Focus now shifts to MotoGP rider market

With the season now finished the riders market in MotoGP still has numerous dominoes waiting to fall into place.

It seems all but certain that Suzuki will continue in 2012, although initially with an 800cc bike and not an all new 1000cc machine. With that being the case the Japanese manufacturer should be able to keep Alvaro Bautista for next season. The former 125cc world champion has consistently said that he wanted to remain with the squad next season and would only look at other options if Suzuki pulled out.

Bautista was the biggest piece of the rider market puzzle and with him all but certain to stay at Suzuki the rest of the market should fall into place. Randy de Puniet is likely to be the most sought after rider now and with the Frenchman having endured a miserable season aboard the Pramac Duacti a return to LCR Honda might be on the cards for de Puniet.

Last season aboard a satellite Honda Randy was one of the stars of the opening half of the season but having left the team in acrimonious circumstances it is still not clear if Lucio Checinello would welcome him back to the fold. If de Puniet does return to LCR it is likely that he will do so with a factory Honda.

This is because Marco Simoncelli’s factory bike has still to be assigned. Unless Gresini squad hires de Puniet, a considerable longshot due to their lack of available finance, the bike will need to be handed to another Honda team. The reason that Gresini will not be able to hire the Frenchman is because their title sponsor, San Carlo, has little to no presence in any country outside of Italy.

As a result Gresini will be forced to hire an Italian rider and with Andrea Dovizioso having been confirmed at Tech 3 there is no Italian rider with MotoGP experience that they can hire and give the factory bike to. This is due to the regulation that stipulates that factory riders must have at least one season of MotoGP experience.

One of the most persistent rumours of the weekend in Valencia was that Andrea Iannone would be hired to Gresini’s MotoGP squad. The aggressive Italian has struggled in Moto2 this season but his passport will make him very appealing to Gresini. Iannone’s speed is not in doubt but he has not exhibited the consistency required of riders to challenge for the Moto2 championship. Even so a move to MotoGP looks certain to occur, unless Gresini get a new title sponsor, and his style of racing could pay off in the new 1000cc era of the premier class.

There are jokers in the pack however in the form of Moto2 world champion, Stefan Bradl, and vice-champion, Marc Marquez. Both riders are contracted to remain in the intermediate class next season but it would be very interesting to see what Bradl would say if offered the chance to race in the premier class.

The German would bring with him a budget of €5 million in the form of Weismann sponsorship and while this was not enough to get him onto the MotoGP grid earlier in the year when he was seeking a premier class ride it would surely ease his path into the Gresini squad.

Last month Marquez decided to return to Moto2 becuase Repsol and Honda decided they would not bring the Spanish youngster into MotoGP until 2013. The changes in the rider market though could have a drastic effect on his plans for next season. Honda need to find a new star for next season and accelerating Marquez development may be a simple solution to the hole left in their rider lineup by Simoncelli’s death.

Marquez would be very attractive to LCR because the youngster is arguably the hottest prospect in Grand Prix racing since Valentino Rossi was moving into the 500cc class in 2000. While Repsol did not want to promote him to the premier class a major Spanish company might now look to jump to the head of the queue and steal the most marketable racer in the world from underneath  the petrol company’s noses. The market is still very fluid and while de Puniet is surely in the driving seat he is far from assured of either ride.

The riders market has a lot of CRT spots still to be filled and it will only be over the course of the winter that we will see a fuller picture emerge of who will race on these production based machines but for now the factory and satellite rides are the main focus of attention prior to this weeks two day test session at Valencia.

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