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MotoGP InFocus - The Rider Merry-Go-Round

In the last of our summer break pieces, we look at which riders may end up where in 2016.

Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images

The summer break is traditionally the time when silly season starts, and at least half the races are run under duress of fighting for a new contract. This year will be no different.

While other years have seen riders in the hunt for either a factory ride on their current manufacturers, or just to stay in the sport, this year we have a wildcard - the entrance of KTM. They will want competitive riders, and so there's a couple of extra spaces to audition for.

Who Is Contracted?

I've done the hard work for you. Here's a handy infograph.

Honda
Factory Team
Customer/Satellite Teams
Yamaha
Factory Team
Customer/Satellite Teams
Ducati
Factory Team
Customer/Satellite Teams
Aprilia
Factory Team
Customer/Satellite Teams
Suzuki
Factory Team
KTM
Factory Team

***Stefan Bradl had been contracted to Athina Forward for 2016, but has moved to Aprilia to replace Marco Melandri for the rest of 2015.***

So Who's Missing?

Let's start with probably the highest profile vacancy, which is the factory Ducati ride alongside Andrea Dovizioso. The likelihood will be that Andrea Iannone continues there, purely based on the good season he's had - he is currently 31 points ahead of Dovizioso.

The next high-profile vacancies are at Tech 3, where both riders, Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro, are fighting for contracts. The rumour is that only one will be kept on at the end of the year - with Cal Crutchlow a mentioned name for a return to his first MotoGP outfit - so it looks like a battle of the team mates. Except, it's not that simple.

Some manufacturers have riders sign central contracts, and then allocate them to a team. This is the case with Espargaro. He is contracted by Yamaha, but has been regularly outperformed by Smith, with the Brit leading Pol by 23 points. Smith is contracted by Tech 3, and looks the favourite to keep his spot, but then Yamaha politics may come into play. That said, they may keep both on, which would leave Crutchlow a bit stranded.

Having not gotten on with the Tech 3 bike (despite getting similar results to Smith this year), then not getting on with the factory Ducati, he now isn't getting on with the LCR Honda. He is rumoured to want a return to Tech 3, but if he pushes too much, he may end up grinding on LCR management and losing his spot there, should he need it. That would leave him in a quandry.

Further down the field, Yonny Hernandez is without a ride. While not performing as the same level as his contracted team mate Danilo Petrucci, he is a good rider, and would be an astute pickup for either one of the smaller teams (Avintia? Athina Forward?) or maybe even to stay with Pramac.

Looking towards the open class riders, currently without a 2015 ride are:-

  • Karel Abraham
  • Michael Laverty
  • Nicky Hayden
  • Eugene Laverty
  • Loris Baz
  • Mike Di Meglio

All of these men are good riders in their own right, but they are expendable and replaceable. Of those, I can see Eugene Laverty and Loris Baz maybe getting picked up by a customer team, but there's a plethora of talent ready and willing to come up.

Potential Promotions

The most likely, and certainly the biggest rumoured move, is Sam Lowes moving up from Moto2, where he is working miracles with the poor Speed Up chassis, and becoming Alvaro Bautista's team mate at Aprilia. There is apparently a big-money offer on the table, and with the changes in regulations coming in for 2016, Aprilia could be a gamble that is well worth the risk.

Elsewhere, Johann Zarco could easily be Crutchlow's replacement at LCR Honda. The runaway leader of the Moto2 championship has shown great talent and maturity this year, and he could definitely be worth a Randy De Puniet-esque punt at the lead Honda satellite team. Similarly, defending Moto2 champion Tito Rabat is performing strongly again, and could easily make a move up to the primary class.

Of course, it wouldn't be a SCOMO post without me mentioning Danny Kent. The way he has dominated the field won't have gone amiss throughout the championship, and while the rumour is that Leopard are intending on starting a Moto2 team, it wouldn't be surprising to see somebody take a chance on Kent in the primary class.

There is, of course, a joker in the pack.

Who Rides For KTM?

Right now, the ony KTM involvement in MotoGP is the Red Bull team in Moto3. The riders there - Karel Hanika, Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira - are good, but not GP ready. That means they'll be in the market for two riders. They'll probably be looking for riders with proven MotoGP pace and pedigree.

Say, who's a free agent that has MotoGP pedigree?

Well hello there, Cal Crutchlow and Pol Espargaro.

In Summary

This is mostly just guesswork. I've added rumour to circumstance and come up with fluff. This is the summer though, and I've pretty much just done the work that 100+ actual paid motorcycling journalists will do in the forthcoming weeks. At least this year Marc Marquez, Dani Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo are all under contract, saving us months of "will Lorenzo finally go to Ducati?" speculation.

I hope you've enjoyed the last few weeks' worth of articles. I've tried to explain some of the details that might otherwise have been missed, as well as a bit of the speculation that makes the world turn round. We're back to normal service next week, as the championship heads to the Brickyard, and the Indianapolis round.