It became pretty clear over the race weekend in France that Maverick Viñales would be making a move to Yamaha in 2017, despite a couple of reports to the contrary in the run up to the race weekend. They made the suggestion that Dani Pedrosa was already inked in to the seat vacated by Jorge Lorenzo alongside Valentino Rossi, however this week’s confirmation of the extension to his Honda deal prove they were wide of the mark.
The French GP weekend was one of the most enjoyable I can remember, in a large part because there was glorious weather and I made it out alive every night! However, it was mainly because there was a chance to really get stuck in to some investigative stuff, and despite being a veteran of 16 years in the paddock, some things you find out never cease to amaze you. There were a couple of jaw-drops over the race weekend.
A few “off-the-record” conversations I’d love to repeat here and on BT Sport, but do that sort of thing without a couple of other solid sources and you can easily ruin your reputation, as well as get the wrong end of the stick. Some ‘sources’ do lie to further their own interests believe it or not (!), and because it is such a cut-throat and fickle world in a MotoGP paddock, it demonstrates why the Pedrosa story needed following up in detail.
From the conversations I had however, there was no doubt that Maverick was still keen on a move, and his representative’s comments about the youngster being torn between his heart and his head were probably just a bit of seasoning chucked into the melting pot. Viñales knows he has to take this opportunity whilst it is on the table, a rider in his position may only ever get one chance to jump onto the outgoing World Champion’s bike, and that’s why I expect an announcement on Thursday in Mugello.
Contrary to many who have written to me on social media, I don’t believe any of the delays and speculation was really about money – I’m fairly certain Mack will be earning less by moving to Yamaha. The main sticking points have been around his Suzuki contract and certain tricky get-out clauses in there. Let’s not forget he effectively signed a three-year contract with the Japanese factory, with the third year allowing both sides some options, hence why he has recruited a new representative in Paco Sanchez, who is actually a contract lawyer by trade.
Some people have suggested that Lin Jarvis or Yamaha were behind the ‘leak’ about Pedrosa, to try and pressurise Viñales into signing quickly. Whilst I wouldn’t rule it out completely, I’m not sure I believe it in this instance.
Jarvis himself has been the subject of a great deal of criticism in some quarters, particularly amongst the Spanish media corps. The accusation amongst them is that the MD of YMR only wants to sell bikes and not win championships by keeping the one half of the garage not to have won the title since 2009. The Brit has spoken glowingly about Viñales and saw him as the only person capable of replacing Lorenzo, offering a long term future for the team and sponsor. I’m not sure he or anyone at his level in Yamaha would look to derail that. Viñales could well be the masterstroke to silence those critics, as well as a renewed vigour from Rossi, but only time will tell.
This weekend’s Mugello race will hopefully see the Viñales news finally put to bed and confirmed, and following on from the hot declaration on Ducati duo Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone. Reports in Italy this week already had Dovizioso down to remain alongside Lorenzo with Iannone on his way out – something I had already heard from a good source in France. The Italians have then gone one further by suggesting ‘the Maniac’ himself will be heading to Suzuki, whilst Spanish publications suggest Iannone will be joined there by Alex Rins, as the brand look to replace Viñales, and the Moto2 rider gets the factory ride he so covets.
Despite those affirmations, rumours still abound about Rins heading to Tech3 under the Yamaha factory contract Pol Espargaro currently enjoys, however I still feel that both Espargaró brothers may have something to say about the threat of losing their rides considering their recent performances. That’s not to mention Johann Zarco, who is believed to already have a contract in place with Suzuki. There is another suggestion doing the rounds that the factory may still be interested in providing a third bike to one of the existing independent teams, which Zarco could run.
Back to Iannone, and some say that the 26 year-old also has an offer from Aprilia to ride alongside Sam Lowes next year. Judging by their recent form and interest in running an Italian, it’s not something I would be surprised by either.
There’s no doubt that this is the silliest silly-season ever, having started with Valentino Rossi’s remarkable announcement at Qatar, and I am just wondering what we will do when it ends by the halfway point? We’ll have to talk about the racing or something. Chance would be a fine thing.
Pic by CormacGP