It shouldn’t come with much surprise to hear that the Tech3 squad will be making a change of machinery not only for the MotoGP class next season, but also in the Moto2 Championship as well, with the French team agreeing to ride exclusively on Austrian bikes in 2019.
Set to be a KTM satellite team in the MotoGP Championship next year, with the KTM RC16 MotoGP race bike, Tech3 will also use KTM’s Moto2 race platform in the intermediate class next season.
Winter is officially over. Though meteorological winter ended on March 1st, and the astronomical winter will end next week on March 20th, the long MotoGP winter came to an end at 12:50 local time in Qatar, when Moto3 rolled out for their session of free practice.
After World Superbikes got everyone warmed up at Phillip Island in February, the advent of the Grand Prix classes means that racing is back again in earnest.
It is also back in weird way, as is to be expected at Qatar. The schedule remains a curiosity, the latest iteration merely shuffling the weirdness around. For MotoGP, the first session in the blistering heat, the second in the relatively cool of the evening.
Track temperatures in FP1 were hitting the mid to high 40s °C, whereas in FP2, they had dropped into the mid 20s. In essence, FP1 is as good as useless for finding a setup. Times dropped by a second between FP1 and FP2, a good indication of the difference in track grip.
The riders had talked about the schedule in the Safety Commission meeting, hastily scheduled for the end of the day after the riders decided against doing it between FP1 and FP2. “In my opinion, it’s a special weekend, and we know that,” Marc Márquez told us.
“Of course FP1, you ride, you feel it’s the same layout, but it’s for nothing. You cannot try the setup for the race. It’s a special weekend, and it will be impossible to find the best schedule. If you want a GP of five days, yes, because then we start on Wednesday, but for me it’s OK.”
It has been an eventful couple of weeks for Yamaha. Apart from the expected hectic period of preseason testing, Yamaha agreed to a new two-year deal with Valentino Rossi. There was also the surprise announcement by Jonas Folger that he wouldn’t be racing in 2018, and working with Hervé Poncharal to find a replacement for the Tech3 team. More significantly, they also had to deal with the surprise announcement that Tech3 will be leaving Yamaha at the end of this season, and swapping to become a satellite for KTM from 2019 onwards. So journalists had plenty of questions for Lin Jarvis, the head of Yamaha Motor Racing, and Qatar was the first opportunity to ask him.
Sometimes decisions are a long time in the making. Tech3’s decision to leave Yamaha and sign with KTM may have been made in the space of a few months, but the genesis of that choice, the process that made it all possible is ten years in the making. If MotoGP hadn’t switched from 990cc to 800cc at the start of the 2007 season, if the ban on tobacco sponsorship in sports hadn’t been enforced from 2005, if the financial system hadn’t collapsed under the weight of tranches of “ninja” loans, Tech3 would be a Yamaha satellite team for the foreseeable future. Whether they wanted to be or not. How did MotoGP get to a place where Tech3 could switch to KTM? To make complete sense of the story, we have to go back to the end of the last century.
It was a shock to hear that the venerable Tech3 team would be leaving the Yamaha family, come the 2019 MotoGP season, after all Tech3 boss Hervé Poncharal cut his teeth with Yamaha. But, once the news of his move sunk in, we are not surprised to hear that he is headed to KTM for the 2019 season, as was officially announced today (and rumored for well over a week). That is right, for the 2019 MotoGP Championship, the Tech3 team – one of the most regarded satellite teams in the GP Paddock – will be racing the KTM RC16 MotoGP race bike, with full-factory machines from Austria. That last caveat is likely the tipping point and main reason for Poncharal’s switch, with Tech3 long having to put-up with having the leftovers from the Yamaha Racing factory squad.
If you thought the 2019 MotoGP Silly Season was already in high gear, a bombshell announcement has just put it into overdrive. Today, the Monster Yamaha Tech3 team announced that from 2019, they will be parting ways. Tech3 will no longer be a satellite Yamaha team. The split brings to an end an association of nearly 20 years with Yamaha. They first started in 1999 with Shinya Nakano and Olivier Jacque in 250cc, before switching to the premier class with the same pair in 2001. Tech3 has been a loyal partner for many years, giving up one seat to a factory-backed rider on a number of occasions, as occurred with Ben Spies, Colin Edwards, and Pol Espargaro. However, there had been a few signs of tension over the past few months.
