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GP Week : Issue 26
Honda dump Michelin after tw IN AN extraordinary move that has stunned the paddock, the Repsol Honda team has switched lead rider Dani Pedrosa to Bridgestone tyres for the rest of the season, with the diminutive Spaniard due to test the tyres for the first time on the day after the San Marino GP. Team-mate Nicky Hayden will stay on Michelin, in an attempt to demonstrate that Honda is not disloyal, and has not broken any contract. Also because “Hayden did not make such strong requests for Bridgestone,” said HRC managing director Kosuke Yasutake. The move came about after two weeks of frantic lobbying and to- and-fro discussions, involving HRC, sponsors Repsol, Michelin, Bridgestone and Dorna. It also overturns HRC’s promises of loyalty and “mutual respect” to Michelin, after the same demands were made by Pedrosa and Hayden last year. It was sparked by Dani Pedrosa and his manager-Svengali Alberto Puig, after the Spanish rider’s dismal performance at Brno (he had withdrawn injured from the previous round at Laguna Seca, which was a disastrous race for all Michelin runners). Problems with Michelin’s front tyres meant a second bad race. There had been previous disappointing results from the tyres, but Pedrosa had led the World Championship until falling off in the wet in Germany. Puig tried unsuccessfully to persuade all Michelin runners to pull out of that race on safety grounds, and then his rider cruised to a dismal 15th, later blaming the tyres and calling his race “embarrassing”. The move smacks of compromise and capitulation, not to mention bullying by Puig and Pedrosa, in league with Spanish sponsors Repsol and Spanish Dorna chief Carmelo Ezpeleta. Yasutake tried to sweeten the pill, at a lively press conference after the Misano race, and to preserve some dignity. “The reason is we think there is not a good match between Dani and Michelin. We’re not talking about the performance of the tyres, but the matching of the rider and tyres,”he said. “After some disappointing races, we agreed at Brno that we would support our rider on tyre choice.” They had then embarked on a series of meetings. For sponsors Repsol, however, discussions were not moving fast enough, revealed motorcycle sponsorship manager Arturo Sus, who described the sponsor’s role as “to push riders and teams to get results. “We decided to intervene. We spoke to Michelin, and felt that this was the best solution for everyone. I’d like to thank Michelin for understanding the situation,”he said. For the rest of the season, there will be a barrier down the middle of the HRC pit, like that at Fiat Yamaha, where Rossi rides on Bridgestone and Lorenzo on Michelin. Both men faced lively questioning, about the level of professionalism involved, and the value of contracts, loyalty, and the nature of racing and sport. Asked if Honda had lost honour, Yasutake replied: “We have honour, and respect for high technology. MotoGP is not only about the motorcycle and rider. Concerning Pedrosa, it is also a human sport. He was losing confidence, and we don’t want to ruin his future,” said Yasutake. “I think this is very honourable of Honda.” Repsol repudiated claims that it undermined the professionalism of the sport, making it look more like children in a playground, switching loyalties at the drop of a hat, and making and breaking contracts willy nilly. “Nobody has broken anything. MotoGP is more professional than some other sports, and we have no doubt that this move is correct. It would have been unprofessional to do it without Michelin’s agreement,”he said.