And, in the end, what was accomplished by the drama supertrain last week in MotoGP?
The saga began with either Jorge Lorenzo or his agent letting both Ducati and Yamaha know that he might be available to ride their bikes in 2020. Remember he has an existing HRC contract–written by HRC–which attaches him to Honda through the very end of 2020, meaning probably Dec 31. Pramac Ducati were interested via Ducati Corse and then delayed signing Australian rider Jack Miller because of the possibility that their lives could be “enriched” by having Jorge Lorenzo ride their bikes. Miller took it personally. Next up was Lorenzo or his agent contacting Yamaha to gauge their interest in his services (again, in the middle of his Honda contract). Then more drama ensued. A hole opened at KTM by the end of the weekend, with Mr. J Zarco deciding he’d had enough of the Austrians and their one lap wonder bike.
Background: I’ve been in the room when two riders signed their contracts. Both contracts specified payment of well over 1 million dollars for one year of service. Neither rider actually read the contract before signing it and had not read it previously. Both looked for the X’s their manager had highlighted to help them find the place on the document that they were to sign, then signed and dated the document, never reading it. I mention this because I don’t believe many riders actually read their contracts, casually or if at all. Cal Crutchlow probably does because Cal Crutchlow is self-managed. Others? I suspect they don’t read any contracts, ever. One notable rider truly believed that the definition of “force majeure” in his deal meant “I can walk out anytime I want and they still have to pay me.” That was a very costly lesson. He had to sell his big house in order to pay that written-into-his-contract-penalty.
Lorenzo, in his asinine flailing around, by offering his services to other teams, has undoubtedly seriously damaged his relationship with Honda. The culture at Honda is not one that rewards any behavior that can be construed as betrayal. If Lorenzo’s gamble was that if it became publicly known he wanted out of the Repsol Honda team that Honda would in turn release him, illustrates that George Lorenzo does not understand how life works at Honda. It will take a near miracle for Lorenzo to repair his relationship with the Japanese now. As in, performing successful CPR on a Honda exec or legally marrying a female Asimo, Honda’s famed robot.
Ducati Corse caught a lot of flak for entertaining Lorenzo’s tantalizing offer of returning to Bologna and making their lives a living nightmare again. Ducati remains a very small company, while they are owned by Audi/Lambo the truth is there isn’t as much trickle-down from Audi as you might think. It’s an investment. Additionally, Ducati’s CEO, Claudio Domenicali, has long been known as a fierce taskmaster. It’s not just riders that get his ‘justify your existence’ focus; it’s everybody, trust me. Before the glorious Red Bull ring victory, Ducati had slipped in terms of MotoGP results and when results slip Domenicali is not shy about asking riders why are we paying you these gigantic sums to finish sixth or fourth? He did it with Fogarty, with Stoner, with Hayden and others. He doesn’t tolerate mediocrity. At all. Red Bull Ring winner Dovi’ has saved himself from Claudio’s glare for a while but Petrucci–it’s almost as if the epic win at Mugello was years ago, not months ago. So, there is little for Ducati to lose in talking to Lorenzo, and letting their riders know mediocre ain’t gonna cut it. That it was never going to happen (Lorenzo leaving Honda for Ducati) is irrelevant from Ducati’s perspective.
In the end Miller was re-signed to Ducati, Zarco walked and Lorenzo has poisoned his relationship with Honda.