This is from an aricle from www.superbikeplanet.com
In our 2005 MotoGP season preview, we warned that the bubble of success for the premier class of motorcycle road-racing could hemorrhage if Dorna and the FIM do not wake up to reality.
That reality being that their crowning glory could be about to take on the role of a comedy farce if those sitting in the seats of power continue with their apparent arrogant attitude towards progressive thinking.
During the final few rounds of 2005, over the course of the winter break, and particularly over the course of the past few weeks, we've seen a new-found level of complacency with regard to the future of the MotoGP series.
So, is it simply corporate business or plain political idiocy?
Just how many teams and riders do we need to lose before the political suit-wearers wake up and smell the coffee? The 2006 grid is already thin, as it is.
The past few weeks have exposed the sinister inner workings of the MotoGP paddock. The seemingly doomed manufacturer-rider-sponsor relationship has finally been put under the limelight like never before. We've finally caught a very public glimpse of exactly who calls the shots when it comes to racing in the MotoGP series.
The Yamaha/Altadis debacle was the first sign that madness had ensued. The result being that a lawsuit is brewing between the pair, and it doesn't look like it will be pretty, either.
Altadis signed a contract with Yamaha to sponsor the factory team running Gauloises colors through the 2006 season. At the time that contract was signed, there was no official commitment from Valentino Rossi to ride for the works team in '06.
When Yamaha and Altadis could not come to terms -- with Rossi's alleged stance against cigarette sponsorship the suggested reason -- Altadis deemed this a breach of the framework of the sponsorship agreement.
As a warning shot, Altadis pulled their Fortuna sponsorship from the Tech 3 satellite team for next season, which has seemingly put that team in a precarious financial situation.
Yamaha was unmoved by the lack of Altadis cash and seemed happy to run their factory effort with backing from the Yamaha Japan bank account.
However, as of this week, Yamaha has now signed a contract for 2006 with JT International (a rival tobacco company), running Rossi and Edwards in Camel colors.
This appears to blow away the myth that Rossi is staunchly against running with tobacco branding plastered all over his bike. Fact is, has anyone ever actually seen Rossi himself state that he wouldn't ride with tobacco branding?
(Editor's note: Rossi has been seen and some say photographed with cigarettes in his hand and mouth, which would seem to indicate he's--like many Italians--an occasional tobacco smoker. That he may smoke and apparently hides it, yet rides for a team with a tobacco sponsor, which has as its intended purpose to entice people to smoke that brand of tobacco, I find hugely ironic.-- Dean Adams)
This situation has enflamed the current legal situation with Altadis, who reacted to the news that Yamaha had signed with Camel backing by issuing it's own release which left us in no doubt that Altadis was not going to take the situation lying down; it's a huge commercial kick in the teeth for Altadis.
Yamaha has countered (as reported here), and it's getting messy.
Rossi, of course, is unmoved by all of this -- he's the jewel in Dorna's crown, after all. In this case, the seven-time world champ is the one in control, and both the team and any sponsor have to play by his rules, if you believe the stories regarding his contract negotiations with the Japanese marque. Yamaha needs Rossi, plain and simple.
One rumor of note is that Yamaha apparently approached Telefonica Movistar with an offer to have Rossi run under their colors. This was, as the story goes, turned down flat by the telecommunications giant -- even with the multiple world champion dangled as the bait.
Next up in the MotoGP soap opera hall of fame 2005 came the Max Biaggi debacle. Like him or loathe him, Biaggi has become a political pawn.
Just 12 months ago, the word came from upon high at HRC headquarters that Biaggi was finally being given the finest opportunity of his career. He had been granted a ride on the works Repsol machine with legendary tuner Erv Kanemoto on his side of the garage. Along with Sete Gibernau (after a pre-season press frenzy), Biaggi would head Honda's development program and attempt to steal the crown from his great Italian rival (Rossi).
Those grand plans quickly evaporated, with Biaggi struggling at the Jerez pre-season test and at the opening round held at the same circuit. His teammate Nick Hayden was flying, Biaggi was faltering, and so the moaning started and the statements in the Itallian press from Biaggi were critical of the Honda factory.
