Two topics dominated Thursday’s round of talk at the rider debriefs and press conferences – well, three actually, but the Marquez/Espargaro clash at Barcelona was really just rehashing of old ground – and the talk was about contracts and tires, probably in that order of importance. With Casey Stoner retired and Jorge Lorenzo having renewed his contract with Yamaha for two more years, attention is turning to the other players in the field, and so every rider speaking to the press was given a grilling as to their plans for next year.

That interrogation revealed only a very little. In the press conference, Jorge Lorenzo admitted he had been made an offer by Honda, and had only decided to sign for Yamaha once Lin Jarvis upped his original offer in response to Honda’s. Lorenzo would not be drawn on the size of the sums involved – a clumsy and badly phrased question in the press conference asked by me was easily evaded by the Spaniard – but logic dictates that it would be more than the reported 8 million a year his previous contract was worth. But money was not the main driver behind the signing, Lorenzo said. “I listened to my heart, and my heart said Yamaha.” As Lorenzo’s team manager Wilco Zeelenberg said at Barcelona, and repeated again at Silverstone, Lorenzo wants to win championships, and Yamaha gave him the best shot at doing that.

As an aside, Lorenzo also joked that he had stayed with Yamaha to leave Casey Stoner’s seat open for him, in case the Australian changed his mind. Though Stoner laughed along with the joke, when asked if he had had any second thoughts about his decision, he was adamant that he was not coming back. “My resolve [to retire] is stronger, 100%,” Stoner said. “Every time we’re here for a race meeting, and you hear everything that’s going on, see everything that’s going on, it makes me that much more sure that I made the right decision.”

The offer to Jorge Lorenzo from Honda came as something of a surprise to current Repsol Honda man Dani Pedrosa. In a conversation with the Spaniard, Pedrosa was coy about his options, saying only that he expected to stay with Honda, but speaking to the Spanish press, he admitted that he had not yet had any contact with Honda, despite HRC Marketing Director Livio Suppo telling the Italian press last week that Honda’s priority was to extend their contract with Pedrosa. With no word from Honda, Pedrosa had spoken to Yamaha, he said, adding that those were the only two factories with any realistic choices for any rider with aspirations of the Championship. “Everyone has to look at where their best options lie,” Pedrosa said. Asked about Marc Marquez, Pedrosa was dismissive, telling the press that he had never really worried about who was his teammate.

If anything, Valentino Rossi was even more coy on his future, and even more careful about the way he phrased his answers. The Italian would say only that nothing had changed for him with Lorenzo’s signing, and that it made no difference to his priorities. The main thing, Rossi said, was to concentrate on improving the performance of the Ducati, and he was not looking beyond that point. When pressed about when he might start to think about his options, the Italian would say only that the updates coming at Laguna Seca would be important, but that he did not expect to make a decision until some point during the summer break, and that the earliest an announcement would come would be at Brno – the place, we should remember, where Ducati CEO Gabriele del Torchio officially announced the signing of Rossi back in 2010.

It is hard to get a sense of what Rossi’s plans genuinely are, though that does nothing to douse the speculation that is running like wildfire through the MotoGP paddock. Rossi’s stated aim – stated over and over again, every weekend — is to make the Ducati competitive, but there must come a point where the Italian stops believing that such a thing is possible. The stream of updates trickling through on a regular basis at least demonstrate that Ducati is doing everything they can to solve the problem, leaving no doubt about their intentions, though still plenty of doubt about their ability to fix it. The question is, at what point does Rossi give up on any hope of making the Ducati competitive, and start to look elsewhere? The Laguna Seca round, especially the radically updated engine expected there, will be crucial to Rossi’s decision-making process. If the bike makes a big leap forward, Rossi may stay. If it doesn’t, despite the updates, then there is little reason for him to hang around.

When not talking about contracts, and who has or has not been talking to who, the riders spent plenty of time talking about tires, and especially about the rain and its effects. The Honda riders continue to be upset about the switch to the new ’33’ spec front tire, which induces massive chatter in the front of their bike. Speak to anyone involved in racing at Yamaha, however, and they reply that chatter is not a problem for them at all, whilst at the same time doing their best not to look too smug.

