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GP Week : Issue 18
MARCO Melandri and the Kawasaki team are at the centre of an extraordinary mid-season rider shuffle, with the Japanese team eager to snap up the disillusioned Ducati rider even before Ducati were prepared to release him. Melandri is a former 250 and almost 125 World Champion, and five times a MotoGP winner on a Honda; but his switch to the factory Marlboro Ducati team for 2008 has triggered an extraordinary slump, running at or near the back while team-mate Stoner wins races. Kawasaki, trusting Melandri’s strong record, wanted to start as soon as the German GP, planning to put the former 250 World Champion and five-time GP winner on Hopkins’ vacant bike. That was blocked by Ducati, which had already put its own deadline on Melandri’s continued tenure, as reported last week. They have him down to race in Germany and in the USA to take him up to the summer break, before they make a decision on his future. Team chief Livio Suppo insisted this was to give him a last chance, “at circuits he has done well at in the past”; though the chance of radical improvement must be considered slender. At the same time, it might be preferable to seeing him go elsewhere, and re- discover his lost speed. If they do get Melandri, however, Kawasaki is expected to run him as a third rider, once Hopkins returns. Ducati blocks Kawasaki’s Melandri rescue mission Hopkins will definitely miss his home US GP, and will not be race-ready until the Czech Republic GP at Brno after the summer break, after famed Californian racers’ doctor Arthur Ting prescribed surgery not only to one of the fractures in his left ankle, but also to his left knee. Both were deranged in his heavy qualifying crash, sliding feet-first into the barrier at Assen. M oto GP news >> 13