As the season came to its conclusion, Biaggi made it clear to the press that the development of the bike and the support he was receiving from Honda was below par -- even though Hayden was performing well on the sister Repsol bike.
When the HRC hierarchy back in the land of the rising sun caught up with what was blowing in the wind, they were less than impressed. In fact, rumor has it that HRC tried to keep Biaggi from racing at the final race at Valencia and then made it clear to all the Honda teams that Biaggi would not be given an RC211V Honda for 2006.
When Camel -- Biaggi's personal sponsor -- heard this, they threatened to pull their large stash of Euros from the Sito Pons satellite team. This set up a major showdown between Honda, Sito Pons, Biaggi, and Camel. It was time to see who rules the roost in MotoGP, and we appear to have our answer.
Biaggi won't be riding racing in MotoGP in 2006 and, as we saw last week, the Pons team won't be on the grid after Camel pulled their money, and the former 250cc world champion (Pons) failed to find a viable financial alternative.
Honda has always played the political game to the limits of acceptability but, in excluding Biaggi and placing Pons in an untenable situation, Honda has shown that they are in absolute control of their 2006 campaign. Even if it means fewer bikes on the grid to contest the manufacturers title, Honda has made their position clear.
Honda has shown, historically, that they are happy to be ruthless but, be it intentional or not, they have threatened the existence of a solid franchise (Pons) and have allowed a solid backer (Camel) to leave their sponsorship ranks.
Effectively, HRC has made a statement that any sponsor who disagrees with their political policies can leave stage left and that no level of superstar status (Biaggi and Checa) can save your ride.
So, the Tech 3 team, Telefonica Movistar, Pedrosa, Checa, Pons, Camel, and Max Biaggi have all had to dance to the tune laid down by Honda. Whether Honda is playing fair or not is debatable, but, whichever way you look at it, ultimately, politics and monetary strangulation are placing a strain on the MotoGP series.
All of this has gone on right under the noses of the series owners and governing body. So, exactly how the FIM and Dorna think this is productive in the promotion of their flagship series is beyond comprehension, and, personally, I think it will end in tears.
When dedicated team owners like Sito Pons, who has maintained a presence in the paddock for 25 years, are forced to pull out of the series, along with solid sponsors like Telefonica Movistar, you have a problem brewing.
Whether you blame Rossi (indirectly), HRC, or anyone else for that matter, it doesn't look good for the series owners. The next question is this: if sponsors are being run out and no new sponsors are seemingly interested in MotoGP, how long can the teams fund MotoGP on their own? How long until some high-ranking exec decides enough is enough and sees World Superbike as a cheaper and production-based alternative?
Sure, MotoGP go to 800cc in 2007, and there are Asian sponsors being buttered up to take the place of the cigarette brands, but, for me, it's the way the organizers are handling the political shenanigans that disappoints the most.
What will those outside of the powerhouse brigade (specifically, Honda and Yamaha) do when the real cost of developing an 800cc project hits home?
The profile of the series is at an all-time high, and Dorna are rubbing their hands with glee. The financial outlay has always been huge--it's natural for a prototype racing series--but where will it all end for the smaller teams and the depth of the grid if the current trend continues?
And, if we lose another team or two due to escalating costs and end up with just 16 riders on the grid, just what will that do for the potential marketing of the series and just how will that attract sponsors?
Many puritans will tell you that political shenanigans should hold no place in the sport. Now, I know that sounds naive, as politics have held their place in top-flight sport for decades, but, I have some sympathy for those who hold that opinion.
I think it's troubling when MotoGP is fast becoming known more for its political face than for the sport itself. It appears to be going the way at present, and a spending ceiling should be something that Dorna should look at. There has to be a happy medium or Dorna will be at risk of eroding the wild popularity that their series currently enjoys.
Will the bubble finally burst? I hope common sense prevails after this season and we see some sanity, especially as the 2006 WSBK series looks to be hugely competitive--on paper, at least.
MotoGP needs to produce or Dorna could end up with egg on their faces if Flammini steals their thunder.
We shall see.