When the 2013 provisional MotoGP entry list was announced last week, some hint was given about plans for the British-based Paul Bird Motorsport CRT team.
As much as James Ellison was being optimistic about his chances of staying with the team, he had been wished well in his future endeavours before the last race of 2012 and was disappointed to be ditched so soon into the project. Bird appears to have recruited riders Michael Laverty and Yonny Hernandez to his MotoGP squad, pending an official announcement from the team.
You have to feel sorry for any rider ditched by a CRT team in the concept's early stages. Some didn't even last the season. Quite what improvements anybody would expect with the limited testing time and obvious limitations of most of the new prototypes, besides a second opinion and the appearance of trying to turn things around, is a mystery. Saving on costs, you say? Most of the CRT riders are not bringing in big money for the chance to race in MotoGP, especially when the lion's share of them had little in the way of factory or satellite bike offers to use for brinkmanship.
The hints were definitely there, even as early as the run-up to the French GP. Shane 'Shakey' Byrne was set to replace Ellison at Le Mans, and Bird stated as much in a grid interview with Eurosport. "James seems to be lacking a bit of confidence and is complaining about massive chatter with the bike… Casey Stoner has severe chatter and still wins the race. It's the first season for the bike and maybe it's time for a management decision," were his words. The test ride/GP didn't eventually come to fruition, but the open doubts and rather unhelpful comparison to one of the best riders in the world can't have helped Ellison to gain any of the confidence that he was missing.
Stoner himself provided a pretty damning second opinion when the Brit impeded him in qualifying at Jerez, namely that "I have never seen chatter like yours. That bike needs to go in the bin."
I said it when Nicky Hayden looked to be without a ride and it applies in almost every case in racing: If you're not winning races or bringing in vast amounts of money, then you're dispensable. It's the way MotoGP works. Sometimes the rider bears the brunt of the blame for an underperforming bike, and sometimes it is the opposite way round. Ellison is a nice guy and has had a really tough year, so your heart goes out to him, but the 'management decision' was obviously deemed necessary at the end of the season. What would be most unfair, however, is if the promise of a 2-year deal that Ellison alleges is true. Not renewing a contract is one thing —going back on a verbal agreement is quite another.
Byrne was the clear target for the PBM seat next year, but turned the offer down to stay in British Superbikes and chase podiums and titles. That's a man experienced at struggling in MotoGP, offering an alternative outlook to those riders chasing spots with 'dud' machinery. The likes of Michele Pirro, Mattia Pasini, Ivan Silva etc, would be wise to take note.
The addition of Hernandez is a good one for Paul Bird Motorsport. The Colombian was exciting to watch on the Avintia machine and put in some great performances despite an enormous deficit in power, becoming something of a cult hero in the press room. Given an ART, you wouldn't put it past him to really stand out in 2013.
Laverty's inclusion in the project is interesting but understandable, as he is someone who knows Paul Bird's working methods from BSB and provides the British presence that will be needed for sponsorship reasons. He is also a solid, experienced rider, lest we forget.
The fact that the team is still committed to MotoGP is a plus for the championship so, whether the decision to drop Ellison was right or wrong, the decision to stay with another potentially difficult season ahead deserves respect.