutchlow struggled in MotoGP. Capirossi was coming to the end of his career. Melandri wasn’t good enough as provided by his result in WSB. Stoner did well on the Ducati and then went on to win another title on the Honda so it did him little harm.
    Nicky Hayden is a steady Eddie, he was lucky to win the title in 2006. To see him in WSB would be a great move because I think his style and knowledge would do both Ducati and the WSB Paddock a lot of good, given that Dorna is trying to downgrade it.
    Why does anyone think Suzuki will be competitive out of the box? Because De Puniet did one decent test. After 500’s they never came close to winning and were placed behind Ducati. Bigger risk there surely. Given also they they still seem to be short on funds.

    I just hope Audi put a rocket up Ducati’s arse and we see a proper prototype rolled out. To see three manufacturers at the top and a gaggle of others biting at their heals would be better than a return to either Hinda dominance or Honda and Yam at the top.

  • Gutterslob

    Lets say Ducaudi do offer him a contract, his choices would be;

    a) Stay with a satellite team with no guarantee of factory equipment, and make thousands.
    b) Join a factory with no guarantee they can produce a winning bike, and make millions.

    Yeah, everyone says in it for the money, but at some point you’ll have to think about your future, spouse, family, retirement, etc.

  • Gutterslob

    ^ *says they’re not in it for the money

    Damn touch keyboards!!

  • Damo

    Would love to see Hayden on a WSBK Panigale. If he got it sorted he would have the potential to be the first MotoGP/WSBK Champ (way to early to tell obviously). He is still fast as hell.

  • Jake

    I find it funny how US sites always stress how important it is to have American riders in the series to bust the stature of the sport here. Yet despite having that the stature never increases. It’s a pretty stupid comment to me. A person is either a fan of the sport or they aren’t. If they aren’t they aren’t going to give a damn about it just because there is or isn’t an american rider in the series. To say Hayden is the reason Ducati has had a good sales the past few years, well again to me is pretty stupid. Could it be that they’ve released some really good bikes at more affordable prices in conjunction with the price of the Japanese brands going higher?

    I’m not anti-US but I find it insulting that it is implied I’d rather watch under performing riders who make up numbers because they are American as opposed to competitive winning riders. By this logic the NBA should be on a down swing especially a team like the Spurs with such a heavy foreign rosters. MotoGP (or Superbikes) for that matter isn’t the Olympics or the World Cup were something like National pride will come into play. The US has a Superbike series that is full of American riders that it can’t find an audience for, so what’s makes anyone think an American rider or two will bring MotoGP/SBK a wider audience here? That sounds great when trying to pitch to sponsors but the reality is it’s just BS. As long as Dorna keeps thinking along these stupid lines the sport has little chance of progressing past it’s current stature here. There is no evidence that bike racing will ever be anything other than a niche sport here and maybe if that were accepted the expectations would be more in line to reality

  • Jake

    Also Crutchlow is an over rated idiot. I’m sorry but his talent doesn’t match his ego. He has lost before he even hits the track because his mindset is that he can’t win without a better bike despite the fact he has a very good bike. Additionally him saying all last year he should have a factory ride when he hadn’t even had a podium and was constantly getting beat by his teammate was very silly. He turned down a two year offer last year so he deserves to be in the position he is now. His attitude shows exactly where his priorities are. He’d rather make more money on an uncompetitive bike versus making decent money on a competitive bike. I hope Yamaha just let him walk cause he will miss them more then they will miss him. Nothing he has done has me convinced that he will be anything other than the best of the rest. Really tired of the press trying to make him out to be the second coming of Rossi, Lorenzo or Stoner.

  • kev71

    I have to agree with Jake on every point. Crutchlow is a big mouth who put himself in this position. I hope he goes to Ducati and gets his ass roached every race by Tech3 riders and the rest of the pack!

    Hayden would do well in World SBK and I hope he gets the opportunity there. I would hate to see him riding a p.o.s and fighting for 12th spot.

    Jake is also correct that Americans do not buy Ducati bikes, apparel, etc. Because Nicky Hayden is racing one in MotoGP. My riding group consists of about 12 guys, all of us have Ducati motorcycles except one. Of the 11 ducs, 8 have been purchased in the last 2 years and not one guy said they bought one because Hayden was riding (although a couple did because of Rossi). I am also friends with the local Ducati dealer here and he supports this idea.

    Finally, AMA racing has been great to watch; however; very few Americans watch it. It is basically a niche sport that a select few watch. Many Americans are too wrapped up in NASCAR and the monotony of a car going straight and turning left (and even viewership in NASCAR has gone down).

