Suzuki Or Yamaha: The Dilemma Of The Marc VDS Team

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. Meetings are planned for Jerez which will play a crucial role in sorting out the satellite bike shuffle for next season.

The key player in all of this is the Marc VDS MotoGP team. The Belgian team has the financial resources, the staff, and the riders which allow them to pick and choose their partners. They have made no secret of their intention to leave Honda, after disappointment over the level of support they have received. But they have been caught between Yamaha and Suzuki now for the past couple of months.

Decisions, decisions

In the week before the MotoGP race in Austin, German-language website Speedweek published a story stating that the Marc VDS team would announce a three-year deal with Suzuki at the race in Texas. That did not happen, and it appears that a decision has still not been made. Sources with knowledge of the situation suggested that the complexity of balancing the competing offers from Suzuki and Yamaha were making it very difficult for team boss Michael Bartholemy to come to a decision.

Though the decision seems simple from the outside, there are a lot of factors complicating the choice. Obviously, there is the level of equipment each manufacturer is willing to supply, just as there is the question of how much support Yamaha and Suzuki are prepared to provide to help run the bikes.

But there are also secondary questions to consider. Signing on with a manufacturer as a satellite team involves more then just exchanging cash for motorcycles and engineers. Each manufacturer has their own supply chain and sponsorship partners, and those partners have to be a fit with the new team. Reconciling the sponsorship demands of a manufacturer with existing sponsors can be very difficult. As a visible example, the factory Suzuki team is sponsored by Ecstar, Suzuki's own proprietary oil brand, while Marc VDS has a long-standing relationship with Total as lubricant sponsor.


What level of bikes are Suzuki and Yamaha willing to supply? The advantage of a deal with Suzuki is that as a factory with a smaller racing department, they lack the resources to manage the tooling and supply for two different specs of bike. A team partnering with Suzuki as a satellite squad will likely have bikes which are very close to the spec of the factory team. Given the fact that Suzuki has just had their first back-to-back podiums since 2008, there can be no doubt that the bike is competitive.

Yamaha has traditionally had a policy of supplying its satellite team (Tech3) with bikes from the previous years. But in Austin, Yamaha Motor Racing managing director Lin Jarvis told me that Yamaha would be willing to reconsider that policy.

Would Yamaha consider a policy similar to HRC or Ducati, who have factory-supported riders on near factory-spec bikes in satellite teams, with Cal Crutchlow at LCR Honda and Danilo Petrucci in Alma Pramac Ducati? "Sure," Jarvis said, and pointed to the level of support Johann Zarco was receiving in the Tech3 team this year. "If you look at Johann's bike, it's not an ordinary satellite bike."

Viewed from the outside, Zarco has a bike very similar to the factory Movistar Yamaha machines of Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi. Zarco uses the same aero package, and a 2018 engine with fewer restrictions on revs than are normally placed on a satellite squad.

What spec of machine Marc VDS or any other team get from Yamaha will depend on the team involved and the budget they have, Jarvis told me. A strong team with good riders and a healthy bank balance will have access to better bikes than a team with fewer financial and staff resources.

To satellite or not to satellite?

Yamaha are known to be talking to other teams as well as Marc VDS. Jarvis said that Yamaha could field just the two bikes in the factory squad. "It's not our preference, however," Jarvis told me. "Having data from four riders is helpful for Yamaha and for all of our riders." It was also a matter of pride and of image, Jarvis explained. Yamaha prided itself on always having supplied satellite bikes, and it would not be worthy of Yamaha's status to race without a satellite team. If they could not find the right team to partner with, however, they would race just the two bikes in the factory team.

Suzuki has been banking on the partnership with Marc VDS, however. "We are only talking to Marc VDS," Suzuki team boss Davide Brivio replied when I asked him if Suzuki were also in talks with other teams. "If we don't have an agreement with Marc VDS, then we will start the whole process again."

Suzuki are expecting to finalize any potential deal with Marc VDS at Jerez, Brivio said. "We expect to make a decision at Jerez," the Suzuki boss told me. "[Team Director Shinichi] Sahara-san is coming from Japan, so we will have meetings there."

