It was not just the blazing sunshine which made the paddock at Portimao the hottest of the year. Rarely has there been more speculation about which riders are going to which teams. It seemed like football had taken over with the odd agent making an appearance.
The game had been kicked off when, to the surprise of almost everybody, negotiations for next season between Alvaro Bautista and Ducati broke down. It was said they weren’t too keen on his crash quotient and he wasn’t enamoured by their view of his value.
It was the trigger for team bosses, both in WorldSBK and BSB, to think of what they needed, or didn’t need, in rider quality and value for 2020. What followed was torrent of speculation as to who was going where. Portimao was full of it but confirmation of moves was harder to come by.
Ducati, led by the wily Paolo Ciabatti, had obviously been lining up a successor to Bautista and it wasn’t long before Scott Redding was named as his successor. PBM team boss Paul Bird had always known that BSB was just a stepping stone for Redding’s return to a world series. His success on the V four in the British series made it more likely and although courted by BMW he decided on Ducati.
It left Bird looking for a team mate for Josh Brookes, joint favourite with Redding for the BSB title, and Leon Camier has already thrown his hat in the ring claiming to be fed up with riding uncompetitive bikes.
It is Honda he is talking about. Which is the manufacturer Bautista has or, it is confidently predicted, will sign for. Camier, currently out of action from a crash three months ago, has had a rough period with the great Japanese manufacturer whose recent record in anything except MotoGP is woeful.
However, it is now said that Honda are considering focusing their racing efforts under HRC on WorldSBK and MotoGP at the expense of other disciplines. Bautista, apart from receiving a sizeable cheque, will have been promised the new version of the Fireblade which they have been working on since last year.
If manufacturers are taking a greater interest in the production bike series, and it is said that Suzuki may make an appearance, it is good news. BMW will surely be producing a more competitive bike next year, although promised improvements have been slow to appear, and have hired Eugene Laverty, currently with the Go Eleven Ducati team, to partner Tom Sykes who has had his contract renewed. Interestingly, they have ditched promising young German Marcus Reitenberger.
But it does mean that it is the manufacturers are having a greater hand in team selection. The departure of Alex Lowes have been engineered, or at least influenced, by those looking down from on high – to mere bystanders it seems illogical.
Kawasaki are heavily rumoured to be looking at Lowes - a move not yet confirmed - and the appearance of manager Neil Hodgson at Portimao only served to fan the flames - even though he attends a lot of races.
And Haslam? Still considering his position but, as part of the merry-go-round, might end up with the Puccetti team or back with Ten Kate if he is replaced at KRT. He might also look at a return to the British series where he is still reigning champion.
It is no surprise that Jonathan Rea remains firmly rooted with Kawasaki. He is certain to win the title this year as Bautista committed something similar to hara-kiri mid season when he and the brilliant new Ducati seemed to have it wrapped up.
And he has already agreed to at least one more year. By hiring Lowes, at 28 a comparative youngster, Kawasaki are presumably looking for the time when Jonathan does throw in the towel and they want a winner in place.