‘Silly Season’ has started phenomenally early this year, with the announcement on the eve of the Spanish Grand-Prix that triple world champion, Jorge Lorenzo will leave Yamaha for Ducati in 2017…
The signing of Lorenzo is not only a major coup, but also a much needed lift for the team. Despite the talents and consistency both Andrea Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso bring, neither are of the same quality of Lorenzo. The phrase is often over used for this sport, but it takes an ‘alien’ to win the world championship. Ever since Casey Stoner left for Honda at the conclusion of the 2010 season, Ducati have not possessed the bike or the ‘alien’ at the same time to deliver the title. The bike was not competitive enough in 2011-2012 to justify Valentino Rossi’s talents, and the team have been in constant redevelopment since. Now, the bike is proven to be capable of winning races again, and therefore championships. As such, it was vital Ducati signed a rider who has been there and done it all before.
If all reports are to be believed, this deal is set to make Lorenzo the highest earner on the grid from next year, eclipsing the salary of nine times champion Valentino Rossi. This however shouldn’t come as much of a shock for anyone who follows the sport. Lorenzo is after all the most successful rider in the 1000cc era with three world championships (2010, 2012 and 2015). Equally, Ducati – essentially the Ferrari of the motorbike world – have deeper pockets than all their major competitors – so there was never any doubt over whether the team could afford a rider of Lorenzo’s calibre.
However, Lorenzo’s move is now expected to trigger a serious shakeup in the rider combinations that the factory teams field for 2017 and beyond.
Yamaha: Valentino Rossi has extended his stay until at least the end of 2018, contradicting all rumours of his supposed retirement. The leading Japanese manufacturer effectively have a choice between two riders to share the garage with the Italian, next season. First is Pol Espargaro, who currently rides for Yamaha satellite team Tech 3. The other option is poaching Suzuki’s Maverick Vinales…On the one hand, Pol is currently sitting fourth in the championship after the opening fly-away races, and is currently riding the Tech3 bike with factory assistance. From a business point of view, it is an obvious progression. However, very few people will deny that Vinales’ talent is worthy of a championship-winning bike. His lack of experience in the premier class (this being only his second season) should not be held against him either. He was not overshadowed by his team-mate, Aleix Espargaro, last syear, and currently is the lead Suzuki rider this season. The question of internal politics at Yamaha are likely to decide who gets the ride. Whilst Yamaha could comfortably afford to pay Vinales more than Suzuki, not signing Pol would be an admission of failure at their rider development program.
Honda: The only factory team who won’t be directly affected by Lorenzo’s Ducati move. Marc Marquez is on an indefinite deal with the team. The future of Dani Pedrosa is less certain with the management appearing to have run out of patience with the diminutive Spaniard. Should he leave at the end of the season, Honda have several options at their disposal. Due to the success of their Estrella-Galicia team in Moto2, there is a serious prospect of seeing both Marquez brothers on the factory bikes next year, if Alex moves up. Alternatively, whichever rider Ducati do jettison, Honda will be the likely recipient. It is also not entirely impossible that Cal Crutchlow could be in contention. Although yet to score a point this season, his qualifying pace aboard the LCR-Honda has not gone unnoticed. It is worth pointing out, that the satellite machine is the factory bike from last season, which Marquez found impossible to control on several occasions.
Ducati: Lorenzo’s signing means one rider will have to make way for next season. Despite his more consistent form this season, it appears most likely that Dovizioso will be the rider who is shown the door. It may appear harsh at first, but Ducati have heavily invested in his team-mate Iannone, who is undoubtedly a supremely fast rider, who may perhaps develop into a championship winning contender. Dovi however, has ridden for both Honda and Ducati factory teams as well as the Tech3 team. As consistent as he is, there is the growing realisation that he is not capable of posing a genuine race-winning challenge to the likes of Marquez, Rossi or Lorenzo. Ducati are unlikely to promote a rider from one of their satellite teams, though Scott Redding continues to impress.
Suzuki: In short, nobody knows whether Suzuki will retain either of their riders for 2017. Maverick Vinales, as mentioned, is hotly tipped to join Yamaha, and Aleix Espargaro’s career appears to be stagnating. Suzuki would likely look to sign at least one rider from Moto2, with reigning champion Johann Zarco or Alex Rins the prime candidates. Despite not having any satellite teams to develop riders, the improvements of the Suzuki bike over the last two seasons has generated interest from a number of riders in the premier class. With so many riders out of contract after this season, an offer from Suzuki will be fiercely sought by many.