But fixing chatter will be low on the list of priorities, as chatter is not normally an issue in the wet. That does not mean it won’t have an effect, though. When I asked Casey Stoner about the state of his rear tire at Le Mans, the Australian admitted candidly that it was a consequence of spending all of their testing time trying to fix the chatter. The Honda’s engine braking system was what was wrecking the Honda’s tire, Stoner said, the rear locking up on corner entry causing the tire to overheat. “It’s a development that we just haven’t had yet,” Stoner explained, “We’ve been concentrating too much on trying to get rid of chatter, so other things we need have been put on the back burner, until we fix the chatter.”

While chatter is not a problem for the Ducatis, Valentino Rossi was concerned about the rain, as he was still learning his way around Silverstone. Built outside an airfield, on a hilltop plateau meant that the track was flat and featured many blind corners, precisely because of the flatness of the track. What’s more, the track was very wide, making it difficult to judge exactly the right line through several sections. More time was needed just to learn the fastest line around the track, Rossi said, having lost a year to the rest of the field after skipping the 2010 race due to injury.

Wet or dry, though, the Yamahas look like the bike to beat at Silverstone. If Casey Stoner is serious about defending his 2011 title, he will need to outscore Jorge Lorenzo this weekend. But a happy Lorenzo and a bike that handles well without sacrificing too much performance is a tough bike to beat. Much work remains for Honda.

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.

  • Pat W

    rossi is stuck at ducati. Why would he want to leave – that bike is fantastic in the rain.

    I wonder if any $ changed hands

    MotoGP’s rookie rule, which prevents new riders from moving straight into a works team, does not ‘have to be kept rigidly’ according to Carmelo Ezpeleta, chief of the series’ rights holder Dorna.

    His comments represent a softening stance on a rule he has previously insisted will remain in place and be stringently applied.

    They could also pave the way for Moto2 star and Repsol-backed Marc Marquez to move straight into Honda’s works team for the 2013 season

  • David

    Whaaatttttt!!!! No mention of where Spies is going?

    I don’t see why the controversy about the rookie rule. There is Crutch,Dovi and Bradl showing their ability to ride factory equip. Move the Rookies into the support role as usual.

    But then again. No better way to piss Crutch,Dovi and Bradl off and motivate them to ride harder if Marquez leapfrogs to factory ride.

    Could make for good racing.

  • loki

    @David: If Spies goes on like that, he’s not going anywhere. In MotoGP at least.

  • Westward

    Bradl is contracted to LCR for the 2013 season. Marquez is not going to any Yamaha team, and Bradley Smith is reported to be promised a seat with Tech 3. From the looks of it, short of a return of Rossi, Dovizioso seem the likely recipient of the factory seat for Yamaha.

    If one were to reference last season as a criterion for talent, Marquez is more like Rossi and Bradl is Hayden from the 2006 season. If Rossi’s M1 had not failed him at LeMans & Laguna, he would have been the champion that year. Likewise, if Marquez had raced in the last two rounds, instead of nursing an eye injury at home, he would have been the Moto2 champion over Bradl without doug, as he collected victories eight and nine for the season to Bradl’s four…

    As for Spies, since he isn’t performing very well, he is not gaining much more traction in popularity out side of the US. However, I do feel he could be well suited for the Ducati. His mentality of riding could have a Stoner like success with the Desmocedici. Whether Rossi stays or goes, if might be worthwhile to have a third factory Ducati on the grid.

    With the 4 bike rule for manufacturers, Maybe Abrahams would realize that he would make a better team owner than racer, and sign Spies to the team. Or just drop out of the series as a team all together and sponsor a third factory bike for Ducati and run Spies there.

    If MotoGP does not work out for Spies at Ducati the next two years, they could place him on a 1199 Panigale in WSBK, there he would become a legend as having the most championships in the series, and the only pilot to win the title for as many seasons as he participated…

  • @Westward,

    Nice assessment. I find myself agreeing with pretty much all of it. When I think of Spies on a Ducati, my gut says, “Yeah!” It could be a really good match for both Ducati and Spies.

  • phs

    I don’t quite understand why everybody keeps speaking of how Stoner tamed the Duc and was the only one able to ride it. I mean, that was a few years ago and the other factories have evolved thier bikes with yearly updates and yearly rule changes by Dorna. It seems Ducati could not evolve thier bikes as well. The Ducati Stoner rode a few years ago is not the same Ducati today that Nicky and Vale are on. I would not want to go to Ducati if I were a top tier rider.
    Speaking of going to Ducati, I don’t see Spies going there either. I believe he is going to stay with Yamaha. Where did all this talk of Spies going to Ducati come from anyway?