Yamaha has a slightly longer time frame to deal with. The Japanese factory would need to have a contract in place "before the end of June at the latest," Lin Jarvis told me. That was the time frame Yamaha would need to set up production and tooling issues for the following season.

Up in the air

At the moment, it is hard to say which way the decision will go. My best guess from talking to those involved is that Marc VDS will eventually go with Suzuki, though as I understand it, the decision is balanced on knife edge, and could fall either way.

Ultimately, the decision will be based on being able to give the young riders the team wants to bring into MotoGP the best bike to enter the class on. Franco Morbidelli has a two-year deal with Marc VDS, and so will be staying with the team for 2019, while Joan Mir has made no secret of his desire to move up to MotoGP as soon as possible, and spend only one year in Moto2. The Yamaha is known to be very easy for a rookie to ride in MotoGP, but given the speed at which both Maverick Viñales and Alex Rins progressed on the Suzuki, the GSX-RR is a good bike for a rookie as well.

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I love the overview consideration that this is such a very good thing happening. The series has been in a shift of many factors, pivot point being the CRT and Spec electronics "found our balls" Dorna move. Now? Awesome!

I don't think MarcVDS has a dilemma (it doesn't sound like they think so either). Perhaps the delay now is mostly one of Suzuki now being in process of churning through their new planning for a particular commitment and contract. They have been yanked ahead of themselves. Thank goodness they are responding affirmatively!

Avintia or Aspar may have a bit of a dilemma, but not a big deal. Which is the point, they can run 3rd string Ducati or 2nd string Yamaha customer bikes for the next 2 yrs., and this just isn't such a big deal is it? Then what? Pay to play Avintia may be the last of its kind for a while. Which is fine by me.

The big deal is the grand shift. The dilemma seems more Aprilia right now, who should be reaching a handshake out to Aspar. Yamaha, YOU are late to your dilemma. Lucky for you it isn't staying as such, since VR46 can take its sweet time solving it for you, likely in fantastic fashion.

Herve has pulled off a coup. KTM and Tech3 will continue to show us what what a solid program across classes can be. Suzuki has JUST been able to get a hold of the wonderful similar situation with MarcVDS.

Honda, did you just let the best option for a Jr Team go to Suzuki? LCR is a great MotoGP partner, and you have been benefitting from it wisely (right Yamaha? Yamaha?! Oh, never mind. The Jarvis quotes above show the continued "customer" mind set). But lower classes? Moto2? Sponsorship? There is a pipeline there. Honda has had this going for a long time.

Dilemma? DUCATI.
What will THEY have for options after this dust settles? Ironically, they have been the one with a declared "Jr Team" venture. But Pramac, just this here, is that it?

P.S. - a dilemma re sponsorship and "sponsor" Ecstar is a tad goofy. Suzuki has a real sponsor in Motul (what oil is actually IN their bikes?!). Ecstar in Japanese loosely translates as "space held for future actual major sponsor," so...

The Ecstar thing is a lot like Yamalube / Eneos on the Movistar bikes. I just looked at the Yamalube page and it really doesn't specifically state that's what's in the bikes. Just a lot of vague marketing speak. I do recall seeing somewhere that the Eneos oil was found to be superior by the factory.

Regarding the 'pipeline,' KTM has that pretty well dialed. Does Honda have anything similar at work in Moto2? As in, have they been helping any particular team?

I know Aprilia has a fairly tiny race department, but I still can't help longing for them to put some effort into Moto3 and 2. It is where they historically have done best. Plus, it'd be good for them to have their own pipeline to MotoGP.


Surely Yamaha would like to keep Zarco, as surely Suzuki would like to have him. Tech3 to KTM isnt the best move for a rider in such a great hurry to win the championship and Zarco is on the market for 2019. MV25 and VR46 are in the factory Yamaha squad, so a Zarco/MarcVDS/2019 Yamaha factory bike reads well from a Yamaha perspective.  As does the same thing with a Suzuki from Suzuki's perspective (maybe with Iannone pushe to factory rider/satellite team status). MarcVDS would like to keep their rider pathway intact but that is the two edged sword of factory bikes in satellite teams, parachuted in factory contracted riders.

is still easily remembered as a great rider on Suzuki ;)

What about the VR46 team that eventually arrive?  They are going to have a lot of clout when team VR46 shows up. I can't imagine Yamaha not providing near factory bikes to that team.  Could VDS loose Yamaha i a year or two?  Could Yamaha provide 6 bikes on the grid? 

