The MotoGP silly season of 2010 stood to be the most interesting in the sport's history. As the activity begins to settle, the hype was justified.
Living legend and seven-time 500cc/MotoGP World Champion Valentino Rossi, 2007 MotoGP World Champion Casey Stoner, two-time 250cc World Champion Dani Pedrosa, and two-time 250cc World Champion and current MotoGP series leader Jorge Lorenzo all were on contracts expiring after the 2010 season.
This was to be the year that Yamaha had to decide between Rossi and Lorenzo. Stoner had to decide whether or not Ducati could keep up with the Japanese, or whether to join former boss Livio Suppo at Honda. And Honda had to decide whether once heir-apparent Pedrosa deserved another season in the factory squad.
As we stand on the first evening of the Czech GP after the summer break, here is how things appeared to have played out:
Yamaha tried their best to keep a stable with Rossi and Lorenzo, but it wasn't meant to be. Rumors circulated that Rossi was asked to take a pay cut, while some of that money would be given to the increased wage demands of current championship leader, Lorenzo. After that, all was quiet on the Yamaha/Rossi front. So, if all goes to plan, Yamaha should field Lorenzo and rookie sensation Ben Spies aboard the factory M1s in 2011.
Honda fired the first shot in confirming the worst kept secret in the paddock over the past season, that Casey Stoner would ride for Honda in 2011. The question then remained, in what capacity would Honda satisfy their two other factory contracted riders for 2011 in Andrea Dovizioso and Marco Simoncelli?
Additionally, would they really kick Pedrosa to the curb? The answer, according to several well-informed sources, is that Honda will keep Pedrosa and team him with Stoner in the full-factory Repsol squad, and move Dovizioso to the satellite Gresini team alongside Simoncelli, which will now be buzzing with HRC technicians.
Ducati have been the quietest of the big three teams thus far, but that's all about to change. After Sunday's race, Rossi will announce he will join the Italian marquee on a two-year deal. In doing so, Rossi and Ducati will form the most marketable team motorcycle racing has ever seen. The round after, Ducati is highly likely to confirm that Nicky Hayden will be retained for another season.
Now, after all of that, who are the winners and the losers in this ordeal? Let's start with the big winners, and we have two.
Honda have come through this, in classic Honda fashion, as the package to beat with a plethora of riders capable of winning and challenging for a championship. Never in the four stroke era has Honda held so many talented riders.
The combination of Stoner, Pedrosa, Dovizioso, and Simoncelli puts Honda in a position to be as strong as they were in 2002 and 2003. And that's saying something considering a primed Rossi was the crown jewel of their dominance in the formative four stroke years.
In assembling this dream team, Honda should have all but sewn up the constructors' championship for 2011 so long as next season's evolution of the RC212V isn't an absolute dog. And on paper, the Repsol team of Stoner and Pedrosa look to be the strongest on the grid, which could very well mean Honda's first team championship since 2006.
Ducati have added arguably the greatest rider in MotoGP history in Valentino Rossi. Rossi's addition instantly makes up for the loss of Stoner, and then some. Rossi's addition also makes Ducati the most sought after team in terms of sponsorship. If his results and sponsorship dollars weren't enough, Rossi brings with him a wealth of development knowledge to a team that has lagged behind Honda and Yamaha in that department.
With Rossi's development skills and close relationship with engineer/designer Filippo Preziosi, Ducati could potentially be the most improved motorcycle for 2011.
An improved Desmosedici for 2011, a good understanding and working relationship between Rossi and Hayden, and Hayden's success on the last Rossi-developed bike he rode (Hayden's 2006 World Championship was on the RC211V initially developed by Rossi), make Ducati a serious threat for a team championship as well as a rider's championship.
Now on to the loser, and loser is a harsh word for Yamaha. Although they will have lost the man that is partially responsible for their rebirth as a legitimate force in MotoGP, they will retain the man who is on course to win the 2010 World Championship in Lorenzo and acquire the man who is on course to win Rookie of the Year honors in the most hotly contested field since 2006 in Spies.
The results of the 2011 season may not deviate much from 2010 for Yamaha as they still will have two of the top handful of riders on the grid and a very formidable Rossi/Jerry Burgess developed M1 at their disposal. And they likely won't feel the financial crunch of losing the sponsorship dollars that accompany Rossi as they will be feeding off the Spanish market that is now fully behind Lorenzo.
Signing Movistar to a partial title sponsorship deal for 2011 is a sign of Lorenzo's sponsorship worth. The Spanish telecommunication giants pulled out of MotoGP nearly five years ago because of a falling out with Honda and Pedrosa. They then spent one season backing Spaniard Fernando Alonso in Formula 1.
However, where Yamaha will find themselves with the short stick is in 2012 when the new 1000cc regulations come into play and Yamaha will have entrusted their success to the relatively untried development skills of Lorenzo and Spies. Choosing Lorenzo over Rossi was a move made with an eye to the future, however it may have been most prudent to make that decision after 2012. If it was possible at all.