Yamaha have been at the center of the MotoGP news for a good part of this season. For good reasons and for bad reasons: the new Petronas SIC satellite team has been at the center of speculation over who would run the team, who would manage the team, and more importantly, who would ride for the team, with some top riders linked to the seats.
But Yamaha have also now gone for 19 races without a win, their longest streak without a victory since 1998. At the same time, Valentino Rossi is second in the championship, and Movistar Yamaha teammate Maverick Viñales is third, and both riders have been podium regulars throughout the first part of 2018.
After the Sachsenring, Yamaha announced that Monster Energy would be taking over as title sponsor from the 2019 season, replacing the departing Movistar, who are expected to lose the MotoGP broadcasting contract for Spain and are stepping back from the series.
On Thursday at Brno, Yamaha held a press conference with Monster Energy, giving the media their first chance to question Yamaha boss Lin Jarvis and Monster Energy Vice President Mitch Covington about the deal.
Once the press conference was over, a small group of journalists got a chance to question Jarvis about the challenges the factory Yamaha team has faced over the course of this year.
He spoke about dealing with the pressure of going for such a long time without a win, of handling rumors about dissatisfaction within the team, and some of the more fanciful rumors of discord between Valentino Rossi and himself, and about needing to expand their testing strategy.
Silverstone for Petronas SIC
But he started off talking about the Petronas SIC Yamaha team, a team which exists, but about which the formal details have yet to be announced. “My understanding is that they will probably announce, probably, at Silverstone,” Jarvis told us when asked about it.
The reason the decision was taking so long was because of the size of the various parties involved, Jarvis explained. There were a lot of large corporations taking part, some of whom are owned by the government, which means that a lot of meetings have to be held before the project is fully signed off on.
“I think [the delay is] because the Sepang International Circuit is part of a government-controlled operation and group,” Jarvis said. “And probably their possible sponsor is also part of a very large corporation.”
“Whenever you get involved in large corporations or government-funded activities there is a certain protocol that has to be followed before you can reach the point of an announcement. So that’s what I believe is going to be a factor.”
No decision had been made on what type of machinery Yamaha would supply to the Petronas SIC team, Jarvis said, but Yamaha had given them a choice of options. “Money talks!” he joked.
“The decision on the satellite bikes is dependent entirely upon the budget and the decision of the satellite team. We’ve given them different options. They have an ‘A’ option and a ‘B’ option. And they’ve placed their order. So you’ll see in January what they ordered.”
Franky and Fabio
Yamaha weren’t involved at all in the choice of the riders, Jarvis said. “It’s their choice, but obviously we have mutual interests,” he told us. Though the Yamaha boss did not name names, Franco Morbidelli and Fabio Quartararo are widely expected to be riding the bikes.
“I think their rider choice is done,” Jarvis said. “Whether they’ve signed their agreements yet or not is something only the team can tell you.”
The team had been left free to choose the riders, with Yamaha not having a veto over who they would supply bikes to, he said. The riders would not be signed to Yamaha but placed in the Petronas SIC team, Jarvis insisted. “This is a satellite project, so they will have individual contracts with the satellite team.”
Though Franco Morbidelli is a known quantity, the choice of Fabio Quartararo has raised eyebrows in a number of quarters.
After winning the FIM CEV Moto3 championship at the tender age of 15, the Grand Prix Commission changed the rules to allow the precocious Frenchman to move up to Moto3, despite being younger than the minimum age at the start of the 2015 season.
He got his career off to an astounding start, scoring a podium in just his second race, and two pole positions and another second place in his rookie season.
“You Don’t Lose Talent”
But up until this season, the Frenchman has struggled, going without a disappointing two years in Moto3 and Moto2, before finally finding some success again in Moto2 this season with the Speed Up team, taking his first Grand Prix victory at the Barcelona race, and following it up with a podium at Assen.
Many inside the paddock have questioned the wisdom of moving Quartararo up to MotoGP so quickly, so we were interested to hear Lin Jarvis’ thoughts on the French youngster.
“I think he’s a very talented young kid, who began sensationally in this environment when he was in Moto3 some years ago,” Jarvis told us. “Then I think he lost his way a little bit. But I think you can lose your way, but you don’t lose talent.”
“So in my opinion, he is a very good future candidate rider, but he needs to also have an environment where there’s not too much pressure on him to perform again instantly.”
“And it’s good to see he’s finally coming back into the zone this year, and seems to be finding himself again and feeling a bit more self confident.” Could Quartararo handle the pressure of MotoGP? “Why not?” Jarvis said.
The name of Wilco Zeelenberg has been linked to Petronas SIC as MotoGP team manager, and although Jarvis would not confirm Zeelenberg would be leaving Yamaha to manage the new team, he did concede that having Zeelenberg, a man with long ties to Yamaha, involved in the project would be a positive thing for the team.
“If Wilco decides to go there, he would go there with our blessing,” Jarvis said. “Because obviously if it’s a brand-new team then having people involved in the team that have a strong connection with Yamaha – experience with Yamaha, experience in the sport – is very important.”
“So if Wilco were to choose to take an opportunity in that way, we would certainly not hold him back and it would be an advantage for the team.”