The situation as I understand it at the moment is that Yamaha is willing to supply 6 bikes if necessary. Marc VDS want a 3-year deal (as do the other teams looking at switching) because you lose the first half of the season to adaptation problems, as teams and engineers figure out how to get the best out of the bike. So if (and it's a big if) Rossi retires at the end of 2020 and the VR46 team move up to MotoGP in 2021, Yamaha would have to supply 6 riders with bikes for at least one year. But as a long-term solution, I think the VR46 team ends up as the Yamaha junior team.

Why is Herve Poncharral dropping Yamaha?  Zarco is killing it, not far from a win and  the Malaysian guy whose name escapes me surely helps Yamaha in a huge market of theirs.

Yamaha has never offered Tech 3 a particularly good deal, they essentially wheel the bikes over from their garage, provide spares and that's about it. Other manufacturers have been actively looking to get a satellite team, so have been offering much better support for the money. Yamaha apparently intend to supply the VR46 team if/when they enter Moto GP, they've recently changed their stance to be 'open' to running six bikes, but before that their stance was 4 bikes only, so Herve was losing his Yamaha supply sooner or later whatever he did.


Tech 3 won't be keeping Zarco at the year's end, he will be on a factory bike (I'm guessing Repsol Honda) so Herve has to do what's best for Tech 3. Next year he'll have factory level bikes (for better or worse) and access to KTM's junior program. Really the whole situation reflects badly on Yamaha, with no seat on the Blue team available they should have made commitments to Herve that let them keep Zarco in the black team, similar to Honda's third factory bike. As it is they are losing both.

is called Hafizh Syahrin, also known as 'pescao' for his amazing skills riding in the rain. Not much too worry for Yamaha in the homeland for Hafizh, it is pretty much Valentino Rossi territory here.

Thinking out loud, a Yamaha with near factory bike specs, the door open for Lorenzo to return? That would be the surprise of the century.


Yamaha upper management apparently got a bit sclerotic, because they failed to observe crucial trends in advance. One was that the switch to unified electronics would place a premium on Magneti Marelli techs, and another was that the burgeoning grid would place a premium on satellite teams. It's hard to believe Herve didn't try to get a better deal from Yamaha before decamping, so I guess we can add hubris to their culpability.

Yamaha sat on their hands and watched as Honda started getting in front of this a couple of years ago. Belatedly accepting now that they might need to produce more than 2 top-level bikes is too little too late. Penitence must follow.



"I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member"  - attributed (in various forms) to Groucho Marx

And this is the satellite team dilemma, for both Yamaha and the three-legged pound puppies that are not LCR, Tech Trois, Pramac, or Marc VDS, which leaves just Real Avintia and Angel Nieto. What does each bring to the party, and why would you wish to join their club?

So what does Yamaha expect? Well, some level of technical competence is a given, and at a higher level than "the fat tire goes on the back, doesn't it?". And that is pretty much spelled m-o-n-e-y at every level of the sport. How many technicians can the satellite teams afford, and what is the quality of those hired, be they few or legions? And as Krop has made clear on many occasions, how much the factory is willing / expected to kick in varies the whole length of pit garages. What is Yamaha willing to underwrite when dealing with a team that is perpetually thirty cents away from having a quarter? For all the talk about the upgrade to "factory" equipment, it would appear that a very large part of Monsieur Poncharal's decision to paint is bikes orange next year was heavily weighted by signing a deal that allows him to use black ink on his ledger for a change. If the pilot's salaries, crew costs, and machinery are paid, at least to a large extent by KTM/Redbull gold, that is understandably more appealing than having last year's Yamaha, but sleeping under bridges and stealing bread to get by. Yamaha missed this one badly and needs, more than anything else, a current calender, three alarm clocks, an hourglass, and maybe a sun dial, because they are perpetually late to the ball.

