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Pulling No Punches: 2009/2010


Six races have now taken place in the paddock that never sleeps and it's time to perform our review at Londonbikers.com of the season so far and forecast what we think will happen over the silly season with news on the possible transfers keeping you up to date with the latest information. Twelve months ago we successful predicted that Melandri would buy out the second year of his contract, Nicky Hayden would make a switch to the Factory Ducati team and that Andrea Dovizioso would take his seat at the Factory Repsol Honda team. How will our predictions pan out in 2009? Keep reading to find out.

Dorna & the 800cc Era

Twelve months ago we were in the midst of a three way battle for the MotoGP title between defending champion, Casey Stoner, Valentino Rossi and Dani Pedrosa. Unfortunately Jorge Lorenzo had ruled himself out with several high speed crashes which eliminated him from the fight.

The battle raged on until Laguna Seca, which could be described as a definitive turning point. At this point the championship became a two horse race with Pedrosa eliminated through injury. Although Casey mustered up a strong challenge, several crashes saw Valentino wrap the championship up with time to spare at Motegi.

Dorna implemented a series of changes over the off season, cutting practice and testing down, implementing a new one brand tyre rule and the need for engines to last multiple race weekends. Ultimately they have tweaked the formula knowing that to get back to the close racing it will take time for all the manufacturers to adapt. Take a look at Formula 1 this year and you will notice that Brawn is way ahead of its rivals. However expect a lot of teams to be closer to them in 2010.

This is the third evolution of the 800cc series and in all fairness it’s getting more competitive with every season that passes. If Dorna can leave the format alone, then the manufacturers will bring the racing closer together in 2010. Knee jerk reactions will not help in this situation the best response is to step back and evaluate what small changes could bring the racing even closer. Although having said that, it can’t get a lot closer at the moment with three riders leading the championship on 106 points. No matter what changes are implemented in to the category the cream will always rise to the top and in the class at the moment there are probably four, very shortly to be five riders that are ahead of the rest.

Factory teams 


Fiat Yamaha – World Champion Valentino Rossi & Jorge Lorenzo 

Always one for stamping his name into the history books and creating drama, Valentino Rossi returned as the mercurial king of the premier class of motorcycle racing in 2008 and became only the second rider to regain the title after a two year gap between championships. He also signed a two year extension to his Yamaha contract which will take him up to the end of the 2010 season. What will the future hold for Valentino? Who knows, Rossi is always very secretive about his future intentions but one thing is for sure is that he will be on the grid in the factory Yamaha team next year on a motorbike which has been developed over the years and is now established as one of the best in the paddock.

Keeping Rossi on his toes as always is the irrepressible Jorge Lorenzo who has continued to be a sensation on the other side of the garage. Taking rookie of the year honours in 2008, his championship challenge was stunted by a number of high profile crashes in China, Catalunya and Laguna Seca, which knocked the young Spaniards confidence for a few races but each time he came back stronger and is now looking like one of Rossi’s key adversaries for the title in 2009.

Lorenzo’s contract is up for renewal at the end of the season and although there have been rumours of HRC being pressured by Spanish oil giants Repsol to make a swoop for the Majorcan, it would be a bold and gutsy move to run from a winning team at such a young age to develop a bike that is in all fairness in the state Yamaha was at before Rossi made the switch in 2004; but stranger things have happened and Lorenzo would only switch if Pedrosa were to lose his seat. My prediction is that Lorenzo will stay and battle with Rossi, as he looks to unseat the rider that many have rightly called the greatest of all time on equal machinery. Why? Because he knows if he beats Rossi on the same bike and tyres the only other variable is the rider.

Marlboro Ducati – Casey Stoner & Nicky Hayden 

Casey performed a brilliant job in his defence of the MotoGP title in 2008 and eliminated any ideas that some people may have had that he would just be a transitional champion. Love him or hate him, you can’t deny his natural ability. People are very quick to jump on the bandwagon in abusing the young Australian and his talent, but it just seems to be by default. No doubt Valentino has millions of fans around the world and by default a proportion of those dedicated loyal fans will always hate anything a close competitor of Rossi’s does, it wouldn’t matter if it was Gibernau, Stoner or even Lorenzo. It’s like Manchester United fans will never like or respect Liverpool and vise versa.

