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.
The Tech3 team’s decision to switch from Yamaha to KTM is having major consequences. With the Yamaha satellite bikes available, and with Suzuki ready to step up and supply a satellite team with bikes, teams are having to make choices they have never considered before. This luxury is indicative of the current health of the MotoGP grid: once upon a time, a satellite Yamaha or Honda team would never even consider switching to another manufacturer. Now, there are four competitive satellite-bike suppliers to choose from. So who will end up with the satellite Yamahas for 2019 and beyond, and where does that leave Suzuki? Speaking to some of the protagonists involved in the situation, it seems that although nothing is settled as of this moment, a decision is likely to be taken soon.
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.
Qatar is always a strange place to kick off the MotoGP season: a windswept circuit in the middle of the desert (though not for long, as the suburbs of Doha are rapidly approaching the track), racing under the floodlights, around a circuit with just a single grandstand and a VIP pavilion.
It is an odd location with a weird atmosphere. The race feels surreal, part of a science fiction spectacular, an impression reinforced as you drive back to Doha afterwards, the huge Blade Runner-esque skyscrapers awash with ever-shifting patterns of blinking lights.
You would think that the season opener couldn’t get much odder, but series organizer Dorna has found a way. In response to complaints of dew forming after 9pm in the evening, rendering the track treacherous.
In my article analyzing the Jerez private tests, which took an in-depth look at the times set by the WorldSBK bikes and the MotoGP bikes, I set out several reasons why I thought Jonathan Rea would not be moving to MotoGP, despite obviously being fast enough.
Though Rea has good reasons of his own to prefer to stay in WorldSBK, a good portion of the blame lies with MotoGP team managers, I argued.
That argument was based in part on a press conference held during the last round of the season at Valencia. In that press conference, the heads of racing of the six manufacturers in MotoGP gave their view of the season.
During that press conference, On Track Off Road’s Adam Wheeler asked Yamaha’s Lin Jarvis, Ducati’s Paolo Ciabatti, and KTM’s Pit Beirer whether they regarded WorldSBK as a viable talent pool, or whether they were looking more towards Moto2 and Moto3 as the place to find new riders.
What happened when Valentino Rossi crashed? How serious is his injury? When will he be back? Who will replace Rossi, if he doesn’t return at Aragon? And what does Yamaha think of Rossi’s training methods? Yamaha boss Lin Jarvis spoke to a small group of journalists at Misano on Saturday morning, to answer these questions and much more. Jarvis knew about the accident very shortly after it had happened. “I knew before he got to the hospital,” Jarvis told us. “Albi [Tebaldi] called Maio Meregalli as soon as he got the news that Vale was on the way to the hospital. Maio called me straight away.” The good news was that Rossi’s injury was not as bad as the last time he broke his leg, at Mugello in 2010. “It’s much less serious,” Jarvis told us, “but probably just as irritating.
Ever since we found out that Yamaha was only going to release Jorge Lorenzo from his contract to test at Valencia after the last race, but not at a private test at Jerez a week later, there has been much speculation as to the cause.
Had growing friction between the factory and Lorenzo led Yamaha to block the test? Was Yamaha afraid of just how competitive Lorenzo would be on the Ducati? Or, as the more conspiratorially inclined would have it, was this the invisible hand of Valentino Rossi at work?
The massed media had to wait until Motegi to find out. In the pre-event press conference, Jorge Lorenzo acknowledged that Yamaha had told him that the Jerez test was off the cards.
“Well, obviously I would like to make the Jerez test, but it is not a thing that depends on myself. For the moment, looks like I will test in Valencia. Looks like for Jerez, Yamaha is not so keen to permit that.” Lorenzo felt disappointed by the decision.
“I think that for the years we’ve spent together, and for the things we’ve won together, I deserve it. But obviously it doesn’t depend on myself and I will respect whatever decision Yamaha will make, because I am a Yamaha rider.”
