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Randy Mamola assesses the winter transfer activity

Randy Mamola assesses the winter transfer activity

Randy Mamola assesses the winter transfer activity

This time last year we were all talking about Valentino Rossi and his switch from Honda to Yamaha – most of us still couldn't believe it had actually happened! The only other major moves in MotoGP at the time were Neil Hodgson and Ruben Xaus, who joined from World Superbikes virtually through the back door, and Colin Edwards switching to Honda, so it is nice to have so much more to talk about this time around!

So far, the biggest moves have been Carlos Checa to Ducati and, of course, Colin Edwards replacing him at Yamaha. Both of those are significant changes and it will be very interesting to see how those riders perform in 2005.

I know a few people have criticised Ducati for taking Carlos because, on the face of it, his results have not been where they should be for the past couple of seasons. This year he ran at the front a couple of times and scored a podium but I think his motivation at Yamaha had gone stale and he needed a change. In my opinion he certainly has the talent and his lap times in his first test with Ducati at Valencia suggest he could have been given just the boost he needed.

Will that be enough for Carlos Checa to consistently challenge Valentino Rossi for victories? Time will tell but it's a tough job – just ask the likes of Loris Capirossi, Max Biaggi, Sete Gibernau and Makoto Tamada, who have been trying to do that for the last couple of years.

At first glance, I have to say that Edwards will struggle at Yamaha. Moving into a factory team alongside the World Champion means he will be under pressure to produce the results and there is certainly no place for him to hide. Having said that, he will be receiving a lot of support from Yamaha, who are very clear that Rossi and Edwards are their two main priorities in terms of riders. He will get all the engine and chassis support he needs so, really, it's up to Colin.

Last season it was that lack of direction at Honda which saw Edwards become frustrated and eventually led to the factory losing the title. I think HRC know that this time around they have to prioritise and that's why they've put Max Biaggi alongside Nicky Hayden in the factory team. Where that leaves Sete Gibernau, who has been runner-up for the last two seasons, I'm not so sure.

The other main change so far was the news this week that Marco Melandri will be riding a Honda as team-mate to Gibernau. Like Checa, Marco had some good rides this year and two podiums, so there is no doubt he has the pace to run at the front. On occasions he hasn't had the luck to go with that pace and, although some of his misfortune could have been prevented, some of it was out of his hands.

I hear it on good authority that Marco's good friend Valentino Rossi told him to go for the ride with Fausto Gresini's team. Obviously, Valentino knows the Honda better than anybody and seems to think it will suit Marco – and being in an Italian team will also be a big help. So I think we can expect big things from Marco this season.

Taking Melandri's place at the Tech 3 Yamaha team is Toni Elías, or so it seems after he tested their bike at Valencia last week! Toni rides a lot of supermoto so, even though the extra weight and power will have been a big thing for him, he is used to handling torque and knows how to slide a bike despite his 250 and 125 background. MotoGP will open Toni's eyes because there are a lot of top quality riders out there on top quality bikes yet every weekend at least seven of them have to go home without any points!

From the start Toni will have a lot of pressure on him and I think the key to his success will be how he deals with that and how the people around him take it away from him. Toni is going to be battling to get in the points every week and, for now at least, the headlines in Spain will continue to be dominated by Sete Gibernau and Dani Pedrosa, who will be winning races. Toni has to put all that to the back of his mind and concentrate purely on what is a learning year for him in this class.

So those are the main moves which have been confirmed up to now and, at the moment, the rest are still rumours. One deal which looks a certainty however is Troy Bayliss to ride a Honda for Sito Pons. I think that one of the big things Troy struggled with at the start of this season was seeing his old WSB sparring partner Colin Edwards with a big smile on his face riding the Honda, whilst Ducati had a lot of problems with the Desmosedici GP4, and that really damaged his confidence.

This year it looks like being Troy on the Honda and I for one am really looking forward to that – it's funny how things turn around. It will be strange to see the number 12 on a different colour bike but hopefully it will be up at the front of the pack as it was in the final race of the season at Valencia. I don't see any reason why it shouldn't be.

The big question marks still hang over who will be team-mate to Bayliss – with Alex Barros, Makoto Tamada and Ruben Xaus all in the frame. Xaus could also end up with Elías at Yamaha, which would leave Luis d'Antin looking for two riders after the departure of Neil Hodgson to the AMA Superbike series.

I have to admit that the Hodgson situation really saddens me. Neil is a really good guy and an excellent rider, but has had a lot of problems this year with the team and the bike, which has broken down more times than I can remember. I would like to wish him all the best in AMA and I speak for a lot of people in the MotoGP paddock when I say we hope to see him back soon.

MotoGP, 2004

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