The Tech3 team’s decision to switch from Yamaha to KTM is having major consequences. With the Yamaha satellite bikes available, and with Suzuki ready to step up and supply a satellite team with bikes, teams are having to make choices they have never considered before. This luxury is indicative of the current health of the MotoGP grid: once upon a time, a satellite Yamaha or Honda team would never even consider switching to another manufacturer. Now, there are four competitive satellite-bike suppliers to choose from. So who will end up with the satellite Yamahas for 2019 and beyond, and where does that leave Suzuki? Speaking to some of the protagonists involved in the situation, it seems that although nothing is settled as of this moment, a decision is likely to be taken soon.
Every race weekend, there are dozens of things I either miss, or don’t have time to write about. Here’s what I missed from the German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring:
About Those Chassis
Since the Barcelona test, the paddock has been awash with gossip about Yamaha chassis. Valentino Rossi was particularly enamored of one of the chassis tested at Barcelona, though his teammate Maverick Viñales appeared to be a lot less enthralled by it. At Assen and the Sachsenring, both riders had one each of the “new” chassis and one of the “old” chassis.
The new chassis is said to be a development of the chassis used last year – some even say last year’s chassis – which was itself a slight revision of the 2015 chassis. The “old” chassis was a new chassis based on the chassis used last year, meant to save the rear tire, but sacrificing corner entry as a result.
Valentino Rossi was constantly clear about which chassis he favored, and which chassis he used. Yet Viñales consistently refused to answer questions on the subject, claiming he had been banned from doing so by Yamaha. So how can one rider answer and the other refuse?
With all twelve factory riders on two-year contracts, there wasn’t supposed to be a MotoGP Silly Season in 2017, or at least, not much of one. That impression was further reinforced when the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha squad quickly tied up both Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger for an extra year, until the end of 2018.
As usual, reality intervened, of course. Though the factory seats were supposedly taken, there was plenty of interest in the satellite seats once the season got underway.
All eyes turned to the Moto2 class, and especially to the remarkable performances by Franco Morbidelli and Pecco Bagnaia. Alex Márquez, too, raised eyebrows. And so speculation started.
Then there were those factory seats. Yes, all twelve factory riders have two-year contracts, but all contracts have clauses that allow for either side to make an early escape.
Great managers make sure the escape clause benefits their rider. Great factory lawyers make sure the contract is in their favor. The measure of a rider manager is where they end up on that side of the equation.
It is not often that journalists get to speak to team managers at length, but test days provide the perfect opportunity to do just that. So it was that a small group of journalists attending the tests sat down with Suzuki team boss Davide Brivio to discuss progress so far.
There was a lot to talk about. There have been rumors that Andrea Iannone is not fitting in well with the ECSTAR Suzuki team, and is currently engaged in talks with Aprilia about moving there for the 2018 season. Some of Iannone’s issues are down to his problem adapting to the bike, and trying to fix his feeling with the front end.
Brivio spoke to us about Iannone’s situation, and the development of the GSX-RR. He also talked about the benefits of a satellite team, what Suzuki is doing to improve the spec electronics package, the test program at Barcelona, and the return of Alex Rins for the test.
It was a long discussion, but there was plenty to go over. We think you will enjoy it.
The Monday after the final race at Valencia has not been the first day of the official test for a few years now. This is a good thing: the riders are exhausted after a full season of racing, and need a lie in and a day to recover.
The team members aren’t the same, mechanics moving from garage to garage, and crew chiefs shuffling around to meet their new teams.
The riders might get the day off, but the rest of the staff do not. Mechanics are being shown the ropes in the new garage, and learn how the bikes fit together by helping to strip and reassemble them for the start of Tuesday’s test.
Factory bosses are also busy, going through test schedules with existing and new riders to sort out who will be testing what, and what to expect.
They also make time on Monday to talk to the press. Or at least some of them do. The top brass of Suzuki, Ducati, and Honda all held press conferences to talk to the media, and to go over their plans.
The three different press conferences also gave an insight into the different approaches of the teams. HRC was there to present the management team that will take over from Shuhei Nakamoto, who retires as HRC Vice President in April.
Suzuki team boss Davide Brivio held a solo press conference in English, to discuss the plans for the team. And Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall’Igna spoke to the media in Italian and English about the 2017 bike and the arrival of Jorge Lorenzo.
