Subscriber Feature: The Revolution Which Will Shake The 2019 MotoGP Grid Up Beyond Recognition

At the start of this year, I made three predictions for the 2018 MotoGP season: that Marc Márquez would win more races this year on his way to the title than he did last year; that Valentino Rossi would sign a new contract with Yamaha; and that this year's Silly Season would be a disappointingly tame affair, with most riders staying where they are.

Three months into the year, and it looks like one of those predictions will be right, as Rossi is already close to signing a new contract already. It's too early to judge the Márquez prediction, with racing still to start, though the Repsol Honda rider has looked very strong in preseason testing.

But I am starting to believe that my final prediction, that Silly Season would turn out to be something of a dud, will be proved completely wrong. After three MotoGP tests and a whole lot of talking, the rumor mill is running at full tilt. And what it is saying is that this could be the season where the grid is turned upside down. Though at this stage, much is still just gossip and rumor, it looks like the only factory team to remain unchanged will be the Movistar Yamaha team.

In their public pronouncements, factory bosses have said their intention is to try to continue with their current rider line up. That is the standard corporate line trotted out at the start of a season intended as cover for the hardball negotiations to come. But there have been unmistakable signs that the Silly Season is about to explode, once the paddock gathers for the start of the season.

Early warning

Tech3's announcement that they would be leaving Yamaha for KTM was the canary in the coal mine. There have been signs of a shift in the underlying structure of the MotoGP paddock for some time now, as the other factories have risen to challenge what was once a duopoly of Yamaha and Honda.

First, Ducati hired Gigi Dall'Igna, and he shook up the racing department and helped build a competitive bike. That paved the way for Jorge Lorenzo to gamble on a switch to Ducati, and opened up a seat at Yamaha for Maverick Viñales. Suzuki's increasing competitiveness has made the Japanese factory a much more attractive prospect than it was before they left MotoGP at the end of 2011. Aprilia, too, have been edging closer to the front. And KTM have demonstrated they are committed to pouring in the financial and engineering resources to make a success of their RC16 MotoGP bike.

So Tech3's decision to switch to KTM is a sign of an increasing pool of competitive machinery in MotoGP. More competitive bikes means more choice for teams, but also more choice for riders. It is no longer necessary to cling on to the same ride throughout your career, as it is entirely possible to win on other bikes as well. There is movement ahead both for teams and for riders.

Caveat emptor

First, a word of caution. The information in this article has been gathered from a range of sources, including talking to some of the protagonists. It is very early in the negotiating process, and so the situation is very fluid. It also means that those sharing information will often do so with an agenda: they may be putting a rumor out to weight the scales in their favor. Or they may be putting out a rumor to distract from what is really going on behind the scenes. The situation presented below will almost certainly look very different by the end of the season. But that real change is coming to MotoGP, of that there can be no doubt.

The new system

A key part of the grid shake up coming is down to the bikes. Tech3's switch to KTM has had two important effects: it has made the satellite Yamaha M1s available, two of the most desirable bikes on the grid. And it has prompted Suzuki and Aprilia into speeding up their plans to supply satellite bikes to teams. The approach pioneered by Ducati, of supplying a full factory bike with strong support in a satellite team, is being copied by almost everyone.

Honda have a de facto third factory bike in the LCR Honda garage with Cal Crutchlow. KTM will have four factory-spec RC16s on the grid in 2019. Suzuki seem likely to provide the latest spec bikes to any team they might supply. And Aprilia would be forced to go down a similar route if they wanted to attract a satellite team.

The only holdout at the moment is Yamaha. The Japanese factory has traditionally supplied Tech3 with the previous year's bikes, with next to no upgrades throughout the season. They could do it that way because Tech3 didn't have an alternative, treating their satellite team as a source of income.

It does not look like Yamaha will change their approach for 2019 and beyond. After all, being second in line behind the factory team sounds pretty good to the teams which are third in line. And so Marc VDS, the Angel Nieto Team, and Avintia are all looking into dropping their existing bike suppliers and switching manufacturers.

Leader of the pack

Marc VDS appear to be in the driving seat. The Belgian team have already had talks with Yamaha, and are also said to be in talks with Suzuki. Where their preference lies is hard to discern, and depends on who you talk to. Speak to one team source, and they say Suzuki. Speak to another team source, and they will tell you Yamaha.

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Fabulous article David! thanks very much.

What is wrong with everybody? Can they not see A.I.29 Deserves to be universally loved & respected for his enermous talent.

