Before Ducati announced that Casey Stoner was going to miss 3 MotoGP races due to a mystery illness, everything was fairly predictable at Ducati for 2010. Hayden hadn’t quite underperformed enough to lose his factory Marlboro Ducati seat and promising but crash prone satellite Pramac Ducati rookie, Mika Kallio, hadn’t quite done well enough to displace the American. Then Casey stopped racing and Honda said no to Jorge Lorenzo.
Faced with the possibility that whatever ails Stoner may not be resolved anytime soon the Italian manufacturer becomes desperate to secure topline talent for their machine which is rapidly gaining a reputation as a career killer. Stoner won the championship for Ducati in 2007 and has been competitive this year despite his mystery illness, currently lying 3rd in the points despite missing Brno. He has a confirmed contract for 2010.
Last week, the factory announced that Casey Stoner would sit out the next 3 races starting with last weekend’s race at Brno as he attempts to come to grips with a mystery, energy sapping illness. Mika Kallio stepped up from the Pramac satellite team to fill the void left by Stoner whilst Michel Fabrizio, 3rd in the World Superbike Championship standings, replaced Kallio at Pramac for the Brno race.
Ducati is clearly pleased with Kallio. The former KTM 125 and 250GP racer has had 4, top 10 finishes so far this season and nearly finished 6th after crashing out on the last lap in Assen. Before the Casey bombshell, Livio Suppo, the Ducati racing chief, said that they were pleased with Kallio’s performance to date and intend to keep him in the fold next season.
“We have an option with Mika and we will exercise it because he is doing a great job” said Suppo.
link: Motorcycle News
Starting with Brno, Kallio gets a 3 race try-out with the factory team and an opportunity to show why he should be swapping seats with Nicky Hayden who has so far failed to come to grips with the bike for 2010. In the opening practice session for Brno, Kallio showed he meant business claiming the 7th fastest time but Hayden ultimately out qualified the Finn and finished a creditable 6th in the race whilst Kallio crashed out whilst just behind in an altercation with Hayate Kawasaki’s Marco Melandri on the penultimate lap.
The sad reality though is that neither Kallio nor Hayden have been able to make an impact at the pointy end of the field and this feeds the concern that only Stoner can race the Ducati. Marco Melandri who has just been signed by Gresini Honda for 2010 had a disastrous season last year on the Ducati finishing 17th in the championship. Hayden, the 2006 World Champion is lying 14th in the series and Jorge Martinez’s Aspar Ducati team narrowly failed to sign his protégé Alvaro Bautista at least in part due to his reluctance to move to a Ducati.
Enter Jorge Lorenzo. The Spaniard has been the sensation of 2009 and has in his characteristic arrogant way demanded more money from Yamaha than they were prepared to give. His threat, a move to Honda, has been somewhat thwarted by crashes and consistently running behind his teammate Valentino Rossi in recent races. That window of opportunity closed on the weekend when new Honda President, the ironically named Tetsuo Suzuki, announced that Honda had reached a “basic agreement” with Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso, and at the same time ruled out any role for Jorge Lorenzo.
With Suzuki fielding a basically uncompetitive machine and confirming it’s 2010 lineup (Capirossi and Bautista) that leaves only Ducati with a race winning machine and with deep enough pockets. Oh and Ducati has a little problem, namely a number one racer in Stoner who is in doubt for 2010 and a number two in Hayden who has yet to get anywhere near a podium let alone a win.
Faced with the prospect of potentially being without a top rider (if Stoner’s health does not improve) it comes as no surprise then to learn that Ducati is in discussions with Lorenzo for a potential 7 million euro contract. Lorenzo is the only member of the fabulous four (Rossi, Stoner, Pedrosa and Jorge) still potentially available and someone that has a reputation of riding well on less than stellar machinery which must be attractive to the Italian firm. In addition Marlboro is the kind of sponsor that will be able to dig deep enough to secure a proven race winner and championship contender.
However Ducati will need to act fast. Ducati has an option for 2010 on Hayden which it must exercise before September 1st. If Lorenzo can be signed before then I believe Ducati will do so to hedge against the disaster scenario where Stoner is no longer competitive. This would give Lorenzo a new foil with which to attack his nemesis, Rossi. If he could beat Rossi, the rider widely proclaimed to be the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) on the Ducati, Lorenzo would truely cement himself as one of the motorcycling greats. It would also erase the negative stigma about the performance of the Ducati in anyone but a certain Australian’s hands.
For his part, Hayden seems philosophic about the reality of his race performance and what it means for his chances of being in the factory seat next year.
He (Hayden) admitted that so far he had probably not done enough to earn a contract extension. “I know at some stage I’m going to have to put up some results, I know fifth and eighth probably isn’t going to be enough to get Marlboro or Ducati – they might want to try somebody else at that spot,” said Hayden.
Whatever happens, Nicky will want to have the ride of his career at Indy!