He was over critical of his own performance in 2008 claiming that finishing second in the championship wasn’t good enough. However, in 2009 Casey seems much more at ease in his surroundings, with the number 1 plate no longer on his bike it is like a weight has been lifted off of his shoulders allowing him to relax and battle through. We’re now approaching the stage of the season which he dominated in 2008 taking victory after victory. If he can do it again this year with the two Yamaha’s squabbling then he could head towards his second MotoGP title.

On the other side of the garage things aren’t quite as positive, with former world champion Nicky Hayden another rider who is struggling to adapt to the powerful monster from Bologna. Progress looked dismal for Nicky in pre-season and his efforts of adapting were not helped by a massive high side in Qatar and then suffering a nightmare when being collected by a wayward Yuki Takahasi in Motegi in round 2. On the plus side, positive steps were taken by the Kentucky Kid at Catalunya as he spent the whole weekend inside the top ten thanks to a revised set up with Ducati clearly worried about the adaptability of its premier motorbike. One thing Nicky won’t do is give up. After struggling with a Honda for two years Nicky will keep trying and he just needs to reset everything and start his championship from Assen onwards and take the positives out of Catalunya on and keep obtaining top ten finishes for the remainder of the season.

Repsol Honda – Dani Pedrosa & Andrea Dovizioso

It may have looked like a dream partnership for Honda in 2009, with two young guns that could fire the company back to the days of Doohan and Rossi; but with Dani Pedrosa once more heading into the season’s opening race at less than 100% and Andrea Dovizioso struggling to get a base setting to work with on the new Honda it has taken a while for both riders to establish themselves in the Championship. The real battle, it seems in 2009, is which of the team mates will finish higher than the other. Andrea will certainly be strong opposition for Dani Pedrosa who hasn’t been headed in the championship by a team mate since his debut season when Nicky Hayden became champion.

As far as a championship threat goes it looks like Honda will have to wait until 2010 as Pedrosa recovers from his latest injury setback and Andrea establishes himself as a regular podium threat to the top three.

Positive signs do exist after the recent test at Catalunya where Dovizioso finishing top of the pile  0.2 of a second ahead of the dominant Yamaha’s. However, as we all know testing is exactly that, so Honda need to roll their progress through to the race day results sooner rather than later.

Rizla Suzuki – Chris Vermeulen & Loris Capirossi

Suzuki retained their two riders for the 2009 season after some impressive results throughout the season with a bike that had failed to develop as quickly as its competitors. After a turbulent off season which saw frantic negotiations of the Rizla deal in the credit crisis, Suzuki started 2009 in fantastic form as they managed to top the time sheets in pre-season testing.

However, since then things haven’t quite gone according to plan and the promise of what could have been seems to have evaporated quicker than the rain in Qatar. Suzuki need to make some bold and gutsy moves if they are to move towards the front of the pack and get back to the days of Kenny Roberts Jr or Kevin Schwantz. Paul Denning might have to make some tough decisions if he wants to take the fight to Yamaha, Ducati and Honda. The good news for Suzuki fans is that they look like they might be about to, read below for more information.

Satellite teams

Hayate Kawasaki – Marco Melandri

Formerly Kawasaki, half the team is gone through heavy budget cuts and John Hopkins was a casualty. Marco Melandri stayed onboard a vastly improved Kawasaki which started the season in promising fashion.

It has allowed Marco to re-establish his career in MotoGP and has surely put his name in the shop window for a few teams in 2010, with a podium place finish in Le Man before leading part of the Mugello Grand Prix it makes you wonder why Kawasaki have decided to pull the plug in one of their most successful seasons to date.

Some initial speculation stated that the results might instigate a u-turn by Kawasaki about future participation in the championship but with the development of the Hayate bike non-existent and Marco’s results starting to suffer it appears as though we have an answer. There will be no u-turn and Kawasaki has cut its loses.

