Casey Stoner 'has already decided' to leave Ducati Corse for Repsol Honda in MotoGP 2011, a well-informed insider from the Australian's current team has conceded – as his suitor admitted that it is also 'interested' in regaining the services of Valentino Rossi.
It was reported earlier this month that Stoner and Honda have all-but agreed terms for the 2007 MotoGP World Champion to switch camps for next season [see separate story – click here
], and whilst Ducati itself has maintained its silence on the matter, a source within the Italian outfit has revealed to GPWeek
that there is now no going back.
“As far as Casey going to Honda next year, I think it's a done deal,” the 'highly-placed' team member stated. “I don't have any hard information and I don't want to go on the record, but it's just a gut feeling. I think he has already decided to go.”
Chief amongst Stoner's motivations to join Honda is the presence there of former Ducati team manager Livio Suppo, who oversaw the 24-year-old's march to the crown three years ago in only his maiden campaign with the team and second in the premier class and has in 2010 moved to Honda in a marketing and managerial capacity.
Another carrot is the opportunity to return the Japanese manufacturer to title glory for the first time since 2006, as well as the personal prospect of joining the elite group of just Rossi, Eddie Lawson and Geoff Duke to successfully claim the premier class championship with two different marques.
Aside from an opportunistic victory for veteran Loris Capirossi in the wet/dry 2007 Japanese Grand Prix – the same event at which Stoner lifted the laurels – no other rider has triumphed for Ducati since the Queensland native joined the squad, during which time he has equalled the tally of 20 successes notched up over the same period by record-breaking multiple world champion Rossi, despite being sidelined by illness for some of last year, an episode that is believed to have created a degree of tension with title sponsor Marlboro.
There have also reportedly been rather too many accidents for his employer's liking – including two in the first three races of 2010 alone – and Honda has made little secret of its desire to secure the signature of the 27-time race-winner.
Such an eventuality would mean one of the two present incumbents – Dani Pedrosa or the increasingly impressive Andrea Dovizioso – having to make way, with either Jorge Lorenzo or FIAT Yamaha team-mate Rossi looking to be in-line to replace Stoner at Ducati, despite Lin Jarvis' protestations that the objective is to retain both riders [see separate story – click here
]. 'The Doctor' has similarly been mentioned in connection with Honda, although given the manner in which he left back at the end of 2003, a rapprochement
does not appear likely.
“We haven't drawn a programme for next year yet,” HRC vice-president Shuei Nakamoto told Italian sports newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport
. “Maybe we'll do it in July, but the four best riders have their contracts expiring so it's normal we are interested in all of them, Valentino too.
“Because Honda is not content with podiums, we want to win, we've asked Colin Stoner (Casey Stoner's father and manager) if they would like to come with us. However, we absolutely didn't get into the details – like number of years or retainer – at all.”