Another piece in the 2018 rider puzzle has fallen into place. On Monday, the Aspar Team announced that Alvaro Bautista has extended his contract to stay on with the team for another season, and will be riding for them in 2018.
The announcement was hardly a surprise. Despite the fact that the Spaniard had been approached by Aprilia to return to the fold, Bautista was keen to stay with Aspar. His return to the team with which he won the 125 title in 2006 and was runner-up in 250s has been a remarkable success.
The final piece in the 2017 MotoGP rider puzzle has been slotted into place. Today, the Pull & Bear Aspar team announced that they have signed Karel Abraham to ride for them for 2017.
Abraham will replace Yonny Hernandez, and will race a Ducati Desmosedici GP15.
Hernandez had initially been expected to keep his ride for 2017, but rumors that Aspar was unhappy with the performance of Hernandez had been swirling since mid-season, becoming more concrete at Aragon.
Hernandez is currently 22nd in the MotoGP standings, and last of the regular MotoGP riders. He has scored just 17 points in 15 races, while teammate Eugene Laverty has racked up 71 points and is 12th in the championship, and second satellite Ducati.
On Thursday, the Bologna factory announced that Hector Barbera would be taking Iannone’s place in the factory Ducati team, while Barbera’s slot in the Avintia Ducati MotoGP team will be taken by Australian rider Mike Jones.
The decision was forced upon Ducati by Dorna and IRTA. Under the FIM regulations, teams must make “every reasonable effort” to replace an absent rider, with only force majeure (or exceptional circumstances beyond their control) acceptable as a reason to leave a seat empty.
The series organizers clearly believed that force majeure did not apply in this case, as Iannone’s decision to skip the race was due to an injury picked up at Misano, five weeks ago.
Aragon was a busy time for the riders and managers in all three Grand Prix classes. Wrapping up contract negotiations before the circus heads east for the Pacific Ocean flyaways was high on the list of priorities, though not everything ended up getting sorted before the teams packed up at Aragon. Plenty of agreements were reached, however, as we shall see below.
Though most of the loose ends have been tied up in MotoGP, a few question marks remain. The Aspar team was one of those question marks, which came much closer to a conclusion at Aragon.
The original plan was to have Jack Miller join the team, bringing his crew with him, and covering most of the cost of riding, but various obstacles prevented that from happening.
Money was a major factor, in part the amount Aspar were willing to pay to have Miller in their team, but perhaps a bigger factor was being left with Hondas.
The Open class Hondas have both been a huge disappointment for all of the teams that have run them. The 2014 RCV1000R was massively underpowered, and was getting blown away by the factory bikes along the straight.
To remedy that situation, Honda offered the RC213V-RS, a cheaper version of the factory RC213V, but without the seamless transmission and using the spec electronics.
That bike has also not been competitive, perhaps in part because it is a stripped down version of the original. “This bike was designed to use a seamless gearbox,” Nicky Hayden explained last weekend. “You can’t get the best out of it without one.”
MotoGP is headed to Motorland Aragon this weekend, and while the Spanish track is usually a favorite with the GP riders, for Nicky Hayden, it’s looking like a tough weekend already.
Breaking his right thumb while training on minimotos in Italy, Hayden will have to assess his ability to race on Friday, and if he decides to continue with the weekend, will likely have a hard time of things come race day.
If Jack Miller is parachuted into Aspar, the second seat in the team is up for grabs. Though Dorna are keen to have an American in MotoGP, it is widely believed that Nicky Hayden’s days are numbered.
Despite his denials, there are question marks over Hayden’s wrist, and he has not been as competitive on the Open Honda as he had hoped. Hayden was at the last round of World Superbikes at Laguna Seca a couple of weeks ago, where he was seen talking to a lot of teams.
There is a lot of speculation Hayden could end up on an Aprilia in World Superbikes next season, the American already having visited the factory’s Noale HQ in 2013, before he left Ducati to sign for Aspar.
Could Hayden take the second Aprilia seat in MotoGP? This seems extremely unlikely. The factory already has an experienced development rider in Alvaro Bautista, and is really looking for someone faster and younger to lead the challenge.
If you think that silly season has been a bit quiet this year, you’d be right. Normally by now, we would have passed through the stage of outrageous fabrication, left the wildly inaccurate rumors behind us, and be well into probable rider signing scenarios.
This year, the annual merry-go-round has barely registered, with very little sign of who may end up where for the 2016 season.
Of course, for the most part, this is because all of the factory seats bar the second slots at Aprilia and Ducati are already spoken for in 2016. Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Márquez, Dani Pedrosa, Andrea Dovizioso, Aleix Espargaro, and Alvaro Bautista all have contracts for next year.
Maverick Viñales’ seat at Suzuki is safe through 2017. Of the currently active factory riders, only Andrea Iannone’s contract could be ended after 2015, but Ducati will be keeping the Italian for 2016 as well.
When approached by top British motorcycle racing publication Bikesport News for a response to those claims, the Malaysian energy drink company issued a statement explaining that they understood that the 2014 sponsorship agreement – worth €1.8 million – would not be extended due to ongoing claims of trademark infringement.
“It’s just nuts to be separated by one second over the 5 km around this place.” It is hard to argue with Eugene Laverty’s assessment of just how close the times are after free practice for MotoGP. Laverty is either really close to Marc Márquez, or a long way behind Marc Márquez, depending on how you measure it.
The Irishman had a solid day of practice to come up just over a second shy of Márquez’s best time on Friday evening. His problem is that as impressive as his time was, there are eighteen riders ahead of him.
It is, quite frankly, ridiculously close. “I don’t know when was the last time you saw down to 21st was inside 1.3 seconds,” Jack Miller said in awe. “It’s almost like we’re in Moto3 again.”
The closeness of the field was a frustration for everyone on the grid. Miller, Scott Redding, Nicky Hayden, even Valentino Rossi cannot believe how tough the field is. “This practice is unbelievable, because there are ten bikes in three tenths!”
That does not make it any easier to pick a winner, however. Marc Márquez is the least troubled of the riders on the grid, fast both in race trim and on a single lap.