Due to the large number of journalists asking to speak to Lin Jarvis to get his side of the story, Yamaha convened a press conference to allow the assembled media to ask questions.
In the space of half an hour, the Yamaha Motor Racing boss laid out in clear terms why the decision had been made. It was a masterclass in the underlying truth of MotoGP: this is a business, with millions of dollars involved, and a tangled web of interest beyond just Yamaha.
Yamaha has a duty to its shareholders and its sponsors to hold Lorenzo to the contract they both signed. Helping Lorenzo to try to beat Yamaha on a Ducati would be to fail their sponsors and Yamaha’s corporate interests.
For sheer, stunning beauty, it is hard to beat Mugello. ‘Nestling in the Tuscan hills’ is an overused cliché precisely because it is so very true.
The Mugello circuit runs along both sides of a beautiful Tuscan valley, swooping up and down the hillsides as it flows along the natural contours of the land. Like Phillip Island, and like Assen once was, it is a truly natural circuit.
It does not feel designed, it feels as if it was left there by the raw overwhelming natural forces which hewed the landscape from the limestone mountains, discovered by a man with a passion for speed, who then proceeded to lay asphalt where the hand of nature dictated.
It is fast, flowing and challenging. It demands every ounce of speed from a bike, and courage from a rider. It lacks any really tight corners, keeping hard acceleration in low gears to a minimum. Corners flow together in a natural progression, with a long series of left-right and right-left combination corners.
The riders call them chicanes, which they are only in the very strictest sense of the word. In reality, they are way, way too fast to be what fans call chicanes, more like high-speed changes of direction.
What they do is allow riders to line up a pass through one part of a turn, and the rider being passed to counter attack through the second part of the corner. That makes for great racing.
It has been three years in the making. Ducati have been chasing Jorge Lorenzo for a very long time, almost since the moment Gigi Dall’Igna took over as head of Ducati Corse.
Dall’Igna came to Ducati with a master plan. “Ducati had a plan when we started with Gigi at the end of 2013, which was to develop a competitive bike and – once the bike was competitive – to attract one of the top riders,” Ducati MotoGP boss Paolo Ciabatti told a specially convened press conference on Thursday.
The candidates who qualified as “top riders” (for the linguists, this is the English phrase the Italians use where English speakers would use the term “alien”) are few and far between. Ciabatti made it perfectly clear what he meant.
“With all due to respect to all the other riders, including the two Andreas, there are a few riders who have been showing their potential. They are able to win championships. Obviously if you look at history in the last six years three times Lorenzo, twice Marquez and once Stoner. So obviously to be sure to be in a position to fight for a world title we needed to aim for one of the two riders which are Lorenzo and Marquez.”
In case you missed it, Jorge Lorenzo has signed with Ducati Corse for the 2017 and 2018 MotoGP World Championship seasons. It is not so much that team bosses never appear in pre-event press conferences, but rather that such appearances are vanishingly rare, and often momentous. If Jarvis is not there to discuss Lorenzo’s move to Ducati, then something has gone very awry indeed. We have been here before, of course. When Valentino Rossi finally announced he would be moving to Ducati in 2010, a similar procedure was adopted. So taking account of the lessons from that move, and of Rossi’s return to Yamaha, let us gaze into our crystal ball and see what we can expect for the upcoming days.
Yamaha Racing and the MotoGP Championship as a whole will enjoy two more years of Valentino Rossi, as the Italian has agreed to extend his contract with Yamaha for another two years. Rossi’s continued interest to race in MotoGP likely doesn’t come as a surprise to many in the MotoGP paddock, as Rossi once again is at the pointy end of the stick when it comes to speed, team, and race package. While he may not be the top pick on every journalist’s list to win the Championship, there is no denying that The Doctor is certainly in title contention, as we head into the season-opener at Qatar, and could easily prove “the experts” wrong with his 10th World Championship this year.