Monday, April 22, 2024
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MotoGP Ramblings…

Image source: Pramac Racing

Three whole weeks between races just as the season has started! What are they trying to do to us? Of course, the organisers of MotoGP could not have foreseen the cancellation of the Argentinian race, leading to the gap between the Portuguese and American races but it still sucks, especially as the opening pair of races gave a tantalising glimpse as to what we can expect for the rest of the season.

The lack of on-track action hasn’t meant that there is a lack of news, however: quite the opposite, in fact, with one hugely significant event taking place, not to mention ongoing speculation regarding who will ride where in 2025, fuelled by the majority of the grid being out of contract at the end of this year.

Image source: KTM

The biggest news by far is the buyout of Dorna, which owns the rights to MotoGP in all its forms, as well as World Superbikes, by the current ‘owners’ of Formula One, Liberty Media. Right now, it’s unclear what effect this will have on the championships, especially as Dorna remains to run them. Liberty’s acquisition should not influence what happens on track or with individual teams but its efforts will rather be focused on growing the following and influence of the sport, much as it has done with Formula One.

For anyone who was labouring under the misapprehension that MotoGP and World Superbikes are sports only need to look at the presentation literature accompanying the announcement of the takeover, describing MotoGP as having a “significant opportunity to grow, especially in underpenetrated (sic) markets”. In other words, motorcycle sport is a business just like any other.

Image source: MotoGP

So how exactly does Liberty plan to achieve such growth?

The answer comes under the heading of ‘Liberty Partnership to Accelerate MotoGP Growth’ which details the following six moves:

    1. Leverage Liberty’s Ability to Scale Leading Global Sports Assets
    2. Expansion Opportunity Especially in Key Growth Markets including the US
    3. Amplify Marketing Support and Storytelling Capabilities
    4. Broaden MotoGP Reach and Appeal to Drive Competition and Boost Commercial Partnerships
    5. Expose Sport to a Wider Fanbase and Fuel the Value of the Entire Ecosystem
    6. Improve Hospitality and Fan Experience

Liberty CEO Greg Maffei is quoted as saying: “(MotoGP) is an unbelievable product, we are not planning to change this sport. “Our goal is to open that up to a broader audience. Open it up to a broader set of commercial partners of all flavours. Those go hand in hand.”

Image source: MotoGP

So, there you have it. I hope that all it really means is that changes will take place everywhere other than the race track, although there are changes ahead with a major rule change coming in 2027, mandating 850cc engines, and a reduction in aero technology and shape-shifting suspension. But these are a matter for Dorna and the F.I.M. and Liberty should, by rights, have no say in that whatsoever. Time will tell.

“Silly Season”, that time of year when riders and teams jockey for position for the next season’s contracts, is well underway, with a huge amount of speculation being thrown around. All that is known at the moment is that Binder, Zarco, Bagnaia and Marini have confirmed seats for 2025. That leaves a lot of seats to be filled and it’s getting complicated.

Image source: KTM

At the factory Ducati team, Bastianini’s seat is under pressure, despite his good start to the season. Ducati will naturally be keen to snap up one of the big names for 2025 and this might happen before Bastianini has had time to prove his worth in 2024 after a torrid 2023, which was marred by injury, preventing him from showing his true potential. It would be galling for Bastianini to fight for – and potentially win – the championship in 2024, only to know that he would not be on that bike in 2025.

Ducati has already signed Fermin Aldeguer from Moto2 for 2025, but where he will be placed is another matter. Rumours have Marc Marquez as a target for the factory Ducati, although Ducati might baulk at his financial demands, stating that huge salaries are a thing of the past, Bagnaia’s rumoured 7 million Euros per year notwithstanding. How much Marquez would be willing to forego a large salary for a chance to fight for the title is another matter.

Image source: Gresini Racing

Jorge Martin is on record as stating that he will leave Ducati if he doesn’t get promoted to the factory squad in 2025 and you’d have to say that it is only KTM that could offer him the best chance of continuing his successful run. That wouldn’t be an entirely unhappy move, as it is widely acknowledged that the KTM is the bike most likely to challenge Ducati this year and it can only get better in 2025.

Image source: Pramac Racing

Fabio Quartararo has to be getting sick and tired of Yamaha’s lack of development speed, although the M1 is showing signs of improvement so far this season. As Quartararo said; “There’s definitely a choice to make and it’s not easy. I know I have to make it in a very short time, but on the one hand, you see Yamaha doing things that I’ve never seen in six years, they’re really making big changes. The other thing, there is the possibility of riding bikes that are already in front. It won’t be an easy choice. The atmosphere is very good and I would also say that it motivates Yamaha enormously.”

Aprilia could be an interesting destination for Quartararo, given that the V4-engined RS-GP is the closest in terms of handling to the inline four-cylinder Yamaha M1 he currently races. Regarding the possibility of leaving Yamaha, he said; “Money is an important factor for everyone, but I want a project that I like and allows me to achieve the results I want.” As a former World Champion, his worth is there for all to see so he wouldn’t be paid peanuts at Aprilia – or any other team, for that matter – but it is clear that results are the real currency he is concerned with.