Tech 3 - Colin Edwards & James Toseland

How quickly dreams can turn to nightmares. In 2008 this was the team to be with, things were on the up with two high profile riders, promises of equality with the factory team and peace and harmony. Everything started so well, with James and Colin both qualifying on the front row in Qatar and race results solidly inside the top six helping to establish Tech 3 as a premier Satellite team.

Twelve months on and it’s a very different picture. After the pre-season argument over engineers there is now a wall dividing the two riders and personnel, both riders form appears to have dipped a bit as the care free attitude of 2008 has been replaced with a passion to be the number 1 rider in the team.

Edwards has outperformed Toseland in every round so far and it appears as if James is suffering more from the feud that brewed up in December. A third of the way through the season and I think it is safe to say that JT is seriously in trouble and if he can’t turn things around quickly then it is very unlikely that he will be on the MotoGP grid in 2010.

Gresini Honda – Alex de Angelis & Toni Elias

Toni Elias jumped back to what he knew in 2009 as he returned to Gresini Honda after a season on the Alice Ducati. The season looked like it was going to be a complete nightmare as Toni struggled like his predecessors to adapt to the power Desmocedici bike, but after a string of podiums and top ten finishes Elias managed to land a seat at Gresini on a Factory specification Honda.

The transition back to a Honda hasn’t been smooth and there is already talk that he has lost the factory specification bike for 2010 and is battling with team mate Alex de Angelis for the second spot in the team.
MotoGP is a tough sport to compete in. One day you can be on top of the world, the next you could be staring at the exit door.

De Angelis has been out performing his team mate on what would effectively be viewed as a second string Honda. Free from the pressure, Alex has continued to build on his form from last year, but will this be enough to secure a slot with Gresini in 2010.

LCR + JiR Scot – Randy de Puniet & Yuki Takahasi/Gabor Talmacsi

Randy de Puniet started his second season on Honda and so far he has been the revelation of the Honda Satellite teams regularly placing in the top six in practice, qualifying and race performance.

The only downside with Randy is that he has a tendency to bin it quite a bit, but you certainly couldn’t fault him for effort and you would rather see your rider pushing for an extra tenth and losing it than finishing lower down the order.

Yuki hasn’t gelled with the Honda RC212V for whatever reason yet and is now under pressure from Gabor Talmasci and his 250cc team mate Hiro Aoyama who desperately wants the seat in 2010.

Pramac Ducati – Mika Kallio & Nicola Canepa

Its been a season of positives and negatives for the Pramac Ducati squad. While the performance of 250cc superstar Mika Kallio has come as a welcome boost to the team, the performance of the young Italian rookie Nicola Canepa has surely dampened the spirits a bit.

After spending a large portion of time testing the 800cc bike for Ducati many thought that it might take Mika longer to adapt to the new machinery. However Mika has proved his class for all to see and has probably put several team managers on alert about a possible swoop for the young Finn over the course of the silly season.

Canepa has tried very hard and has adapted well to be competing with the best riders in the world, but his size just doesn’t work well with the MotoGP bike and you have to think he would be better suited to a Superbike.

Grupo Francisco Hernando Ducati – Sete Gibernau

Sete made a return to the paddock with Ducati after a 2 year lay off. Although he has been struggling with adapting to the new formula with a few injuries, his lack of performance with the Ducati must surely be another sign to the factory that some serious work needs to be undertaken with the machine. Six races through the third season of the new era and still only two out of the fourteen riders who have climbed aboard it have scored victories.

The Rumour Mill – Silly Season


Ins and Outs

  • It appears as though it could be quite a change around in personnel for 2010 with a raft of riders finding themselves out of favour with the teams in the paddock, while a host of new guns look to step up to take their spot.
    The 250cc and World Superbike division is bursting with talent at present and some of the MotoGP teams might just feel the urge through sponsorship and performance issues the need to take a chance next season.
    Having said that it seems unlikely that Yamaha or Honda will tweak their factory effort at all. When he is fit, Dani Pedrosa is still hard to beat and there aren’t really any other riders out there at the moment who could do a better job.

