The fifth round of this year’s World Superbike Championship at the Imola venue saw Alvaro Bautista and Ducati’s stranglehold on the series finally ended.
MOTOGP – Changes for 2017?
The news that Alvaro Bautista has signed to race for the Aspar Ducati MotoGP team for next season on 2016-spec machinery has cast doubt as to whether Northern Ireland’s Eugene Laverty will have a place on the grid for 2017 – which raises the question once more about the politics within the sport.
Out of the four British riders currently competing in the premier category, Laverty is arguably the one who deserves a seat the most in 2017 after a superb set of results in the nine races held so far this year, including a career-best fourth in Argentina. Only a wayward Danilo Petrucci at the recent Austrian round prevented Laverty from scoring points in every race held thus far.
Yet it looks highly likely he’ll be making his way back to the World Superbike paddock and even though he’ll find himself on full works machinery there, most probably Aprilia, it’s not the reward his performances deserve.
The Aspar team is run by former Spanish legend and four-time World Champion Jorge ‘Aspar’ Martinez and his sponsors require a Spanish rider in their ranks. Bautista has taken three podiums in the MotoGP class and is a former 125cc World Champion so his credentials are considerable but the other rider in the team this year, Yonny Hernandez, has only scored three points to Laverty’s impressive tally of 53.
However, the Colombian comes with a substantial amount of funding which has seen him compete in MotoGP since 2012. The 28-year old is no mean rider himself but, this year at least, he’s not at the same level of Laverty and it’s certainly a case of money talks if, as expected, he gets preference over the Monaco-based rider for 2017.
Of course, a rider accompanied by a package of funding is nothing new in sport, certainly not in MotoGP and Formula One, but having had a recent resurgence of British talent getting the rides they deserve in the premier Championships, it looks like Laverty’s probable misfortune is a return of the days when British riders get overlooked in preference to finance.
A class act
In recent seasons, Laverty has proven himself to be an extremely astute rider, one with superb race craft and with the ability to get the best out of the machine beneath him. Back in 2007 and 2008, he battled hard on sub-standard machinery in the 250cc World Championship but he learnt a lot and that was proven when he fought for the World Supersport and Superbike Championships between 2009 and 2014.
A learning year in MotoGP wasn’t the easiest but, again, he was intelligent throughout and the lessons he learned have been turned into results this season, and he’s deservedly sitting in 11th overall at present in the MotoGP world championship.
Strong British line-up in 2017
2017 will see Cal Crutchlow and Scott Redding remain with their current teams, LCR Honda and Octo Pramac Ducati, whilst Bradley Smith will move into the all-new KTM factory team. And there’ll be joined by Sam Lowes, currently fighting for the MotoGP World Championship, who’s landed a factory seat at Aprilia.
Even though the machinery won’t be to the same standard as the likes of Valentino Rossi, Marc Marquez or Jorge Lorenzo, that’s an impressive looking line-up from a British perspective. But there’s no doubt, it would look better still if Laverty was in the ranks too on a 2016-spec Ducati, being in a position to challenge even further up the leaderboard in 2017 than what he has done this year.
It looks increasingly likely though that Laverty will be WSB-bound as part of the new factory Aprilia squad. He’ll undoubtedly be able to challenge fellow Brits Jonathan Rea, Tom Sykes and Chaz Davies for the title there but he deserves another shot in MotoGP for sure. But if he is forced out of MotoGP, at the age of 30, it’s highly likely that he won’t be able to find his way back into the fold.
What do you think the future will hold for Laverty? Is WSB the right move? Leave you comments below…
Having started watching motorcycle races all over the world form childhood, Phil Wain has been a freelance motorcycle journalist for 15 years and is features writer for a number of publications including BikeSport News and Classic Racer, having also been a regular contributor to MCN and MCN Sport. He is PR officer for a number of teams and riders at both the British Superbike Championship and International road races, including Smiths Triumph, Quattro Plant Kawasaki, John McGuinness, Ryan Farquhar and Keith Amor. He is also heavily involved with the Isle of Man TT Races, writing official press releases and race reports as well as providing ITV4 with statistical information.