The last of the factory seats has been officially filled. Today, the Gresini Aprilia team announced that Aleix Espargaro will be joining Sam Lowes at Aprilia for the next two seasons.
The announcement did not come as a surprise. Rumors had emerged at Barcelona that Espargaro would be going to Aprilia, Espargaro telling the media on Friday that he had already signed a contract, but that he was unable to announce who with.
Espargaro’s signing leaves both Stefan Bradl and Alvaro Bautista out of a job.
Bautista is expected to sign with the Aspar Ducati team for 2017, where he is likely to partner with Eugene Laverty, while Stefan Bradl is being linked to several rides in the World Superbike paddock.
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.
“I am not a very happy man,” Tech 3 boss Hervé Poncharal told us on the Thursday before Barcelona. His problem? Attracting competitive riders to take the seats vacated by Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro.
Their destination was emblematic of Poncharal’s problem: at Barcelona, Espargaro announced he would be reunited with his Tech 3 teammate in the factory KTM team in 2017 and 2018.
So Poncharal found himself with the looming likelihood of fielding two rookies in 2017. The Tech 3 boss signed Jonas Folger back in Le Mans, while Johann Zarco is the prime candidate to fill the second Tech 3 seat.
Zarco is currently in Japan testing Suzuki’s GSX-RR MotoGP machine. He is expected to sign with Tech 3 once Suzuki have announced they are signing Alex Rins to partner Andrea Iannone.
The original hope was either to keep Pol Espargaro alongside Folger, to ensure consistency of results, or welcome Alex Rins into the fold on a factory Yamaha contract.
Either way, it would ensure the publicity which is vital to keeping sponsors happy. Two rookies and no factory connections is a lot less appealing to the people who help provide the €8-€9 million it costs to run the Tech 3 team.
With the flyaways fast approaching, MotoGP’s silly season for 2016 is reaching its climax. All of the factory seats are taken – including the seat at Aprilia vacated by Marco Melandri – and the top satellite rides are filled as well, either officially or unofficially.
A few pieces of the puzzle remain, but fitting those together is more or less complex, depending on the team and the rider involved. Here’s a look at where we stand so far.
After finishing fifth in the 2014 World Superbike Championship with Aprilia, Marco Melandri will continue with the Italian manufacturer, but switch to the MotoGP paddock for next season. Melandri will join Alvaro Bautista in the Aprilia Racing garage, where they will compete on an updated version of the ART machine, which was originally built to compete under the CRT bike rules. The team, now operated by Gresini Racing, will come up to speed during the 2015 season, and in 2016 they will race with a brand new race bike, which will use the compulsory “open” spec-electronics from Magneti Marelli. For Melandri, the move to MotoGP is a bit of gamble, with Aprilia’s program uncertain.
With the announcement that Scott Redding will ride with Marc VDS Racing in MotoGP, for the next three seasons no less, the rest of the pieces in the 2014 MotoGP Silly Season can finally start falling into place.
In the first of many announcements we expect to come in the following days, we learn that Alvaro Bautista has signed a two-year deal with Aprilia’s new MotoGP team.
The news is hardly a surprise, as Bautista currently rides for the Go & Fun Gresini Honda team, which will lose its title sponsor for 2015; and instead will manage Aprilia’s MotoGP efforts for the next four years, which will be called Aprilia Gresini Racing.
Keeping the team more or less intact, Bautista can expect a bike similar to the current-spec Aprilia ART of next season, while 2016 will see an all new bike (likely a purpose-built V4, that’s not too dissimilar from the 2014 ART)
For anyone on a budget, Misano is one of the cheaper MotoGP rounds to attend. Ticket prices aside, the area has a large amount of tourist accommodations, and the race takes place right at the tail end of the tourist season, when hotel prices are starting to drop.
Buses run to and from the circuit from Riccione, making transport to and the track affordable. Misano is a great circuit to go to if you are trying to keep costs to a minimum.
Misano may be a cheap weekend for fans, but it certainly wasn’t cheap for the teams in all three classes in MotoGP. The rain-drenched conditions on Friday saw riders crashing left, right, and center, in Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP. They racked up a grand total of 62 crashes in all three classes, in just a single day.
Given that crash damage on Grand Prix machinery tends to start at a minimum of around a thousand euros, going up arithmetically with the severity of the crash and the class the bike is racing in, a conservative estimate of the grand total for repairs on the first day of practice would be enough to pay for a ride in Moto3. Or possibly even on a MotoGP Open class bike.
The cause of those 62 crashes? The water certainly didn’t help. Rain fell through the night and all day, leaving the track soaked and standing water on some part of the track. But it wasn’t just the water, the surface of the track itself was very poor, and rubber left on the track made braking on the racing line a treacherous affair, riders in all three classes going down as the front locked up.
The fact that Bridgestone had started the MotoGP riders off on the harder of the two wet tire options didn’t help either. It was an understandable choice: in previous years, when riders have used the softer wet tire, they have ended up being destroyed at Misano.
It is to be a weekend of announcements, most of them already widely expected. The most widely trailed move has now been confirmed officially: from 2015, Aprilia is to return to MotoGP with the Gresini Racing team. Aprilia and Gresini have reached agreement for the next four seasons, with Gresini running the Italian factory’s team through 2018. The partnership benefits both sides: by entering via Gresini, Aprilia will save €3.4 million in their first year in the class, an important saving which will allow them to spend more resources on development. The partnership was important to Gresini, as having lost their sponsorship from Go&Fun, the future of the team’s places in MotoGP was under severe threat. Aprilia’s funding will now keep them in the premier class.
With Marc Marquez back to winning ways at Silverstone, the Misano round of MotoGP (or to give it its full name, the Gran Premio di San Marino e della Riviera di Rimini) is the next venue to host the Marquez MotoGP record demolition steamroller.
At Misano, Marquez can equal Mick Doohan’s record of twelve wins in a single season, clearing the way for him to break that record at a following round.
What are the odds of him actually achieving that? Misano is a circuit where he has had a great deal of success, having won in 125s and both the Moto2 races he contested here. A mistake during last year’s MotoGP race meant he lost ground on the leaders, though he recovered to finish in fourth. Going by his past record, Marquez is once again favorite to win.
It should not be that simple, however. Misano is what we used to call a Yamaha track: Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo have won five of the seven races contested here since MotoGP made a return to the circuit in 2007, after a fourteen year absence. Lorenzo has won the last three in a row at Misano, and took second when Rossi won in 2008 and 2009.
The period since the MotoGP circus rolled up at Silverstone has been pretty frantic. Almost as soon as the teams and riders arrived in the UK, the negotiations over 2015 and beyond started.
The developments around Gresini’s impending switch to Aprilia triggered a further round of haggling and fundraising, with several teams and riders trying to cover all the possible permutations of the Honda RC213V becoming available.
The submission date for the Moto2 and Moto3 entries intensified the bargaining over rider placements, the field split into those who must pay, and those who will be paid. Time for a quick round up of all that has happened.
The most pressing problem in MotoGP at the moment is the situation around Scott Redding and the Honda RC213V being abandoned by Gresini. Where that bike goes depends on just a single factor: money. Aspar is interested in the bike, but cannot raise the extra money it would cost over and above the cost of a Honda RCV1000R.
Marc VDS Racing is in a desperate scramble to find the last 1.9 million euros they need to plug the gap in their budget if they are to move up to MotoGP. LCR Honda could perhaps find the budget to put Redding alongside Cal Crutchlow, and having two British riders would greatly please CWM FX, the British foreign exchange trading firm stepping in as a title sponsor.