Subscriber Feature: Petronas, Sepang International Circuit, Yamaha, Pedrosa - How It Happened

This has truly been a revolutionary year for MotoGP, in terms of the rider's market. Not only has there been more movement between factories than expected, some of the switches would have been unthinkable previously. Most people expected Johann Zarco to get a factory ride, Dani Pedrosa to be forced out at Repsol Honda, Jorge Lorenzo to leave Ducati. But nobody saw Lorenzo's move to Repsol Honda, it only being picked up by Gazzetta dello Sport Paolo Ianieri being willing to look past the preconceptions which clouded the vision of the entire MotoGP media.

There have also been some radical developments which nobody expected. At the start of the year, nobody gave a thought to the question of whether the Marc VDS team would pull out of the premier class or not. Then again, nobody expected Jonas Folger to withdraw from MotoGP for health reasons either. The odds of seeing a Malaysian rider in MotoGP for 2019 were slim, and zero for 2018.

Few people expected to see a Malaysian team contemplating entry in MotoGP either. The grid was full, the independent teams happy to hang on to their grid slots, at least until their contracts run out at the end of the 2021 season. And yet that is what will happen: in 2019, a Petronas-backed MotoGP team run by the Sepang International Circuit will be on the grid, on factory-spec Yamahas, with Franco Morbidelli and (almost certainly) Dani Pedrosa riding them.

A tale of two decisions

How did we get here? It's a complicated story, but it starts with two choices, made independently of one another. First, the Tech3 team had to decide to switch from being a Yamaha satellite team to being a KTM junior team. And secondly, when Petronas decided there was more value in MotoGP sponsorship than in F1. Inevitably, the money from Petronas – far greater than most MotoGP budgets – would find its way towards a competitive motorcycle once it became available.

It seems strange that a team like Tech3 would want to leave the safe confines of Yamaha. The Yamaha M1 has been competitive since the Masao Furusawa made revolutionary changes to the design of the bike for the 2004 season. A competitive bike made it attractive for Tech3 to be a Yamaha satellite team: from 2008 until this year, there has only been one season (2016) in which the team has not scored at least one podium.

Yet behind the scenes, there was always friction. The Yamaha M1 may have been competitive, but only enough for the occasional podium, and in a field where there were only four bikes capable of winning every week. Tech3 received next to no updates throughout the year: at the end of each season, the bikes were wheeled out of the factory Yamaha garage and into Tech3, along with some boxes of spares, and those were the tools the Tech3 riders had to take on the might of the factories.

The C Team

On the record, Tech3 boss Hervé Poncharal always expressed his gratitude to Yamaha and the support he received from them. The one clue that the relationship was deteriorating was that the sentence "We are very happy with our relationship with Yamaha," was increasingly frequently followed by the word "but". At Barcelona in 2016, Poncharal made his first real public complaint about support from Yamaha, telling an improvised press conference, "Clearly we were a B team some years ago but I think now we are C teams, clearly."

Things had changed for Poncharal when he saw the extra support being given to the likes of LCR Honda and Pramac Ducati. "I always said that we were inside the Yamaha organization the junior team," Poncharal said. "But are we the junior team inside Yamaha now? I think the answer is clearly no. When was the last time there was a Tech 3 rider moving up to the factory team? I think it was 2010, Ben Spies, but he was not a real Tech 3 rider; he was a factory rider that won the World Superbike championship and that was supposed to move on to the factory team when there was some availability."

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Do you think Monster can offset some of the sponsorship money lost IF Movistar does not renew? Considering they've lost Tech3, lost Lorenzo, etc. 

"Factory Spec Bikes" and "near factory level support" for the team - how is that confirmed at this point? Betting that you intended to indicate that the MVDS MotoGP (not Moto2) staff and infrastructure was to largely go to the team. Why get Aspar's grid slots rather than MVDS slots? Not understanding that transaction yet.

Great news! Thanks David. One of my great frustrations (customer Yams) resolved.

AQUA BLUE, so good to have you and your funding back. Two more Factory Yamahas on the grid?! Wonderful. Looks to have stability and longevity in store.

if Sepang buys grid slots from Aspar ... what happens with slots from Marc Vds? Or simply 2 less rides in 2019?

I did not make it clear enough, but next year there will be 22 bikes on the grid. The grid slots are being parked, presumably for VR46. 

What happens in 2019?

2 x Yamaha Factory, 2 x Yamaha VR46, 2 x Yamaha Petronas. ie 6 bikes

Is it most likely 3 x 2019 and 3 x 2018 bikes. (times 2)

Can Yamaha supply that number of bikes?

