With the 2021 MotoGP season now well and truly underway, attention within the paddock has already partly shifted to 2022, with next year’s silly season in full swing. And while the format of the grid is still far from decided, one thing is becoming increasingly apparent: Valentino Rossi’s manufacturer conundrum is the cornerstone of whatever happens next.
The nine-time world champion has already confirmed that he will field a two-bike team in the premier class next year. After buying out the Esponsorama Racing squad – news confirmed exclusively to The Race by team principal Ruben Xaus at this weekend’s French Grand Prix – he will use his new Saudi backing to expand the squad.
But while the team’s entry is set in stone, the manufacturer it will use is not. Already linked with Ducati thanks to the partnership that has seen his half-brother Luca Marini ride a Team Sky-branded bike for the Esponsorama team, Rossi has been expected to keep his outfit aligned with the Bologna brand.
However, there’s a new offer on the table from his current employer Yamaha – an offer that’s believed to be considerably better than the terms and conditions Yamaha has given to its current satellite partner (and Rossi’s 2021 team) Petronas SRT.
According to The Race’s sources in the paddock, it’s believed that Yamaha’s offer of machinery to Rossi’s new team would cost him half that of what the Malaysian squad currently pays, further upsetting team principal Razlan Razali, a man who has already been vocal in expressing his discontent with the Iwata brand.
That’s further confirmed by comments made yesterday at Le Mans by Rossi’s team-mate Franco Morbidelli, who told media that he has a deal with the team for 2022 – but hinted that it isn’t necessarily with Yamaha.
“I like Yamaha. I would like to keep my relationship with them. And if I will be supported with an updated machine, my love for Yamaha will be even bigger,” Morbidelli admitted. “Nothing is clear yet. Because we have to wait a little bit some more time for some confirmations, such as the relationship between Yamaha and my team.
“And this is already a big thing to be confirmed. In order for me to understand what I want from Yamaha, first of all I need to understand if Yamaha is going to continue with my team.
“That’s a big impediment for me right now to ask questions to Yamaha. The agreement that I have with my team is that I should have an official bike in 2022, but it is not specified what kind of bike.”
Should Rossi steal Yamaha from under the nose of his team boss Razali, it seems almost certain that he would move with the outfit to complete what’s speculated as being his final season in grand prix racing, riding for his own team alongside his sibling Marini.
That’s why Petronas is believed to have in turn initiated discussions with Ducati, to try and ensure that it’s got a back-up plan. Exploring the Ducati link is particularly important since the reigning champion marque Suzuki – an option Razali has previously admitted interest in – has all but ruled out the prospect of fielding two more bikes next season.
Should VR46 remain with Ducati for next year after all (seemingly the most likely option until only a few days ago), Rossi himself is probably set to remain with Petronas, with Moto2 protege Marco Bezzecchi the leading option to join Marini on what would be the Aramco VR46 Ducatis.
The news of MotoGP’s more high-profile teams suddenly entering into 11th-hour discussions with Ducati is likely to be met with relief down the road in Noale, as rival Italian brand Aprilia looks set to expand their own footprint on the grid.
Adamant that it’ll run four machines next year, Aprilia’s preference is to continue to work with current partner Gresini Racing – even though there’s also an offer on Gresini’s table from Ducati.
If Gresini’s MotoGP entry does come together, one of its riders is likely to be Moto2 frontrunner Fabio Di Giannantonio thanks to the contract he signed last year with former team principal Fausto Gresini before Gresini’s tragic death from COVID-19.
The newly-restructured team want to honour the deal its late owner signed with its Moto2 racer, and it looks inevitable that, regardless of whether the bikes are Ducati or Aprilia, Di Giannantonio will step up.
However, Aprilia also has to find itself a second racer for the factory team, too. It’s been trying hard to secure the services of Andrea Dovizioso after recent tests with the former championship runner-up, but The Race’s sources have hinted that it’s far from a done deal yet.
That potentially opens the door for some of Di Giannantonio’s Moto2 rivals to also step up, with American Joe Roberts (who is arguably regretting his decision to turn down Aprilia at the end of 2020) linked once again to the team.
That would be a double win for series promoter Dorna, which is desperate to see an American in the premier class again.
Regardless of which team Ducati signs up with, it will need to find a place somewhere within its ranks for reigning Moto2 world champion Enea Bastianini. On a contract directly with Bologna but placed in the Esponsorama team, Bastianini is a rider Ducati will want to keep – but might struggle to should VR46 become its third-tier team.
The other team where there are likely to be changes next year is KTM satellite squad Tech3. It’s no secret that Tech3 has been disappointed so far with the performances of Danilo Petrucci and Iker Lecuona – and with both riders on one-year deals their position is shaky.
Making it worse, two of the leading names in Moto2 are both part of the KTM structure. Australian Remy Gardner is believed to have some sort of performance clause that should guarantee him a MotoGP place for next year, while the Austrian brand would be loathe to lose superstar talent Raul Fernandez, already a race winner only four races into his rookie season, to rival interest.
Promoting one or both of the duo would solve another problem for KTM elsewhere too, by creating a space for it to move up rookie sensation Pedro Acosta from Moto3 to the middleweight class.
With Acosta on a fast track to MotoGP stardom in the near future, KTM has learned bitter lessons in the past about letting talent slip away when a certain Marc Marquez signed for Honda – and won’t make the same mistake again with Acosta.