With deadlines and final offers having come and gone, Valentino Rossi continues to hold MotoGP hostage - intentionally or not - by refusing to announce his future plans with just one more GP to go this season.

Having had their own final offer turned down, Honda was - bizarrely - then presented with Rossi's own final deal, which HRC were set to decide upon earlier this week. But, there has been no official statement from the Japanese marque and the impression given is that while the relationship may be all but over, neither Rossi nor Honda want to be the ones that officially end the partnership.

So here's the latest regarding each of the three teams - Honda, Yamaha and Ducati - who are believed to have a chance of signing the five-times world champion, plus those other riders and teams that could use 'get-out' clauses to change their 2004 line-up...

Honda
The latest Honda rumours come from the Tokyo Motorshow, where a senior Honda (not HRC) member is alleged to have stated that Rossi will leave (although even this statement is open to interpretation/translation) and that Honda are planning to replace him with an unnamed Japanese rider.

HRC will then exact revenge on Rossi for leaving by building a bike so awesome he'll have no chance of defending his crown with another team, while Honda riders will again dominate the championship, also proving that Honda made Rossi.

Nevertheless, it must be remembered that until any deal is announced, nothing should be assumed. With such high stakes, no-one from Honda, Yamaha and Ducati - and definitely not Rossi himself (as his press conference performances at Sepang and Phillip Island proved) - is willing to give a straight answer. That means he hasn't yet signed.

Yamaha
Yamaha have reluctantly admitted that they are speaking with Rossi, but that's as far as it goes. If they really had his signature, as the Spanish press claimed, they could surely afford to sound more confident, and would have begun signing their other riders.

Should he move to Yamaha, Rossi is likely to ride a Gauloises backed M1 with considerable coverage available for his own personal sponsors. The attraction for Rossi is said to be a 10 million dollar pay deal, little PR work, and the chance to turn the M1 back into a race winner, thus quashing any talk that much of his success is due to Honda.

A subtle clue to the possible future Gauloises connection can be found in the Gauloises Yamaha Team's recent press releases, which have lavished praise on their present Honda rival: "Despite wrapping up the world championship last weekend in Malaysia, Valentino Rossi showed that his 'rage to win' was undiminished," began a statement at Phillip Island. It only later mentioned the performance of current riders Alex Barros and Olivier Jacque.

Ducati
Ducati have publicly maintained that they aren't bidding for Rossi's services, saying he's too expensive and that they're happy with the 2004 factory line-up of Loris Capirossi and Troy Bayliss.

However, there is considerable evidence that they, or more precisely title sponsor Marlboro, do want him. The most obvious was the Ferrari test offer. Note the word 'test', some reports that have dismissed the offer seem to have confused a test deal, which is a realistic proposition for someone with four-wheel ambitions, with an F1 drive, which isn't.

Rossi is not going to become a Formula One racing driver in the foreseeable future, he would need considerable F1 test mileage and four-wheeled race experience to get his 'Superlicence' which is essential to take part in an F1 GP. That's even if he managed to find a team to drive for, which is doubtful - the world isn't short of potential F1 drivers who have dedicated their whole lives to that goal.

An F1 test on the other hand, would allow Rossi to drive the car at private test sessions - perhaps alongside Michael Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello and even other F1 teams - to gauge his pace and potential. He won't get an F1 race seat out of that alone, but if he could lap within say 1.5secs of Schumacher it would make the four-wheeled world, including rally teams, take him seriously and open up many more career options for Rossi beyond MotoGP.

Ducati (and Ferrari) sponsor Marlboro are almost certainly behind the test offer. Marlboro may have been willing to accept Rossi would stay at Honda, but the thought that he could move to Yamaha - in the colours of a rival tobacco brand (Gauloises) - was probably too much to accept. In fact, they'd be foolish not to make a rival offer - Marlboro's is said to include the most money, Ferrari test(s), but more PR commitments than Rossi would like.

However, Vale also said earlier this year that his dream is to win the title with an Italian team, while if he is serious about a four-wheeled career, Rossi would struggle to better support from Marlboro - involved in not just F1, but the World Rally Championship (with Peugeot) and almost every Formulae below.

A further indication that Ducati are interested is the delayed announcement of their 2004 rider line-up. It's no secret that Ducati want the D'Antin team to run two satellite Desmosedici's next year, with one for new WSBK champ Neil Hodgson.

However, the official announcement is still to happen - despite Hodgson winning the title over a month ago. Instead, the World Superbike season ended with its new champion, and series runner-up Ruben Xaus, officially leaving the Ducati Fila team (their replacements were announced), but with no word on where the pair will race next year.

"I am pleased to be keeping my association with Ducati in another championship (in 2004)," were Hodgson's rather watery words as he left the WSBK paddock for the final time.

The plan, as Ducati exclusively told Crash.net, had been to announce both the 2004 Superbike and MotoGP line-ups together, but at Magny-Cours - the WSBK finale - only the Ducati Fila line-up of Toseland and Laconi was announced. Why the MotoGP delay?

What can be said is that there's still one spare Ducati in MotoGP next year (alongside Capirossi, Bayliss and Hodgson) - but is the delay in filling it because Rossi is close to signing (he'd be in the factory team, moving Bayliss alongside Hodgson), or simply that D'Antin are trying to secure a sponsor (Repsol?) dependent on the Italian's movements? Should Rossi not join Ducati, Xaus is looking increasingly likely to get his GP break.

Contracts...
Most team/rider contracts contain 'get-out' clauses for either party, should a certain level of performance not be achieved during the year. This is to safeguard both sides against having to work together for a further season if the results clearly aren't forthcoming, even if a multi-year deal has been signed.

The level of performance set depends on the team/rider's expectations for the season, but it could be that the rider must obtain a certain number of race wins, pole positions, podium finishes, or stay within a certain distance of his team-mate in qualifying/races. However, the most usual is to use podiums and/or end of season championship positions - top 5, top 10 etc.

Working from the top of the table down, the lead five (Rossi, Gibernau, Biaggi, Capirossi and Hayden) are sure to be secure - except Rossi of course, whose contract expires.

However, those that could use a performance clause include Tohru Ukawa/Camel Pramac Pons (fifth in points), Carlos Checa/Fortuna Yamaha (eighth in points), Alex Barros/Gauloises Yamaha (tenth in points, but with one podium) and Olivier Jacque (twelfth in points).

All four riders/teams must have expected more from this season and so it's likely that any performance clause present won't have been reached (except maybe Barros'), making separation relatively 'painless' should either party want a change.

By contrast, one man who could well have done enough to keep his place in MotoGP is Makoto Tamada - his podium at Rio (and arguably at Motegi) is almost certain to be enough to meet any requirements in his contract.

The next team after Yamaha in the points to have failed to meet expectations are Aprilia, with riders Colin Edwards/Noriyuki Haga just 13th and 14th in the championship standings. Edwards is highly tipped to join Sete Gibernau at Telefonica Honda next season and, according to Britain's Motor Cycle News, his post top-10 championship position will allow him to do just that, despite having signed a multi-year Aprilia deal.

A performance clause is also likely to be behind Garry McCoy's expected departure from Kawasaki, while Kenny Roberts Jr/Suzuki could surely get out of their current deal if either side really wanted.

While Rossi needs no such excuse to change teams, the wording of his present contract could still have considerable implications since it may prevent him from riding another machine until 1/1/2004.

Expect a flood of announcements after Valencia next Sunday...

 

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