Confirming what had been the suspicion at the MotoGP test in Thailand, the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team has confirmed that Hafizh Syahrin will race with the squad for the 2018 season.
The Malaysian rider showed good pace on the Yamaha YZR-M1, and promises a great deal of potential to the satellite MotoGP squad – more importantly, he fit into the tight criteria that team boss Herve Poncharal required for Folger’s replacement.
It is hard to envision a worse time to lose a rider for the season. Jonas Folger’s announcement that he was withdrawing from the 2018 MotoGP season to focus on his health was a hammer blow for the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team. Just weeks before the start of testing for the new season, and long after riders good enough to race in MotoGP have signed contracts, Tech 3 team boss Hervé Poncharal is left looking for a replacement. It is a massive task, especially as Poncharal is refusing to break any contracts to take a rider. “You would be amazed to hear how many phone calls I have had, and who from,” he told us. “There were some interesting names, honestly, but priority for me, the basis for me is that I will never take or enter into any kind of discussion with someone who has a contract.”
If the 2017 MotoGP season has been anything, it has been entirely unpredictable. After two races, we were declaring the season over, and penciling Maverick Viñales’ name on the trophy.
A race later, and we were conceding that Valentino Rossi had taken over the lead of the championship, and that meant that whoever won the title would be riding a Yamaha.
After four races the top four were within ten points, and we gave up on there being a favorite, only to change our minds again after Le Mans, where Valentino Rossi crashed out trying to beat his teammate, and Viñales took a 17-point lead again.
After Mugello, when Andrea Dovizioso won his first dry MotoGP race, Viñales led by 26 points, and was ahead of reigning champion Marc Márquez by 37 points. We had our favorite once again.
Three races and two changes in the championship lead later, and we have given up again. The top four are back within ten points of each other again, and making predictions is looking increasingly foolish.
There was one certainty we could cling to, and would not allow ourselves to let go: At the Sachsenring, Marc Márquez takes pole, and then goes on to win the race.
It has happened the last seven years Márquez has raced at the Sachsenring, from 125s to Moto2 to MotoGP. Surely he would repeat that again? Surely, Marc Márquez would break the unpredictability of MotoGP in 2017?
2017 sees arguably the strongest group of rookies to enter the MotoGP class in a very long time. Perhaps only 2006 was stronger, when Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa moved up to MotoGP, along with Randy De Puniet and Chris Vermeulen.
There have been plenty of promising riders (some of whom have lived up to that promise) moved up in the past, but it has been a while since so many of them, all equally strong, entered MotoGP at the same time.
Will Alex Rins, Johann Zarco, Jonas Folger, or Sam Lowes match the achievements of Stoner or Pedrosa, Márquez or Lorenzo? It is far too early to tell. But testing has only confirmed the pedigree of the four newcomers.
They were all fast in Moto2, racking up a total of 25 wins between them, and they have been quick during the preseason. There is no doubt these four are an exciting addition to the MotoGP grid.
As veteran MotoGP journalist Dennis Noyes pointed out on Twitter late on Saturday night, on Sunday, we will start to see some of the real truth of where everyone stands.
Sunday is the last chance for the MotoGP field to do a full race simulation, putting together everything they have learned during winter testing. The last day of the test at Qatar will serve as a dress rehearsal for the race.
But Saturday gave us a quick peek at everyone’s hands. The work now is more about refinement than revolution, and genuine speed is coming to the fore. The final timesheets from Saturday do not tell the whole story, but a general picture is starting to form.
It is looking increasingly like the 2017 MotoGP championship is going to be fought out between Maverick Viñales and Marc Márquez. And while they focus on each other – which they are doing more and more – other riders, primarily Valentino Rossi, are waiting in the wings to strike.