Image source: MotoGP

There is no denying that Honda is in trouble, so would Joan Mir be looking for a get-out clause? Another top rider becoming available. Then again, Honda has to fight back, although that might only happen from 2027 onward: why spend millions developing a bike that will be outdated in three years’ time? If Honda can justify being on the grid with an uncompetitive bike for those years, they could well hit the ground running in 2027, having spent three years developing that bike.

It’s not just the riders who are in a state of flux; four teams could see change. VR46 has done great things with Ducati machinery but, thanks to Valentino Rossi’s relationship with Yamaha and that manufacturer’s desire to add two more bikes to the grid as soon as possible, it could be that VR46 becomes a Yamaha satellite team. Similarly, KTM is looking to add to its four-bike presence on the grid, having had to drop Pol Espargaro to accommodate Pedro Acosta in the GasGas team. KTM will be desperate to retain Acosta and he could likely only be satisfied with a factory KTM, in which case, Jack Miller will be out of a factory ride, which would be harsh for the Australian but there’s nothing fair about MotoGP!

Image source: KTM

LCR, long associated with Honda, would be an obvious target for KTM, given its experience but, so far, statements made by team boss Lucio Cecchinello have indicated no desire to change the status quo. Similarly, Pramac, out of contract with Ducati for 2025, could be a target for Yamaha, even though the close relationship between Pramac and Ducati would suggest that it was unlikely.

Gresini has a contract with Ducati to the end of 2025 but, given the desire by Yamaha or KTM to increase its presence, you’d have to think that an approach by either of those manufacturers to Gresini would be logical, given the team’s success.

Image source: Gresini Racing

Another tantalising development could be the arrival of BMW to MotoGP in 2027, coinciding with the new engine rules. “2027 could be the perfect time to get involved in MotoGP as this is when a new regulation will be introduced,” Markus Flasch, Head of BMW Motorrad, said. “We are in contact with Dorna and we are talking about the regulations. It is part of our evaluation. The 2027 season would be an obvious time to start.” This is one of those rumours that has done the rounds for years; perhaps 2027 might see it actually come to fruition.

At the time of writing, Pierer Mobility Group, owners of KTM, GasGas and Husqvarna, has bought a majority shareholding in MV Agusta: could this lead to KTM adding a third team and two more bikes to the grid in 2027 under the MV Agusta name? “I don’t rule out the possibility that we will enter MotoGP as a separate brand with MV Agusta in 2027,” Stefan Pierer is quoted as saying.

Image source: KTM

Regulations would mean that an MV Agusta entry would have to be in the form of a motorcycle developed and homologated separately from the KTM but another opinion floating around is that KTM would really like to have Marc Marquez on an MV Agusta from 2027 onwards! With Marquez on a single-year contract with Ducati, that’s not at all out of the question but there’s also the possibility that it could all be a lot of hot air.

On a less serious note, it was feared that the take-over by Liberty would result in MotoGP following Formula One by banning grid girls. The absence of scantily-clad women on the F1 grid was seen as being a positive move in terms of women’s rights but it appears that MotoGP will not be going down the route of excessive woke-ness.

Carmelo Ezpeleta, the CEO of Dorna, was quizzed about the future of ‘grid girls’; “I think it’s a matter of freedom,” he said. “We can’t tell anyone that they can’t be there. “Banning umbrella girls I think would be a gesture against women, not in their favour.”

Image source: Gresini Racing

Melissa James, a former F1 grid girl, said after losing her job on the grid: “I absolutely loved it. You want me to wear a super comfortable outfit and go to the VIP areas and watch what I was already going to pay to watch?

“Yeah, that’s fine by me. It was a dream job.” She added: “You’re not just standing there on the concrete. You’re meeting fans, you’re posing with photos and, because you’ve got the branding on your clothes, it’s going out on Instagram.

“Saying that we’re just a pretty face is absolutely ludicrous. We’re saleswomen at the end of the day. We need to learn how to talk to people and get people on board with the product.”

May sense prevail for a long time to come.

Image source: Pramac Racing

In the meantime, we can all look forward to the Circuit of the Americas on the weekend of the 14th of April; it will be refreshing to concentrate on the relatively simple on-track action for a change!

Harry Fisher
Harry Fisher
Harry has been obsessing about motorbikes for over 45 years, riding them for 38 years and writing and talking about them for 13 years. In that time, he has ridden everything from an Aprilia to a Zundapp, from the 1920s to the 2020s. His favourites are the ones that didn’t break down and leave him stranded. While he loves the convenience of modern bikes, he likes nothing better than getting his hands dirty keeping old bikes running, just as long as it’s not by the roadside! Old enough to know better and young enough not to care, he knows you don’t stop riding when you get old, you get old when you stop riding.