Top 20 Stories of 2016
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Top 20 Stories of 2016

Top Stories of 2016, #10: Lorenzo gambles on Ducati

Our 10th biggest motorsport story of 2016 takes us back to MotoGP, and when Jorge Lorenzo decided to leave the team he had spent his entire premier class career with, Yamaha, in favour of a move to Ducati.

Top Stories of 2016, #10: Lorenzo gambles on Ducati
Jorge Lorenzo, Ducati Team
Jorge Lorenzo, Ducati Team
Jorge Lorenzo, Yamaha Factory Racing
Jorge Lorenzo, Ducati Team
Valentino Rossi, Yamaha Factory Racing
Davide Tardozzi, Ducati Team Team Principal, Jorge Lorenzo, Ducati Team
Jorge Lorenzo, Yamaha Factory Racing
Jorge Lorenzo, Ducati Team
Maverick Viñales, Yamaha Factory Racing, Valentino Rossi, Yamaha Factory Racing
Andrea Iannone, Team Suzuki MotoGP
Race winner Jorge Lorenzo, Yamaha Factory Racing
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In many top-level motorsport categories, it seems the silly season starts earlier each year. But it’s hard to think of a silly season sillier than that of MotoGP this year, which was in full flow before the lights had even gone out at the very first race of the year in Qatar.

The chain of events that eventually led to perhaps the most significant rider market move since Valentino Rossi left Honda for Yamaha in 2004 began just prior to the Qatar race, when Yamaha offered simultaneous two-year renewal deals to the Italian and Jorge Lorenzo.

Long before this point however, there was a growing sense – particularly after the events of late 2015 – that, going forward, one of Rossi and Lorenzo would have to make way at Yamaha. But the prevailing logic was that the Japanese manufacturer would make an early swoop to keep hold of Lorenzo, and then leave Rossi to decide if he fancied racing for another two years or not.

Ducati’s interest in Lorenzo by this stage was well known, but Yamaha’s decision to offer a renewal to him at the same time as his arch-rival in the other side of the garage appeared to confirm the fear that ultimately drove him to switch to red overalls in 2017; the fear that, no matter what he did, Yamaha would always be Rossi’s team.

The Italian was the first rider to secure his place on the grid for 2017, official confirmation arriving on the morning of qualifying in Qatar – and it wasn’t long before Rossi began to bait Lorenzo, claiming his rival didn’t have the “balls” to try his luck on the machine that he himself had found impossible to tame in 2011 and 2012.

By the time the MotoGP circus arrived in Argentina, there was already intense speculation swirling that Lorenzo had indeed decided to join Ducati, although the Spaniard remained tight-lipped on the subject until the move was finally confirmed on the Monday prior to the fourth round of the series at Jerez.

The rest of the dominoes fall

Once Lorenzo's Ducati move was confirmed, speculation quickly turned to who would replace Lorenzo and take up the formidable challenge of lining up alongside Rossi at Yamaha in 2017, with Suzuki starlet Maverick Vinales immediately standing out as the obvious choice, being young, quick and, crucially for the team’s title sponsor Movistar, Spanish.

Honda’s Dani Pedrosa had been linked to the move as well, although he ended up staying put at Honda as Vinales ultimately decided to go with his head (replacing Lorenzo) rather than his heart (staying at Suzuki).

Lorenzo’s Ducati move also ensured there was no space in the Borgo Panigale inn for Andrea Iannone, who quickly arranged a deal to replace the Yamaha-bound Vinales at Suzuki. This in turn led to Aleix Espargaro hooking up with Aprilia, causing further ripples as Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl moved to the Aspar squad and Honda’s World Superbike project respectively.

While Ducati enjoyed its most competitive season since the Casey Stoner era this season, with Andreas Iannone and Dovizioso claiming a win apiece on the GP16, Lorenzo's switch still represents an enormous gamble, especially for a rider that has known nothing but Yamaha since stepping up to MotoGP.

But, with great risk comes the potential of great reward - and you could argue one title with Ducati would carry the same, if not more, weight than the three titles he's won so far with Yamaha.

Whether it works out or not, it promises to be a treat to watch unfolding.

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