    Recap: Crutchlow + Ducati = complaining and piss poor finishes
    Hayden + World SBK = Race wins and Panigale development
    AMA + Good Racing = NO Viewers in America (too many hillbillies watching NASCAR)

  • jd

    If you had multiple americans winning MotoGP races on whatever bike, you can guarantee their sales would go up, along with young kids growing up and wanting to be that person.

    I think the point US sites make about american riders regarding the stature is true. MotoGP was never a monolith in the USA, but in the 80s and early 90s it was truly huge with all the americans who came up & dominated, roberts, lawson, rainey, schwantz etc.

    Americans like seeing americans on podiums, is the point they’re making. It’s only gonna happen again with lots of money being invested in youth interest in the sport and generations of champions being groomed over time (as it naturally happened in the 80s) and once it does, the sport and everything that comes along with it (bike sales etc) would go through the roof.

    Just look at Spain now — motoGP is arguably a spanish enterprise over the last few years and they have produced the current champion and multiple champions in waiting.

  • Jake


    Again I dis-agree (and it’s cool to have an actual discussion on a website without name calling!!! lol). You can’t compare the 80s and 90 with today especially with the economy and just as important the generation. There are so many reason why the sport had a slightly higher profile (and not by much) then other than a few americans. If you took a poll of americans from the 80s and 90 and asked them who Micheal Jordan, Kenny Roberts, Freddie Spencer, Colin Edwards, Larry Bird, Dan Fauts, Senna, etc…. I’d bet less then 10% would know who the racers were. But I’d bet it be high 80% to 90% knew who Petty, Foyt, and the others.

    My point is again you have Americans filling the podiums of the AMA series yet they still can’t draw a crowd. American’s or not non-NASCAR or Monster truck racing motorsport is just a niche thing here in the US. Bike sales in the US are simply based on the size of the country and I really doubt it has anything to do with racing. Go down to Daytona and ask any of those Harley guys who Hayden is. I know a lot of sport riders who have no interest in racing. The fact is they’ve have been preaching this theme since I’ve been riding bikes and that’s aobut 13 years and nothing changes. I doubt the US will ever be as bike crazy as Spain. It’s the bike culture of Spain in general why there is a young racers develop program. In the US there are just too many other things to do.

    No having an American wouldn’t hurt but I want someone to prove to me that a person not into motosport or bikes in particular would by tickets to a US GP round simply because an American is racing. Or buy a motorcycle for the same reason. I think you’d sell more tickets to a US GP if you said a post race show would feature Jessica Biel and Jessica Alba stripping on the podium than the race featuring Hayden, Spies or Edwards.

  • Westward

    Actually, MotoGP is a lot like the Olympics, that’s why they play the national anthem of the winner and stand on tiered podiums.

    A successful American presence in the sport means increase revenue. Perfect example, Lance Armstrong and the Tour de France. Trek is now a giant in bicycle sales and cycling in the US gained major strides because of it.

    The only flaw in the theory is that neither Hayden, Spies, or Edwards are successful currently. Yet all three could dominate WSBK right now. Hayden would be an absolute boom for WSBK, and a champion on the Panigale.

    Spies has the most potential in MotoGP, once healthy. Edwards though very mature at his age only lacks a quality bike. His position in MotoGP suffered once he no longer was on an M1.

    As for Cal, he wants to win. But he also feels he deserves to be compensated for his efforts. Lets be real. There are only four bikes capable of winning in MotoGP. Cal is on the only other bike that could make the podium but not the championship. Bradl and Bautista have similar potential in their Honda versions, but they are not at Cals level.

    I think Cal on a Ducati, could be a great match. Just as I thought Spies would be, if he were healthy.
    As for Suzuki they lack the heart for racing. That is why they aren’t in the series now and have a half ass presence in WSBK.

    Ducati on the otherhand have the financial backing now with Audi, and the heart and will to succeed as evidence in everything they have done since new management.

    I wouldn’t accept a free kickstand coaster with Suzuki’s name on it for fear that my bike would end up in the dirt for lack of effort…

  • Casey

    Hayden is underrated in my opinion. Rossi, arguably the best racer ever, di nothing on the ducati. And people criticize Nicky cuz he hasn’t done anyting on it. No one has. Stoner did, but that was a whole different machine (800CC). If Nicky was on a Honda or Yamaha, he would content. Hands down guarentee

  • Jamon

    What’s with the underglow?

  • Neil

    Replacing Nicky would be stupid for Ducati, he works his ass off for them and gets treated like a red headed stepchild. Ducati needs the American market to be represented, Nicky does that religiously and has a great fan base/following.
    Spies is non existent, hurt and hasn’t ridden like he’s capable of in a long while.
    I said this before, Crutchlow would do no better on the Ducati than Dovi/Rossi did, have done.
    Have to find a way to get more factory bikes on the grid.