Dani Pedrosa twelve seasons on the factory Honda. 31 wins. that is two & a half race wins per season.

In those 12 years Honda won the title six times; once with Nicky Hayden, Casey Stoner once & Marc Marquez four times.

Will the Gp retirees send resumes to Pere Riba, Team Kawasaki superbike. He will be flooded with applications.

Iannone is a goon. A live wire. A wrecking ball. His raw talent is undeniable but it is not enough. He should leave MotoGP and follow his true calling of being a mid-level mafiosi.

I could disagree but I am curious how to learn more about him and his personality and why he is the 'bad boy' that he is. I honestly don't know much about him other than he has been quite interesting to watch since his Moto2 days!

Made a complete ass of himself at Silverstone last year up on the stage being interviewed. When pointed out that his teammate was consisitently faster than him, he replied (to paraphrase) "Yes but I f*** much better than he does". Really, that just about sums it up it. Surprisingly considering the audience, not many laughed, and I'm sure some were embarassed for him.

Sure he's very talented, but I suspect he likes the lifestyle much more than securing the extra skill that will make him a top six rider.



nah i think that response was actually pretty funny from iannone. i mean that question is designed to goad a reaction and instead he took all the power back. well played

isn't that a lovely part to any raing series? white hat vs. black hat? 

the list of "my guy is a saint, that other idiot dosen't deserve a seat" yells are as old as racing itself.

this leads to viewer intrest in whatever series, no?

if memory serves, i can remember an absolute flood of website comments after china 2015.

  • Zarco to KTM (bye Bradley.... development role)
  • Lorenzo to Suzuki (bye Iannone.... mafiosi middle manager)
  • Petrucci to Ducati
  • Pedrosa to Yamaha (use that 250 style. From what I understand Yamaha has trouble burning up tires. Pedrosa has trouble putting heat into them. Average out the two)
  • The rest go where they can find seats. 

Interesting developments.... but 2018 should still be a cracker of a season

Officially, of course he could return next year after returning to full fitness.

Realistically, there are far more riders than seats available, especially in MotoGP. Folger may be able to get a ride in WSBK, but I will be surprised if he manages to get another ride in GP. There are simply too many other riders with the talent and drive to get there, all waiting impatiently at the bottleneck of Moto2.

rightho David, great article and I think you have given us some very very interesting insights and things to ponder (until the racing starts anyway :-) ).  However, I would challenge you on two very simple predictions.  Firstly with regards to Zarco, what is to stop KTM and Tech3 working out a way for Zarco to remain with a group he knows and trusts well but receiving what is considered full factory support?  Sure the second actual factory KTM rider might get a bit less but they have Zarco a factory bike and a team he knows well.

Secondly, why would Yamaha not simply have a chat to VR and suggest that after he retires he takes a year to "oversee" what the satellite teams are doing as well as consolidate on his VR46 academy.  This means Yamaha can offer a 3 year contract to anyone thinking of filling the gap left by Tech3.

Maybe it's just the simple world I live in where logical decisions are made and small compromises are made.

Good questions. The reason Zarco won't settle for staying in the Tech3 team (no matter how close KTM say it will be to the factory) is because riders always want to be in the factory team. A direct line of communication with the factory, plus lots of other benefits, like being picked up and dropped off at home, having literally everything arranged for you, and more. Riders always, always want to be in a factory team, whether that is a good fit for them or not.

As for your other suggestion, quite a good idea. Who knows whether Yamaha would consider it?

Thanks David, I'm bretahless after reading that, can't take it all in!

Where's my inhaler...

Tech 3 appear to have finalised The transformation of MotoGP as DE stated. There is beautiful symmetry in Poncharal, as head of IRTA, equalising the importance of teams and manufacturers, encouraging the symbiosis to flourish if also introducing considerable and enduring chaos.

For a long time I have felt that Yamaha Racing are only paying lip service to motorcycle racing, the factory squad a vanity project driven by one of the most marketable men in history who happens to be in the twighlight of this phase of his career. Two factory riders with infinite support and a weapons grade bike for the Suzuka 8hr R1 and...

Where is the talk of Yamaha’s prudentially aggressive investment in talent that was so prevalent around the development of Spies and Crutchlow? It has proven to be Hollow and half-hearted since the return of the prodigal son, to have lost a formidable ally in Tech 3 is their just desserts for the obvious disinterest in the long term health of the sport. 

