Suzuki's factory MotoGP team boss Paul Denning has confirmed to MCN that John Hopkins has penned a big money deal to switch to Kawasaki for the 2008 MotoGP world championship.
The American's management team informed Denning that a deal had been signed for Hopkins to quit after five years in Suzuki's factory MotoGP squad.
MCN exclusively revealed this morning that Hopkins signed a contract with Kawasaki at last month's Dutch GP in Assen, and that his move will be officially announced at this weekend's German GP in the Sachsenring. MCN understands Suzuki was notified of Hopkins' decision yesterday (Monday).
Hopkins turned down a fresh contract offer from Suzuki to switch to ride Kawasaki's ZX-RR after the 24-year-old was linked with a host of teams for next season.
Denning told MCN: "We have been informed by John's management that he has signed for Kawasaki. We have still got 50 per cent of the 2007 season to go and it's obviously a disappointment from Suzuki's point of view. Suzuki had made John a strong and a solid offer and he has chosen to go in a different direction for whatever reasons those maybe. From our point of view that's something we respect and have to go along with. But as I said we still have 50 per cent of the season to go and John Hopkins is still a Rizla Suzuki Grand Prix rider and we will be giving him absolutely everything as we always do to try and help him and get him into the top three in the championship." Denning said he was disappointed at failing to sign Hopkins again, with the Californian riding for the British-based squad since the start of 2003.
He declined to comment though that Suzuki had refused to meet Hopkins' high wage demands, believed to be around a whopping £2.7m, MCN understands.
"It is a disappointment that John has chosen to go elsewhere. There are reasons for that other than performance, I think there are commercial reasons but it's not really our job to be concerned about that. While it is disappointing that John is leaving, there are probably other riders seeing John getting reasonably good results on a fast improving motorcycle, and that performance doesn't harm our chances of replacing John with a rider that can do an equally good if not better job. We'd have been very, very happy to continue with John, we are disappointed he is leaving but you have to look at it as an opportunity rather than a problem, "said Denning, who said a host of riders were in the frame to replace Hopkins for 2008.
A leading contender is likely to be Italian Marco Melandri, who has already held talks with Denning earlier this season.
There are strong rumours though that Melandri is being lined up as Loris Capirossi's replacement in Ducati's factory team, with Kawasaki still pursuing Capirossi to partner Hopkins.
Denning added: "I think there are a number of riders; Loris Capirossi and Marco Melandri and a couple of others who probably aren't performing to their true potential. Even Shinya Nakano is another good example for whatever reason that might be. I'd like to think that the Suzuki environment and the bike we have got now would be attractive to a rider that has won GPs, challenged for world championships and wants to do it again."
With Hopkins confirming his departure, Denning said it would not make the issue of signing Aussie Chris Vermeulen a more pressing matter.
Vermeulen is locked in negotiations about extending his current contract and Denning told MCN: "Suzuki made it clear that its first intention was to sign with both John and Chris for next year. John has gone to Kawasaki but the intention to sign Chris is very, very clear. I don' know whether it puts Chris in a stronger negotiating position or not, I don't think it really works like that. We brought Chris into MotoGP and he's done a brilliant job. He's still got something to learn to get the absolute best out of a MotoGP bike in all conditions but the baseline is he's got the attitude and convictions of a winner and its still very much our intention to keep Chris. I don't think it makes it anymore pressing the fact that John is moving. We desperately wanted to keep Chris anyway and that is still the case."