Would Jarvis advise Zeelenberg to take the job? “This may sound strange, but I always advise every person that works for me, if a better opportunity comes along, where you can grow your career, you can expand your let’s say professional activities, take it,” Jarvis said.
“Because that’s what you have to do in your life. The worst thing you can do is hold somebody back, restrict or prevent somebody from doing things. Because it doesn’t work. It might work for three months but it certainly doesn’t help you in the relationship with that person in the long term.”
“So if he feels it’s good for him to do that, then why not? It would be an interesting challenge for him. So if the team offers him that job then I think that’s something that he should definitely consider.”
Jarvis also addressed the pressure which the factory Yamaha team has been under after going for such a long time without winning a race. It has been 19 races since they last stood on the top step, had that created pressure between the Movistar Yamaha team and the factory back in Japan?
Jarvis’ assessment was honest and open. “We need to win,” he said. “That’s something that we’re here for. Our partners want to win, our fans want to win, Yamaha Motor wants to win. We won Suzuka last weekend and you could see how important getting a victory is.”
They were not that far away from winning again, Jarvis insisted. “We are very, very close. We have been close on several occasions. We still need to sort out a few more things.”
“I don’t want to go into any details because I don’t think it’s the time or place to do that. But anyway we’re working hard, we need to win again. Not once, but consistently win again. So that’s what we’re pushing for.”
The Rumor Mill
Jarvis dismissed stories which had appeared in some Spanish media outlets that Valentino Rossi was pushing for Jarvis to be sacked.
He pointed to the fact that just two days ago, he has been at Rossi’s dirt track Moto Ranch, talking to the students at the VR46 Master Camp held there last week. Jarvis was pictured in Rossi’s home, standing next to Rossi’s championship-winning Fiat Yamaha, talking to the students.
— YamahaVR46MasterCamp (@TheMasterCamp) July 31, 2018
Jarvis acknowledged that such rumors, and the stories of disaffection in Yamaha, such as Maverick Viñales looking to replace crew chief Ramon Forcada with Bradley Smith’s crew chief Esteban Garcia, had had an effect on all involved.
“It’s always easier to work in a winning environment,” Jarvis said. “There’s no doubt about it. If you’re winning, everything is fine. Even the things that are bad are fine if you’re winning.”
But getting rid of him would not solve the problems Yamaha faced, Jarvis said. “Of course it puts pressure on the team, on the relationships, the riders are pushing the engineers to develop the bike.”
“I don’t design the bike, I don’t develop the bike, so you can fire me and it won’t change anything in terms of bike design. I think it’s just an expression of people, everybody feels the same thing, that we want to win, we want to be successful.”
Closer Than You Think
Jarvis emphasized that Yamaha are not as far from victory as some thought. “As I said, we’re very, very close,” Yamaha’s MD said. “We’re not in a disastrous situation, we’re second and third in the championship and at the last race we were second and third.”
“But to win, to beat Márquez, to beat the Honda, you’ve got to be right there, you’ve got to be right on it. And we’re not, we’re missing a few percent, and that’s why we owe to our riders to develop the bike and to get up to speed there.”
That was the challenge Yamaha faced, Jarvis said. “That’s what we have to do. But that takes some time. And if you try to speed it up – everybody has talked about this electronics problem, it’s not that simple.”
“It’s not only electronics, it’s electronics integrated with chassis design, but in order to make progress, you have to first make the progress, and then you have to test it. We have to test it and prove that whatever you’ve done works, AND is safe.”
“And that means you have to go through processes, and if you take a shortcut, this is not the way.”
How do you keep morale up while this development process was running its course? “With difficulty!” Jarvis half-joked.
One solution being explored is the setting up of a European test team, to augment the work being done in Japan, and though Jarvis would not confirm this would definitely happen, he was no longer denying it, as he had previously. It was now a real possibility, Jarvis acknowledged.
“Obviously we have our testing team, but that’s been based in Japan primarily, with Nakasuga,” he said. “Probably we need to put even more energy behind testing and to keep making progress. So it’s something we are definitely looking at for the future.”
He refused to be drawn on which riders might be involved, but he wasn’t worried about not being able to find someone to fill the role. “I think that what we need is a good plan, and I don’t think we will have a big problem to find candidate riders,” Jarvis said.
Not Surprised, Disappointed
Had he been surprised that Yamaha had gone for over a year without a win, or was he more surprised that Honda had won so many races in 2018? “I’ve been in the game too long to really be surprised, is the best answer I can give,” Jarvis said wrily.
“I’m disappointed we haven’t won for a year. So that’s a fact, because we are accustomed to winning more in the past, and we are a winning team.”
“And OK, our last championship was a couple of years ago, but we’ve won several world championships consistently over the years, so we know we have the capacity to win again, so I’m disappointed that we lost the way a little bit.”
“Am I surprised about Honda? I’m not really surprised about Márquez, because I think if you talk about Honda, you talk primarily about Márquez, and Márquez is an athlete that right at this moment, especially this year, seems to have married himself very, very well to the Honda package.”
“He’s in top form, he is a sensational rider, and when he is able to contain himself, then he’s very, very, very strong. So he’s an extremely tough competitor to beat. But our riders have the potential to beat him, we’ve done it in the past and we will do it again in the future.”
Photo: Yamaha Racing
This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.