The talent academy may well achieve its destiny, fostering and generating top tier riders for the factory Yamaha team however two years of potentially uncompetitive showings with a lower tier team and then another bridge burnt as VR46/SKY takes the reigns, a team that despite their obvious resources has failed to accumulate championship glory in the wake of volcanic public dramas involving senior personnel. The aurora of Rossi may well hold the pieces of the puzzle together and Yamaha will have a supremely successful and rich vein of talent at their disposal inspite of their manifest indifference to all levels of bike sport outside of the factory MotoGP team. 


This article was great! So much could change at the end of this year, it is insane.

I would love to see a big switch-up like written above, hope it all happens!

“Then there's the certain knowledge that when Valentino Rossi retires, the M1s will go to the Sky VR46 team, which Yamaha will use as a nursery for talent they can't accommodate in the factory team. If Rossi retires at the end of 2020, as expected, that would mean any team taking the Yamahas on would only get the bikes for two years.”

Regarding your quote above, I’m sure Dorna/Carmelo said they will not consider expanding beyond 24 (and as I said on an earlier post, I personally would love to see 6 makes with four bikes each), UNLESS VR46 knock on the door and when that happens, they would get an additional slot?

if I read that wrong on this site I apologise, but if true and that will mean 26 bikes/6 Yamahas, won’t that make the bottleneck at the Moto 2 junction a bit easier? I was already in a high state of excitement for 2018 (ok, being a Yorkshireman it’s a slight grimace), but I am so beside myself with the prospect of 2019, I’m seriously considering asking my wife out to tea...

I love the contrast, Motomatters/MotoGP-sober, considered (superb) analysis of a fantastically exiting product.

Formula 1-Fantastically exciting analysis of a dull, personality-free product.

Crikey, it’s like the difference between riding and driving, I’ll get mi coat...



Sure, Ezpeleta said that they would make space for VR46 if Rossi wanted grid slots. But Yamaha have consistently said they will only supply four bikes. I see no reason they would change their mind.

of course VR46 would have first dibs on Yamahas #3 & 4 and whoever's keeping them warm for him will need to start looking elsewhere.

im off to join a circus-though not a continental one...

MarcVDS may be in a place to push the factories! How amazing and unique to date! Push Suzuki to hurry. Push Honda to choose between them and LCR as their Jr Team for the future, to get Factory bikes. And push Yamaha for better support than Herve got. MarcVDS is in the driver seat, but Suzuki might not even be in the car quickly enough since so much is happening on the go. Even SKY46 is getting a big pull/push now. I see Yamaha just punting off their old bikes to a customer again for next few yrs. Then starting again in earnest with Vale.

There is room for a surprise from SKY46 and Yamaha in which Vale rides one of their two bikes while continuing his contract, having a team start around him. Unlikely as it is, it is possible. A yellow bike with a bit of blue. He started with a Nostra Azzurro 500cc like this, and can finish with a SKY46 like that. Crazy, yes. Impossible, no.

First things first: Herve's deal needs to go to a new home for next year or two or three. Don't forget that Yamaha could conceivably send a set of old bikes to Aspar or Avintia on their third year AND a set of shiny Factory bikes to SKY46 for their first year only. Agreed David, that Yamaha in no way is aligned with having six bikes on the grid in any conceivable way - but this isn't going to be a conventionally conceivable moment. And we are talking Valentino. Or, sr_nj has another idea - a transition yr for 2021 where Vale puts the program together.

Right now silly season isn't looking silly. Seriously transformational is more like it. Like David mentions regarding Zarco being a lynch pin on the picture now, one Factory is now too: Suzuki. We are waiting to see if they can get their program together fast enough to put pen to paper with MarcVDS for NEXT YEAR as a Jr Team. Aspar has Suzuki ties as well. Once they make clear if they can get to the table, then things go forward.

Zarco. Oh Zarco! First, I am not uncomfortable at all in saying that he is looking as good as Pedrosa. And better. Size. Racecraft. Dynamic adaptivity. Aggression. Confidence. Intelligence. Hell, even luck. No disrespect intended to the wee HRC stalwart. Does Zarco leave any question marks or doubts? No.

Zarco to Honda relative to going Orange. Could there be more contrast? Such a different picture! It frightens me a bit, hinting at an HRC dominance. I would much rather see two top riders on different bikes. But with no Ducati or Yamaha for the flying Frenchman (again - Yamaha that shite lands squarely in YOUR pants) where to go? Suzuki can't afford him. KTM can and are lining it up. But if Honda offers him a seat it is a done deal. The battle that ensues may be BRILLIANT. Ok, that is a good option.

