Much has changed in the few short weeks that the MotoGP riders have sequestered themselves from the hectic pace of the grid. Contracts have been resolved, rumors have been proven to be so much more, and new scuttlebutt has emerged. The silly season, often such an integral part of the color backdrop during the second half of the season is already over for the most part. While this in some way removes from the drama that fans can use to fill the spaces between races it leaves the focus squarely on the action taking place on the tarmac. Of that there can be no doubt that sparks are expected to fly, as the second half of the season looks to be a frenetic run to the line.
Cal Crutchlow - The undisputed man of the hour, Crutchlow was the lynchpin on which so much of the MotoGP season seemed to hang. To date the top step of the MotoGPpodium has eluded the British rider, but this comes as hardly a surprise as a non-factory rider hasn't won a race in MotoGP in... let's see, carry the 4, divide by zero, round to the nearest hundredth... let's just say a really long time. What Cal has done, which has caught the imagination of the fans and the attention of one manufacturer in particular, is take his customer Yamaha M1 to a spate of podiums that are the envy of every rider not named Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Marquez and Rossi. That leaves quite a few names off the list. In the midst of intense negotiation Crutchlow made it clear that he would prefer to remain at Yamaha, one of only two packages capable of challenging for a podium on a consistent basis. The caveat, however, was that he expected factory backing, if not a factory seat outright, and to be compensated accordingly. Despite reports of the factory working hard with Tech3 title sponsor Monster Energy to assemble a competitive compensation portfolio for 2014, negotiations fell short of expectations and Crutchlow now finds himself the latest rider tempted to the Red Side. Now financially and contractually secure, it is possible that fans may see the real Crutchlow emerge. Conspiracy theories abound that his apparent lack of form as he languished behind an injured Lorenzo was a last ditch effort to play the company man and prove his worth to Yamaha's executives. With the shackles now firmly off, the shenanigans that ensue should Crutchlow find the reigning champion in his crosshairs should be spectacular.
Ben Spies - The rider formerly known as Elbowz has been away for so long that the second half of the season will be a truly different feel from the first by virtue of his full time involvement. After suffering a severe shoulder injury in one of many inexplicable mechanical failures during his tenure on the factory Yamaha squad, Spies struggled during testing and the early rounds of 2013 aboard the Pramac Ducati. At his "home" race on round 2 at the newly opened Circuit of the Americas in Austin Texas, Spies seemed able to run a relatively quick lap early on but faded backwards quickly. He ended the race visibly drained and dejected. Following the race it was determined that the injury to his shoulder was more severe than initially diagnosed, the damage aggravated by an early return to competition that over-stressed surrounding tissue as the Texan attempted to compensate for lack of strength in the critical muscles. The remedy was simple, if severe: withdraw from competition, give the tissue time to heal, and return a better rider. The news came at a time when Spies seemed on the verge of a breakthrough in how to ride the notorious Italian machine, but could not be helped. Now, seven whole races and months of rehabilitation later, Spies is adopting a more low key and progressive attitude to the remainder of the season. The move is an astute one for more than the obvious reasons of dusting off the cobwebs after such a long recovery. Ducati has marked 2013 as an analysis and development year pursuant to (hopefully) major changes next year aimed at bringing the GP13 in line with a true factory effort in MotoGP. Having missed critical testing time during the off season due to his injury last year, it will be critical for Spies to stay healthy to make the most of every opportunity at the end of this year if he hopes to start 2014 strong.
Jorge Lorenzo - Still injured, still under contract, and falling further behind in the standings, things would seem to be quiet for the reigning world champion. Having re-injured his already mangled shoulder to require a second surgery on short order, the summer break was a relief for the Spaniard who could finally rest and recover for a short time. With three races in succession to open the second half of the season the schedule will test Lorenzo's admittedly reduced fitness level to the maximum as he pushes to gain some ground on his competition. However the biggest news about Lorenzo may be story about all of the action around him. While Ducati certainly gets the lion's share of press for their apparent aloofness in the face of an apparently obvious need for change, it should not be forgotten that a short while ago Yamaha stated that they were not particularly worried about Honda's development efforts around a seamless gearbox. While Ducati worked to develop their own solution, Yamaha chose to continue on with their traditional system. This gave Honda the time and opportunity to refine an initially crude system into a formidably weapon that has earned comments from anybody who is somebody in the paddock. While Lorenzo has had to ride outside of himself to keep the Hondas in sight and protect every point that he could Yamaha as scrambled to assemble a usable solution for its pilots. All of that work may be set to finally pay off. Lorenzo was able to take part in a private test for Yamaha's riders at Brno during the summer break during which he was able to sample Yamaha's latest iteration of the seamless gearbox. While the system does not appear to be as evolved as the Honda offering available to the RC213 pilots, it seems to offer a clear advantage over Yamaha's current setup that could help Lorenzo once again challenge for the top positions despite his injury. The only fly in the ointment is that it has taken so long for Yamaha to develop that it is questionable whether it is possible to implement without incurring a penalty for opening excessive engine cases. The factory riders clearly need it the upgrade - round 9 at Laguna Seca saw an almost complete shutout by Honda for the top positions. How much the manufacturer and riders are willing to sacrifice to get it to them is the question at hand.
2012 - Yamaha Factory Racing M1: 2nd 2011 - Yamaha Factory Racing M1: 4th 2010 - Yamaha Factory Racing M1: 3rd