Silly season for the MotoGP class is in a strange, almost schizophrenic state. The paddock is swirling with rumors - though admittedly, this is its usual state - yet few moves or announcements are forthcoming. Normally, we would be in the middle of rider announcements, but one man has been holding up all progress in the annual rider merry-go-round.
Jorge Lorenzo's contract with Yamaha is up at the end of the 2009 season, and the Spanish sensation is dragging his feet over a contract renewal and trawling the market to test his value. He has an offer on the table from Yamaha, but has been openly flirting with Honda, with talk of the Repsol Honda team being divided into two separate teams, along similar lines to the Fiat Yamaha garage now.
First, though, Lorenzo must decide whether his future lies with Yamaha or not. The Spaniard had a meeting with senior Yamaha executives Lin Jarvis and Masao Furusawa at Donington last night, where Yamaha and Lorenzo, together with his manager Marcos Hirsch, discussed the situation at great length.
Sunday is MotoGP's swansong at Donington, the last time that the world's premier racing series will ever visit the classic Leicestershire track. You would think that the circuit owners would want to make an extra effort, to make the final MotoGP meeting here go with a bang.
This is not the impression the riders got. Grip levels were low, according to several riders, with Valentino Rossi complaining the track was as slippery as it has ever been. "Usually when you go to a track, on the kerbs you have the paint, the asphalt is green, it is ready for the start," he told reporters. "Here it looks like they clean a little bit, say it's OK, go for the last time and on Monday, they start the work for the Formula 1."
The weather was also a factor, but the condition of the track made riding very difficult. "Also rain-sun-rain-sun, this year the grip is very bad." Rossi said. "Also in the wet, compared to the Sachsenring, at the Sachsenring it is possible to touch the knee, ride, make good angle, here is very very tricky to ride the bike." The condition of the track had Rossi concerned about lasting the distance on Sunday: "If I have to make 30 laps under this condition, in the wet, is very difficult. So we have to stay calm and concentrate for 30 laps, take the rhythm and go."
Words are tricky things. Immediately after the announcement of the so-called rookie rule, debate immediately broke out over the meaning of the words "rookie" and "factory team." The response of Dorna and the FIM has been a little too akin to that of Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carroll's Through The Looking Glass, insisting that when they use a word, it means exactly what they choose it to mean, neither more nor less.
Of course, this was not going to be a tenable situation for long. Speculation was rife in the press that factory teams could consider signing promising young stars such as Marco Simoncelli, Alvaro Bautista or Ben Spies for the last few races once they'd secured (or failed to secure) their current championships, then claim that because they'd been under contract in 2009, they should no longer be regarded as "rookies" and could go straight to factory teams for 2010.
So MotoGP's rule-making body, the Grand Prix Commission, has acted to prevent this and issued a definition of the term "rookie." The definition basically means that any rider who hasn't taken part in 9 races in the previous season must be considered a rookie, and will therefore not be eligible to race for a factory team. The definition is clearly designed to preempt any attempt at getting around the ban on rookies, as riders will basically have to compete for half a season before they are no longer rookies.
The definition issued by the FIM follows below:
Result of the 250cc qualifying practice at Donington:
Results of the MotoGP qualifying practice session at Donington:
Results of Superpole sessions:
Some news isn't really news. So it is with the announcement, made official today, that the Aspar team will be joining the MotoGP class in 2010, and that they will be running a Ducati.
Jorge Martinez, boss of the Aspar team, has been trying for the past 3 years to get into the MotoGP class, but his problem has always been securing machinery. Deals were mooted with Suzuki and Kawasaki, the Kawasaki deal falling through after a disagreement with the Japanese factory over the choice of rider. After Yamaha refused to supply extra bikes for Aspar, there were even hotly denied rumors that Aspar would be taking over the bikes of the Tech 3 team, which turned out to be based more on wishful thinking than on actual fact.
Aspar's luck finally changed after Sete Gibernau's went sour. Once the controversial Spanish property millionaire Francisco Hernando pulled out of sponsoring the eponymous team fielding Sete Gibernau, the bike used by the team became vacant. Aspar had been widely tipped to take over the bike after news of the GFH team's pull out broke, and today's announcement is just confirmation of what had been widely trailed before.
Under the terms of the deal, the Aspar team will receive a single bike for 2010, with the possibility of a second bike in 2011. The exact wording of the press release is that there is "the intention to add a further member to the Aspar lineup for 2011." This is not quite a cast-iron guarantee of a second bike for 2011, but with changes expected for that season to reduce the cost of racing and make more bikes (or perhaps just engines) available, the chances of expansion are good for the team which has dominated the 125cc and 250cc classes for so long.
Result and summary for the 125cc qualifying practice at Donington:
Yamaha's Cal Crutchlow finished qualifying for the World Supersport class at Brno exactly as he had finished it: On top of the timesheets. Eugene Laverty managed to close some of the gap to the young Englishman, but his Parkalgar Honda team still have over 8/10ths of a second to find to match Crutchlow's pace. The Kawasakis of Joan Lascorz and Katsuake Fujiwara round out the front row.
Marco Simoncelli was the fastest of the 250 riders in the last of the morning's free practice sessions, beating early leader Hector Barbera towards the end of the session. Barbera headed 3rd place man Alvaro Bautista, who had a nasty crash down Craner Curves in the final minutes of the session, adding to the bruises he collected yesterday. Thomas Luthi rounds out the top four.
Max Biaggi was once again fastest in the second session of qualifying practice, now having topped all three sessions of practice for the Superbike class. Ben Spies was second quickest, ahead of Jakub Smrz on the Guandalini Ducati and Michel Fabrizio on the factory Ducati. Nori Haga continues to suffer, still only 18th fastest in the combined qualifying standings.
Combined results of both qualifying sessions, riders in bold go forward to Superpole:
Dani Pedrosa was once again quickest during the second session of free practice at Donington Park, the Spaniard edging past his compatriot and intense rival Jorge Lorenzo in the last few minutes of the session. The session briefly saw the remarkable spectacle of Pedrosa and Lorenzo sharing the lead, Pedrosa posting an identical time to the Fiat Yamaha man, before the Repsol Honda man posted an even faster time on the next lap to take the top spot ahead of Lorenzo.
Casey Stoner was 3rd fastest, though the Australian got off to a rocky start, crashing his Ducati on the first lap out of the pits at the Melbourne Hairpin. Stoner returned to the track after sitting in the pits for 5 minutes, and improved his times as the session went on. He finished ahead of Valentino Rossi, who had led early on, but was eventually bumped down to 4th place once the rest of the Fantastic Four got up to speed.
The sun is still out, and the forecast is looking good for a dry qualifying session this afternoon.