This is truly a golden age of motorcycle racing. The Silverstone race was proof of that. A stunning contest, with positions fiercely fought over. A new winner added to MotoGP’s pantheon.
Five riders doing battle over second place, including some of the greatest riders of their respective generations. Bikes from four different factories in the top six.
And Silverstone is hardly unique this season. 2016 has seen two different satellite riders win races. It has seen seven different winners this season, and the last seven races each won by a different rider.
It has seen relative newcomers win, and seasoned veterans win. 2016 is the culmination of a long period of rich results, with four riders all capable of winning on any given day over the past four or five years. Margins of victory have never been tighter, nor has the gap between the front and the back of the grid.
This cornucopia is not just in the premier class. Racing is returning to Moto2, after a drought of processional contests. Moto3 is overflowing with young talent, with rookies quickly challenging the older guard, who are in turn off to fatten the field in Moto2 next year.
At Silverstone, the Moto2 race was hard fought between a small group of riders, with incidents that had serious long-term effects on the championship. The Moto3 class produced a customary thriller, Silverstone’s long straights and high winds making escape impossible, but making staying out of trouble imperative.
While Johann Zarco is out in Japan, testing the Suzuki GSX-RR MotoGP bike, the 2017 MotoGP rider line up is starting to solidify further. Ironically, it is looking like Johann Zarco will not be the rider that Suzuki selects to pilot its factory MotoGP bike alongside Andrea Iannone.
Team boss Davide Brivio is in Japan, along with the test team, to finalize their plans for 2017. At Barcelona, Brivio admitted to us that he would be going to discuss Suzuki’s choice of rider for next year.
The Italian acknowledged that both Aleix Espargaro and Alex Rins were under discussion, and though he declined to state a preference, he did say “It’s clear what our choice is.”
The announcement that both Aleix Espargaro and Alex Rins will be in the pre-event press conference in Assen is a further sign that an announcement is imminent.
In any other year, the approaching weekend at Barcelona would see speculation around MotoGP’s Silly Season nearing its peak, with a spate of contracts signed in the weeks which follow. But this is not any other year.
Going into the 2016 Gran Premi de Catalunya at the Montmeló circuit, eight of the twelve factory seats open for next season have already been filled, while a ninth is just a matter of days away.
Of the remaining three, only the seat at Aprilia is truly up for grabs, the open seats at Suzuki and KTM already having riders penciled in. It is truly a bizarre year.
So where are we so far? The seats at the factory Ducati and Yamaha teams are all taken, with Andrea Dovizioso partnering Jorge Lorenzo at Ducati while Maverick Viñales joins Valentino Rossi at Movistar Yamaha.
Repsol Honda is as good as complete: Dani Pedrosa has already signed on for two more years, while Marc Márquez acknowledged at the press launch for the Barcelona MotoGP race that he would “definitely continue with this bike.” He will sign a contract with Honda again, but he wants it to be a “perfect” contract.
Suzuki, KTM, and Aprilia all have one rider signed already. Sam Lowes’ seat at Aprilia was settled already two years ago, when he signed for Gresini to race in Moto2 in 2016, and MotoGP for 2017 and 2018.
Bradley Smith was the next to slot into place, signing on for the first seat at KTM ahead of the first race of this year. And Andrea Iannone took over at ECSTAR Suzuki after Viñales announced he was leaving, and Ducati announced they were keeping Dovizioso.
The MotoGP silly season has been rapidly developing this week. First, Dani Pedrosa renewed his contract with Repsol Honda, and then we heard that Maverick Viñales would be headed to the Movistar Yamaha team for the next two years.
Next, we got confirmation that Andrea Dovizioso would continue with Ducati Corse, with Jorge Lorenzo as his teammate for next year, which meant that Andrea Iannone would be leaving the Italian squad.
Iannone’s future was quickly decided though, as the Italian rider has just inked a two-year deal with the ECSTAR Suzuki squad, taking the seat of the departed Maverick Viñales.
There will be only 23 bikes on the MotoGP grid in 2017. The FIM today officially announced that the 24th grid slot has been officially withdrawn, after manufacturers could not pledge to supply additional equipment.
There was plenty of interest in the grid slot. Five teams expressed an interest, and three teams submitted an official application for the 24th grid slot. Those teams are believed to have included Pons, LCR, and Ajo – all of whom had previously admitted publicly that they were keen to move up to MotoGP.