The chances of MotoGP getting its first ever Malaysian rider are rising exponentially. It is looking ever more likely that Hafizh Syahrin, currently signed to the Petronas Sprinta Racing Team in Moto2, will move up to MotoGP and take over the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha seat vacated by Jonas Folger due to illness.
Rumors that Syahrin was a candidate to replace Folger first emerged after the opening MotoGP test of the 2018 season in Sepang, where a range of names were being bandied about. Few people were mentioning Syahrin, however, until MCN published a story linking the Malaysian rider to the team.
Since Saturday, things have moved into a higher gear. Today, the Petronas Sprinta Racing Team confirmed that Zulfahmi Khairuddin will be replacing Syahrin on the Kalex Moto2 machine the team will be fielding in 2018. At the same time, Syahrin confirmed in an Instagram post that he will be leaving the team to ride elsewhere.
The probability that "elsewhere" turns out to be the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha MotoGP teams now looks very high indeed. Several pieces have now fallen into place to make this possible, and especially solving the problem of riders getting out of contracts. With the Sepang International Circuit having a very big say in the running of the SIC and Petronas Sprinta Racing teams, it was relatively simple for them to release Syahrin from his contract, which Tech 3 boss Hervé Poncharal told MotoMatters.com was a requirement for any rider he would sign.
The announcement of Khairuddin on the Moto2 bike makes an announcement about Syahrin imminent. The odds of an official announcement on who will ride the Tech 3 Yamaha M1 being released early next week are high.
There is one possible stumbling block along the way. Syahrin has a long relationship with Malaysian oil giant Petronas, who have backed him for most of his career in Grand Prix racing. However, Tech 3 have a similarly long relationship with French oil company Motul, who are very prominent in MotoGP. This relationship will have to be solved before the deal can go forward.
No doubt that both Dorna and Yamaha would help grease the wheels of such a deal. Having a Malaysian rider in MotoGP would be an enormous coup for both the MotoGP series organizers and the Japanese manufacturer. Syahrin would be the first Malaysian to race in the premier class since its inception in 1949.
The move would not be a bad one from a sporting perspective either. Though Syahrin has not set the world alight in Moto2, he has been respectable, racking up three podiums in the class. He has finished in the top ten of the championship for the last two years, ahead of riders such as Mattia Pasini, Dominique Aegerter, Alex Márquez, Simone Corsi, Xavi Vierge, and Fabio Quartararo. He finished ahead of the other riders being linked to the ride – Sandro Cortese, Dominique Aegerter, and Yonny Hernandez the most prominent – and has consistently managed to finish in the top six.
More intriguing is his ability in the wet. When the rain falls, Syahrin finds another gear, all three of his podiums having come in wet conditions. Syahrin made history with Zulfahmi Khairuddin back in 2012, when the two Malaysians both finished on the podium at their home Grand Prix, Khairuddin in Moto3, Syahrin in Moto2. Syahrin's wet-weather riding skills mean he could cause a surprise or two if it rains. And given the recent history of MotoGP, rain seems certain at at least a couple of circuits this (and every) year.
Of course, nothing is done until the contracts are signed and the official press release has been issued. But all the signs so far are pointing in the direction of that being just a matter of days.
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