Some teams will accept "last year's" bike, some won't...not anymore (though perhaps Yamaha can be forgiven by not exactly knowing, along with all the rest of us, what the hell a 2017 M1 actually was anyway). Things change, and one of the things that has changed the most is the pipeline of hungry young talent emerging from the lower classes that understand that riding a three year old MotoGP bike is folly. Now, personally, I lament the lower classes having been turned into a puppy mill for MotoGP, as I miss the previous model where a rider could specialize in the smaller classes, and remain there for a majority of their career. I am not sure I ever saw a better 250cc rider than Dani Pedrosa, except maybe Kaito, or Biaggi, or Jorge...or...or...or. Some were always destined to move up, but some I would have loved to see stay on the smaller bikes. But the smaller bikes (especially Moto2) are now perceived as just busses to transport the rider from Moto3 to MotoGP. And the expectation in MotoGP is that you either finish in the top ten (or at least consistently in the points), or you may find a younger version of yourself, fresh off the bus, trying on your leathers to see how they fit. As well as never seeing a four time champion in one of the lower classes again, I do not think we will see another Dovi...a brilliant rider allowed the time to grow into a championship contender. Go to WSBK for that model.

So that brings us to the next thing Yamaha is looking for: talent...both on the grid and  in the pipeline. And I don't see either Angel Nieto Team nor Reale Avintia Racing getting anyone's pulse racing back in Japan. Would I give Abraham or Bautista Zarco's bike and just sit back and watch the data flow in? No I would not, nor would I expect much useful feedback from Xavier Simeon ("say, Xavier, how does the 2019 Yamaha M1 compare to the 2015 Kalex?"). Tito is interesting, but he is also going to be 30 next year, and Esteve alone is not enough to base a satellite effort on. So what's in the pipeline? Sadly, not much from these two. No associated Moto2 effort, and the talent pool in Moto3 is Loi, Migno, and Arenas, which is really less a pool and more a light spot of condensation. No sale.

The others? Well Krop, as usual, has summed it up nicely. Tech Trois had everything you would want in a satellite team, but they are long gone. Alma Pramac would be crazy to switch from their Ducati deal. Same with LCR and Honda (but less crazy than Pramac). So that leaves Marc VDS...and Gresini. Marc VDS also has everything you could ever want in a satellite team; technical proficiency and a pipeline solidly built on their lower class efforts to ensure that there are plenty of future prospects coming off the bus. Evidently Yamaha missed this, probably while waiting for Herve to bring them their pipe and slippers ("where is that ungrateful cur?") while Suzuki was propping a ladder under Marc van der Statten's window. Suzuki would seem to be the smart play for VDS...if Hamamatsu is committed to stay in the class for the long haul. And that remains to be seen. What also remains to be seen is whether Aprilia stay. Given their limited resources and results so far, one has to wonder if, from a business standpoint, biting Kawasaki's in the bum racing WSBK is not an easier proposition to taking on all of Japan Ducati...on the main stage. And Aprilia has an easy exit plan, as theirs is not a factory effort (officially), but a Gresini effort. And Gresini may fancy a go on Yamaha as opposed to Aprilia. It would also help that when VR46 is ready, they could simply shower Gresini with bullion and have a ready made MotoGP slot. Maybe SKY VR46 would handle Moto3 and MotoGP, and Gresini would take over Moto2 as the best funded team on the junior grid.

But that brings us to the final question: Is the future of the independent efforts to be as a racing team with promising riders under contract...or as a sports management organization that also races? I do not think I will like the eventual answer, but if I were betting with my own money my guess would be the latter. Managing a rider's entire career (not just the few seasons they are with you) may be the next big thing that the independent teams transition to. They certainly all noticed this year that how they are treated has as much, or more, to do with who they have locked up under contract as opposed to just their prowess in fitting the fat tire on the right end of the bike. And I think SKY VR46 could well be the future model for this, and it may not matter much in the future whether you have "SKY VR46" painted on your fairing, or just written in ink on your management contract. All one big happy family. Cheers.

PS - One change I would like to see at the top is the ability for the satellite teams to swap engine specification (but not increase the total number of engines) at some point during a rider's first year. Let them start with something perhaps tuned a bit less aggressively, and then swap to the full factory spec when ready. Just my two cents.