Lorenzo: "The First Idea Is To Stay With Yamaha"
Jorge Lorenzo is a wanted man. The Spaniard made a devastating entry into the MotoGP class in 2008, and his 2009 season is looking even stronger. Lorenzo leads the championship - though with only two races gone - and is on pole for his home Grand Prix. Alongside his indisputable talent, his showmanship and maturity also make him very popular with sponsors. Jorge Lorenzo certainly offers an outstanding return on investment.
So it is no surprise that Lorenzo is being pursued by a number of parties. First and foremost of those is his current team, the factory Fiat Yamaha outfit led by Lin Jarvis. Lorenzo today admitted to reporters that he has had talks this weekend about extending his contract, and that his first priority is to remain with the team. Lorenzo told reporters that both the bike and the atmosphere in the team were excellent, and offered him a chance to be competitive.
But Lorenzo also hinted that Yamaha was not his only option. "When you are fast, all the people want you," he said, seeming to substantiate rumors he has been approached by other teams. Rumors have emerged that Repsol is keen to sign Lorenzo with the factory Honda squad, as the Spanish oil giant is determined to find another Spanish World Champion to follow Alex Criville, who won the title in 1999. They are reported to be losing patience with current Repsol Honda front man Dani Pedrosa, after Pedrosa has failed to provide them with a title in the three seasons he has had with the factory team.
Pedrosa has declined to comment on his own future, though according to Autosport.com, he did let slip that "There may be other makes," should he ever leave Honda. Previously, Pedrosa has refused to speculate on a future outside Honda, and so these comments could possibly be regarded as the first tacit acknowledgement that his place at the Repsol team is no longer safe.
For Lorenzo to take Pedrosa's place at Honda would be a huge gamble, the Japanese giant having failed to dominate the class as they have done in its previous 500cc and 990cc incarnations. However, two factors may make it a considerably more palatable prospect: The first is money, and lots of it. Repsol would be willing to offer Lorenzo a multi-million euro base salary if the Spaniard were to sign with the Repsol Honda team, a good deal more than his current Yamaha deal is paying. And the second is influence: At Repsol Honda, Lorenzo would be the undisputed number one rider, and the bike and the team would be developed around his wishes.
At Yamaha, the gargantuan figure of Valentino Rossi blocks both of these avenues for Lorenzo. Though the Spaniard's salary is likely to rise just as his stock in the paddock rises, as long as Rossi is on the Fiat Yamaha payroll, then the Italian will take the lion's share of the money Fiat pour into the team. And the same is true for Lorenzo's position within the team hierarchy: As long as Valentino Rossi, the man who has won three world championships for Yamaha, is on the factory squad, the bike and the team will revolve around Rossi's wishes. Lorenzo will not evict Rossi from the throne at Yamaha until he, too, has brought in at least one world title.
Of course, as one of the smartest riders in the paddock, Lorenzo will know exactly what his market value is to other teams. But he will also be all too aware that the Yamaha is by far the best bike in the paddock, and his best bet for becoming World Champion. Which means that the most likely explanation for his implicit flirtation with other teams is to increase the value of his bargaining chips with Lin Jarvis and Yamaha. Lorenzo is too smart to leave Yamaha, but he is also too smart to sell himself cheap.