Thursday at the French MotoGP saw Dani Pedrosa and Cal Crutchlow responding to rumours about their 2017 plans.
Speculation during the previous Jerez weekend
suggested that if Maverick Vinales did not make the expected move from Suzuki to Movistar Yamaha, in place of departing world champion Jorge Lorenzo, Pedrosa may be in the running to become Valentino Rossi's new team-mate.
But recent rumours have gone a step further, casting doubt on whether the Vinales/Yamaha deal will indeed be done and adding that - if Pedrosa went to Yamaha - LCR's Crutchlow could take over the factory RC213V ride alongside Marc Marquez. Although Marquez is also yet to sign for 2017 he is all but certain to remain at Repsol Honda.
“About this speculation, I don't know the stories but the situation is currently like it was in Jerez. There are no changes from my side,” declared Pedrosa, never a fan of silly season rumours. “So at this moment the future is this weekend and I'm focussed on riding and trying to get back to my pace, try to be back on the top. Because in the first four races I was not in the correct pace.
“So this is what I'm aiming for, to be in the front, and yeah no difference from Jerez at this moment," added Pedrosa, a Honda rider throughout his 16-year grand prix career.
Crutchlow gave a more detailed description of his situation, starting with whether he has an option to remain at LCR:
“I have an option, yeah. There's some clauses in the agreement, but I'm not even thinking about it at the moment. There are other guys that need to move around me first, before anything happens. I'm not too worried. I think on the grid, behind the front four guys and Dovi, podium-wise I'm the next best guy over the years I've been in MotoGP. I think my speed is still there.
“I'll start negotiating when the time is right. There's a lot to pan out first. I think, as we know, everyone is eager to sign Maverick - but he hasn't yet got a MotoGP podium! And that's the truth. I'll be his first supporter, because I was one of the first to say - even before he came up - that he'll be fast in MotoGP and one of the guys to beat. But he's not Marc Marquez. Don't take that out of context; I'm comparing them as riders.
“We have to wait for that to pan out and see what happens. I'm very happy with Honda, that's sure. But it doesn't mean that I wouldn't move. Of course I want continuity with a manufacturer, because I've been to the other manufacturers. Can I go back to the other manufacturers? Yeah, probably. But I'm happy with Honda at the minute and we'll see what happens.
“To me, at the moment, it's a long way and when I feel the time is right or something happens, I'll start negotiating as and when.”
Asked specifically about whether Repsol Honda is a viable option for 2017, and if he has spoken about it with Honda, Crutchlow replied:
“Honestly, you'll have to speak to Livio [Suppo]. I can't really comment on what's going on over there at the moment. Until Marc signs a deal - I don't know if he has or not - there's a lot of things to play out.
“I don't really have too much of a comment at the moment. Has it been discussed? It's been discussed me riding a Honda... I've expressed my desire to stay with Honda but whether that means here, there, or in Moto3 I don't know!
“I think they are positive for me to be staying with Honda as well, but in the end there are a lot of other things going on before me and I'm quite happy to wait. I'm not in any rush.”
As Crutchlow said, the key to the 2017 rider market remains Vinales, who revealed last time at Jerez that he would like his future decided soon so he can focus on racing.
So has Vinales decided?
“At the moment, no,” replied the 21-year-old with a wry smile. “It is so difficult because I have two teams that can be on the top. I have one team [Suzuki] that gave me the trust when I was in Moto2 and still now I can be their reference. Then I have another team [Yamaha] that is already is there, winning. So it's really difficult to make the decision.”
Vinales confirmed that he has an offer from both factories on the table. The former Moto3 champion, currently sixth in the world championship with a best result of fourth, also said he does not have an official deadline.
Asked for his opinion on the Yamaha/Suzukin choice for Vinales, Crutchlow replied: “The bike that he is on now is, honestly I would say, quite close to Yamaha in regards to cornering and stuff like that.
"But it's difficult to [compare the Yamaha and Suzuki] because the two guys on the Suzukis and the two guys on the Yamahas are completely different in riding styles and years in MotoGP. The only way you could really compare [bikes] is to put Valentino or Jorge on a Suzuki.
"If Maverick jumped on a Yamaha would he be fast? Yes, sure. But he'd also be fast on a Suzuki.”
And that's why it's such a difficult decision.
Opening practice at Le Mans takes place on Friday morning.
By Peter McLaren