Editor's Note: This is a series counting down the top 15 stories in MotoGP in 2013, as determined by the Soup staff.
The 2012 MotoGP season was one of those years in which a perfect storm occurs that thrills fans, a handful of top riders and their percentage-slicing managers because every factory rider was out of contract.
A game of musical chairs occurs, sometimes with one or two actual open seats accompanied by elevator music or six open seats thrashed to the soundtrack of The Clash's first album. Last year was somewhere in between.
It was obvious Valentino Rossi wanted out from his nightmare at Ducati, and Yamaha was his obvious and eventual destination. Honda courted Jorge Lorenzo briefly, but Yamaha flashed the cash to keep its two-time World Champion. Once Lorenzo re-signed with Yamaha, Dani Pedrosa could rely on his talent, results and longtime connections with Spanish sponsor Repsol and HRC to keep his seat at Repsol Honda. It also became evident early HRC wanted to promote Moto2 boy wonder Marc Marquez to the works MotoGP team, and HRC worked behind the scenes to convince Dorna to rescind its foolish "rookie rule."
Both Ducati seats were in play during mid-summer. Rossi was heading for the exit on Borgo Panigale, and rumors swirled that American Nick Hayden might be trimmed from the factory lineup.
Ducati shopped around the paddock and found Andrea Dovizioso as a willing signee for its cranky, uncompetitive Desmosedici bike. Dovi knew the salary, perks and top-of-the-line parts available to factory riders during his tenure with Repsol Honda from 2009-11. Tech 3 offered the best satellite bike on the grid for Dovi in 2012, but that ride didn't come with a fat factory paycheck.
Dovizioso's Tech 3 teammate, Cal Crutchlow, became Ducati's next target. The Brit broke through in 2012 with his first two career MotoGP podium finishes. The Boys from Bologna and Crutchlow danced around each other in June and early July, with Ducati ready to present Crutchlow with a contract in mid-July.
That contract never came. Crutchlow wears his heart on his sleeve probably more than any current Grand Prix rider, and he reacted with public and private fury. Crutchlow took sharp jabs at Ducati through the media in late July and early August, and he reportedly threw Ducati officials out of his trailer with a profane salvo after negotiations broke down.
Ducati ended up re-signing Hayden, who wisely wanted just a one-year deal in case the GP13 proved to be as much of a lead sled as the GP11 and GP12.
The 2013 season was far quieter on the rider movement front. The only factory seat that became available was Hayden's at Ducati, as The Kentucky Kid became a free agent July 1 when Ducati didn't renew his deal.
Ducati's courtship of Crutchlow may have ended up looking like a field of molten lava in late July 2012. But much like two horny kids who didn't fancy each other in a bar until closing time, the Italian factory and the British rider became bedfellows again this summer.
The reasons were simple. With Hayden's exit, Ducati needed a top rider to try and tame its GP14 in 2014. Crutchlow, meanwhile, never has made any secret that he lusted after a factory seat, even if there was a very real prospect his satellite Yamaha M1 at Tech 3 might be quicker.
So the deal between Ducati and Crutchlow was made with nowhere near the incendiary blasts that marked their contract dance in 2012. Crutchlow probably at least tripled his salary, and Ducati landed a rider who continued his transformation from fast, but crash-prone to a steady presence in the top five during the first half of the 2013 season.
But timing is everything. And the question begs to be asked: Would Crutchlow have been better off if he took a one-year deal with Tech 3 for 2014 and then participated in the free-for-all that is bound to unfold next summer over all of the works seats?
Lorenzo, Rossi, Pedrosa, Marquez and Dovizioso each signed two-year deals with their respective factories in 2012. They all will be free agents this summer. Crutchlow signed a two-year deal with Ducati that runs through 2015.
Honda is rumored to be preparing a big-money offer to Lorenzo, presumably as a replacement for Pedrosa. A second factory M1 also may become available if Rossi follows through on his vow to retire after next season if he doesn't regain his magic winning touch.
So Crutchlow may have surrendered the chance to stay in the Yamaha family on what almost certainly will be a quicker, more supple machine than the Ducati GP14 that he will be forced to wrestle into shape next season.
Then again, Lorenzo and Rossi may stay at Yamaha through 2016. And Crutchlow's decision to join Ducati would be vindicated even further.
Plus riders' careers are fleeting due to either injury, lack of competitiveness or the newest flavor of young hotshot to appear on the shelf. So it's impossible to blame any rider for taking the seven-figure paycheck when offered.
Still, the mind wonders if Cal Crutchlow ends up being the bent card shuffled into a brand-new deck.