The VR46 team won't join MotoGP until Rossi retires. So 2019 is not a problem. VR46 probably won't enter until 2022, after the current team contracts expire.

might take up the other slots; only a matter of time. If not wouldn’t the last two go to the second Suzuki team, assuming they are still wanting four Bazooks on the grid?

I posted the above before Mr Emmett clarified the parking of slots, possibly for VR46; just saying...

This well explained coverage of the Tech 3/Yamaha divorce, in addition to the persistent commentary that Yamaha have been slow to recruit support to figure out the spec electronics, does paint a picture of rather counter productive (IMHO) arrogance with Yamaha RT. What makes that harder to explain is that this has been happening with Zarco at Tech 3. One can only infer that his efforts have been achieved a background of fewer revs (still can't believe that) and fewer of the go fast bits. If these inferences are true you see how even the apparently relentlessly positive and reasonable Mr Poncharal just ran out of patience.

Yeah it might be embarassing that the satellite rider has so regularly outperformed the factory boys, but a grown up Yamaha culture would have concluded that was a situation to be exploited rather than (barely) be tolerated. Mind you it's pretty much the definition of a cultural problem when decisions are based upon ego or dumb policy, over business results or performance.

I think there might be a possibility that knocking of 500 rpm can have to do about guaranteed reliablilty. As a factory team you can afford to to take some more risk, since it is your own responsibility. See Mugello some years ago.

Also I do think that Yamaha is supplying the sattelite bikes and that these bikes are far superior to their Honda and even Ducati counterparts. So why all the negativity? Yamaha and Tech 3 had an agreement and contract, and as far as I know Yamaha kept the agreement. Tech 3 came to a point that they wanted more, and Yamaha as a supplier simply said No. Fair enough?

I think Tech3 might have paid a lot of money, but for that money they could rely on a fine base bike that is sorted out well. Attrating riders and sponsors have not been impossible, so I do not see a real problem here.


The Movistar Yams were wheeled next door, but also got a thousand revs (500 this year for Zarco) apparently knocked off the top.  Wouldn't that fact have more to do with their 'second-teir' nature than the lack of updates?  That puts the performance of Syharin this year and especially Zarco last year into perspective.

What happened to Suzuki?  Their resolve to run 4 bikes withered as soon as it was presented with the slightest difficulty, same old same old at Hamamatsu?  They could have used it as an opportunity rather than a convenitent excuse to melt into the background as usual.  If they wonder why they are a 'second pick' or why talented riders like MV take a H/Y/D ride as soon as they are getting established, look no further.

I'm still confused by the concept of Rossi running anything but the factory team, I do not see him accepting second fiddle to anyone - he's Valentino f'ing Rossi FFS!  I could see him teaming up with Petronas money to usurp the factory team management.  Funny thing is, in that scenario Yamaha will still be needing a Tech3 type team!?!  :D


i'm worried for dani if he gets on a yamaha.

all i hear is how fast he will be on a yamaha.

i have no doubt he would have been a rabbit on the *old* m1 of 2014/bridgestone era, but not so sure about the *new* m1/michelin combo.

i mean, we're talking about a bike that is troubling one guy who has been riding one, off and on, for 14 years, and another who clearly has speed in his pocket.

to give up a lifetime of honda ambassadorship for a bike the factory riders are constantly bitching about...i dunno.

It could be all it's cracked up to be, or as you note, maybe not. I'm hopeful, and excited to see what happens.

Either way, I don't expect Dani to be hard up for cash any time soon. If he'd rather trade in years of promotional work for a bit more racing at the cost of being a millionaire fewer times over, that sounds pretty sane to me!

on second thought, i may agree with you ransom.

these guys are driven by things i can't imagine. mr. pirro gets off in one of the worst wrecks i've ever seen, yet begs to race immediatly after.

as an american, i was one of those who "had a strong dislike" for dani at one time.

he has since won my heart.

i sincerly hope that whatever the future holds, he will end his career in a manner befitting his incredible talent. if that means stopping now, he has clearly done enough to do so with his head held high.

Depending on how long he continues on the factory team, one does have to accept the fact that Rossi is not getting any faster with age. Whereas Dani is still arguably consistently quick, and certainly more experienced than any Tech3 Yamaha rider ever was (yeah, I know, Zarco ... but he hasn't delivered consistent results like Dani still can). So having Dani as Yamaha's backup to Rossi and Vinales will be good for Yamaha. With all the talk about Zarco, Rins and other riders who have moved up to MotoGP recently, I can only think of Marquez, Rossi, Pedrosa, and Lorenzo in the last 15+ years who showed consistent winning results in their 1st year in the premier class.