Then Pedrosa to KTM with Leitner. The Honda is a hard tire bike smashing fronts. Pedrosa is a soft tire guy driving early up onto the fat shoulder of the tire exiting. Pedrosa and P.Espargaro in Orange, check.

Suzuki and Lorenzo? Things start to get a bit convoluted down here. Suzuki has Rins and a bike that RIGHT NOW ANYWAY looks good. Motor is there. We do NOT know if they have gotten the electronics forward yet. Mixed conditions especially. But the bike is moving forward for sure after a dismal 2017. Concessions are back. This is is a building year. Is their bike a good fit for Lorenzo? YES. Can they afford him? Perhaps.

Ducati - Lorenzo. He is welcome in the guest room, Dovisioso has the suite. Petrucci will continue to be crashing on the couch. And their eyes are on Bagnaia, who will be bouncing around the kids' room with Uncle Jack. Crowded house! .Petrucci may well beat Jorge this year and make things clear. The hams are gone. What does Lorenzo want? A title. He so wishes to be triumphantly heralded. To be remembered for carrying a program to greatness. How long can he remain as the improving-but-not-best Ducati rider? If Lorenzo is looking at results as the third of the Ducati riders when the music stops and a chair must be chosen, his seat could be Suzuki. Iannone won't even be a consideration. Jorge initiating it will make Ducati's internal disagreement moot.

I hope to see change in the satellite Honda team coming. In the form of two Factory bikes. It is working very well now with Crutchlow excelling and providing excellent development duties. They have a Japanese rider. Honda will not be fiddling around with old bikes in a third customer team any more. SKY46 will demonstrate a new Jr Team model that exceeds the Pramac one. KTM doing the same.

It is elegantly amusing the foils and windfalls of the Factories. Honda lost "The Rider" via arrogant adherence to a Japanese mythos around loyalty to corporation/brand, engineering deference, and "it is the bike." With an Italian force of nature of quite a different sort. Yamaha lucks into Vale/Burgess and the fit with Furusawa. Again now, is Yamaha set to be the recipient again of the Passion of the Ch...Rossi? SKY46 just "happens for them." Miracle bestowed. Despite themselves! Twice! The sponsorship and finance picture is amazing. The garage put together there, can you imagine? The rider pipeline. The garden of Astronaut kids popping into the other end of the pipe.

Either MarcVDS or Aspar go Suzuki soon (likely the former). The other grabs Herve's old Yamahas as a stop gap until signing with Aprilia as Jr Team of course. As is the dance card. Aspar and Aprilia of course.

Did I fail to mention Avintia? Yes. Er, no. Grid spots sold or keeps up pay-to-play-backmarker with old Ducs. Simeon's teammate, if you give a shite, will be one of the several riders being shed to make way for the new kids. One with their own sponsor money. Bautista/Rabat are already on the bikes.

We do have a stable centerpiece in Marquez/Honda - Dovisioso/Ducati. Then Factory Yanaha plugging along in terms of riders.  Around that is quite the stir. 

We say "silly season" usually to refer to the goofy press bits of conjecture while riders and their managers go seat shopping to improve contract negotiations. Conjecture and improbability. Shuffling permutations. It isn't silly at all this time, is it?

That after all of this dust settles, Carmelo et al don’t open their rule book on the ad hoc basis they are know for and reinvent the ‘rookie rule’ as they did for Marquez except this time to ‘allow’ for more bikes than stated and thereby accommodating VR46? Carmelo will see to it that Rossi rightly gets what he wants regardless of how the 2 extra yamahas shake out. 

That after all of this dust settles, Carmelo et al don’t open their rule book on the ad hoc basis they are know for and reinvent the ‘rookie rule’ as they did for Marquez except this time to ‘allow’ for more bikes than stated and thereby accommodating VR46? Carmelo will see to it that Rossi rightly gets what he wants regardless of how the 2 extra yamahas shake out. 

"there is a revolution coming to MotoGP, and revolutions always leave a trail of casualties in their wake."

Viva la revolución

There used to be a cliche. Finally move to MotoGP, never win another race. So what happens to the riders who are the 10th to 30th best in the world when MotoGP spits them out? WSB doesn't seem to have competitive rides for them. Returning to Moto2 may not be an option. BSB or MotoAmerica or one of the other national championships? It would be fun but it's not really on, is it.

Perhaps now is the time for properly fast test riders who get a couple of wild cards each year. Just like Pirro and Kallio and good enough to get top 10s in MotoGP on the right machinery.