Hayden/Kallio

  • Ducati have given themselves a headache in the fact that people won’t exactly be jumping at the opportunity to ride one of their bikes in 2010. If someone does opt to ride the bike then it will probably be because their options inside the paddock are limited.
    Personally I think Ducati should continue to develop the bike with Hayden and Kallio in an attempt to make it more user friendly. Both their results appear to be improving and the only question that would remain to be answered would be whether Mika Kallio might want to switch to the Factory outfit if he is achieving better results than Nicky.

Suzuki

  • Suzuki is a team that needs to take action. Yes there are issues with the bike, but at the same time sometimes fresh personnel can bring new ideas and solutions. Chris Vermuelen has been with the team for five seasons now and has been largely out performed by Loris Capirossi lately. Although Loris would love another contract extension, is this the point where Suzuki has to take a gamble and release one or both of its riders to continue to advance.

Tech 3

  • Like Suzuki, things are Tech 3 have been rather downbeat this year after a stunning performance in 2008. Whether it’s the arguments, the crashes, the change of personnel or just a shear lack of belief in themselves, it's just not working.
    There are rumours that Colin is already looking towards the World Superbike paddock for 2010 which would be a huge boost for the series and for Colin himself. The sad fact for British fans is that I could see James Toseland following Colin out of the MotoGP paddock after struggling to get to grips with the new Yamaha M1 on Bridgestone tyres. As we all know trying to obtain sponsorship for a British rider in the MotoGP paddock is mission impossible and Satellite teams need funding. One option that might be open to James is Suzuki if Paul Denning attempts to make a swoop.

De Puniet

  • Clearly the hottest property inside the paddock at the moment. It would have to be step up for Randy and I think that would rule out a move to the Pramac Ducati squad. However, if there are two spare seats at Tech 3 then maybe Herve Poncheral will make a move to sign his fellow countryman or maybe Suzuki could try to tempt the Frenchman to make the switch with the offer of being part of a factory team.

Spies/Bautista/Aoyama/plus another

  • Ben Spies has been dominating the World Superbike championship along with Nori Haga and he has certainly proved to any doubters that he is the real deal. He will surely receive some offers from the GP paddock in 2010, plus was there more to the contract signing for the Yamaha WSB seat that included a Tech 3 seat?

  • Bautista and Aoyama look like they could end up battling out the 250cc Championship this year and could both put themselves in line for a MotoGP spot next year. Aoyama would be likely to replace or partner Takahasi at Scot Honda while Bautista could be looking for the seat alongside Spies at Tech 3 or maybe the spot at LCR Honda if de Puniet moves.

  • Another possible option is Sylvain Guintoli. Signed to ride for the Cresent Worx Suzuki in the BSB championship which has close ties with the Rizla Suzuki MotoGP effort. There seems little doubt that Paul Denning would be keeping an eye on Sylvain’s progress. Unfortunately since the accident Guintoli has been sidelined, but he has MotoGP experience and has never featured on a competitive bike in the premier class (Yamaha/Dunlop, Alice Ducati) Sylvain’s deal in BSB could have been linked again with a move to MotoGP in 2010.

My Predictions

  • Ben Spies will sign for Tech 3 Yamaha with full factory support for the 2010 season. He will be joined by Alvaro Bautista.

  • Hiro Aoyama will move up to MotoGP and sign with Scot Honda.

  • Sylvain Guintoli will sign with Suzuki and with be joined by one of the remaining Suzuki riders or Randy de Puniet.

  • Alex de Angelis will join up with Marco Simoncelli at Gresini Honda while Toni Elias either move to LCR Honda or back to Pramac Ducati in place of Canepa.

  • If the space at Pramac isn’t taken, there might be a switch in personnel with Canepa and Fabrizio in the two factory Ducati squads for 2010.

That’s my prediction of how it looks right now, but we all know this is silly season and it is called that for a reason. Expect many more changes before the end of the season.

Let us know what YOU think... Leave your comments...


1 Comment

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mightlife | 26 June 2009, 01:09
Well, Rutter has just been confirmed as Guintoli's replacement at Worx, so that prediction seems moving in the right direction )
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