One of the biggest dominoes of the 2018 MotoGP Silly Season has just fallen into place. Today, KTM announced that they have signed Johann Zarco to a two-year contract for the 2019 and 2020 seasons.
That Zarco would leave the Monster Yamaha Tech3 squad had been widely anticipated, the only question being which factory team he would end up in.
The Frenchman was an extremely hot property, after displaying blistering speed on the satellite Yamaha M1 in 2017. Zarco had offers from Suzuki, Repsol Honda, and KTM, though only Honda and KTM were in the frame for the Frenchman.
Zarco and his management were still unhappy with the way Suzuki had treated the Frenchman, after the Japanese factory failed to honor a pre-contract Zarco had signed ahead of the 2017 season, choosing Alex Rins instead.
That left Repsol Honda or KTM, and the choice between trying to beat Marc Marquez on a bike designed for Marc Marquez, or an opportunity to help develop the KTM into a weapon capable of beating the reigning champion.
Zarco came down on the side of the challenge.
This choice is a risk, of course. After making astonishing progress in its first year, the KTM RC16 has gotten stuck just outside the top ten. For Zarco to challenge, the bike will have to make a further step before the end of the year.
Zarco will line up alongside Pol Espargaro, whose contract extension was announced on Wednesday. This leaves Bradley Smith out of a ride for the moment, and could have a negative effect on development.
The incentive for Smith is now to go for results above everything, in an all out attempt to beat his teammate, as that is the way he will secure a ride for 2019.
Previously, Smith has focused very keenly – too much, as far as management is concerned sometimes – on development, and improving the bike. Development will now switch to Mika Kallio and Pol Espargaro, while Smith will want to get on with racing.
This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.