Lin Jarvis: "Yamaha Will Be The Best Place For Both Rossi And Lorenzo Next Year"

Looking around the MotoGP paddock at the riders the teams and manufacturers have riding for them, and one thing you notice is the embarrassment of riches which Yamaha seems to have on their MotoGP bikes. In the Fiat Yamaha team, they have arguably the greatest rider of all time, alongside the youngster who looks capable of beating him. In the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team, Ben Spies, the man who blew away the World Superbike championship sits alongside the only rider to get anywhere near the Fantastic Four last year, Colin Edwards. Sitting in the garage, there is the eminence grise of MotoGP, Jeremy Burgess, the thoughtful French genius Guy Coulon and the unsung hero of Ben Spies' career, Tom Houseworth. 

Looking at all that talent, we wanted to know just what Yamaha's secret was. So at Jerez, we spoke to Lin Jarvis, managing director of Yamaha Motor Racing and one of the driving forces behind Yamaha's MotoGP project. Jarvis was graceful enough to give us twenty minutes of his time, and to answer our questions about Yamaha's approach to the human side of racing. We talked to Jarvis about who hires the riders for Yamaha's racing projects, how those decisions come about, and what factors make Yamaha so strong in this respect. Jarvis also spoke about his ideal rider lineup for 2011, and how hard he expects to have to fight for it throughout MotoGP's silly season. Finally, Jarvis talked to us about the problems of filling MotoGP grids, and what should be done about it. We started off, though, with the burning question of who is in charge of hiring. Who makes the hiring decisions in Yamaha? Ever since you've hired Valentino, there's been a string of excellent hiring decisions, hiring Colin as a second rider and development rider, then hiring Ben from the US and bringing Tom Houseworth (Spies' crew chief) and Greg Wood (his mechanic) with him. Who makes these decisions?  

Lin Jarvis: That's a good question. As you know Yamaha is a big company, so the decision is never down to one person. So we work as a team between Yamaha Motor Racing in Italy and Yamaha Japan, and we are constantly in touch with each other. Obviously, we meet each other at the circuit frequently. I would say that primarily, the general discussion is between [Masao] Furusawa and myself. But our other colleagues and expertise is always considered, because we have Nakajima as the team director who's a very important guy. Of course we listen to our own team managers who are European. It is a group activity, but finally let's say there's probably Furusawa and myself are the ones most involved in the final selection of what we want.

MM: Is that Superbikes and MotoGP together, or just MotoGP?

LJ: That's an interesting question as well. I should say it's just MotoGP, but it's not as black and white, because as an example, in the case of Ben Spies, I was involved very much in the whole of the negotiations, together with Yamaha Europe. So in that case there was Laurens [Klein-Koerkamp] of Yamaha Europe and myself. But I really guided the negotiations.

And many people still don't believe it, but we did the deal with Ben [for 2010 and 2011] where he was clearly for one year in World Superbike, that was the clear intention, and the second year in MotoGP. But we had an understanding that if at some moment within the timeframe of still being able to make the change, he should want to change his mind and move to MotoGP, we were ready for that.

And I think this is something quite strong with Yamaha. Firstly our global network is strong, so the relationship and the open communication we have between for instance YMR in Italy that does all the negotiations and sponsor discussions and logistics, with Japan who are eventually responsible for the project in its entirety and the technical issues, then with our network, we have very strong relationships with Yamaha Europe, with Yamaha US, with Yamaha Australia. In my opinion, it's one of the really strong assets of Yamaha, and that allows us to work on deals and scenarios that maybe other people would have more difficulty with. Because Yamaha has that level of understanding.

A good example here is also, we could talk about Ben Spies and Colin [Edwards] as an example, the relationship they have with Yamaha US is very strong, but you can see some examples of it by the way we've been able to put together some of these special videos, with them together, stuff like that. So we are constantly looking with a global mindset, not looking only at that racing team, or this project. I think that's one of our advantages.

MM: So that would the same sort thing for a rider like Cal Crutchlow, who's been taken to World Supersport, become champion there, moved up to World Superbikes, possible options in the future, anything could happen?

LJ: Yes, we like to, in business but also in the sport and with our riders, we like to keep long-term relationships wherever possible. It's not always possible, because sometimes things don't work out, sometimes a performance is not good.

A good example is maybe James, if we look at James Toseland, his project. Basically, he came from World Superbikes, we brought him into the MotoGP world in harmony with Tech 3. Basically he was a Tech 3 rider from the beginning, but we talked to him, Furusawa and me and Herve [Poncharal] together to bring him into the Yamaha world. We gave it our best shot with him; he gave it his best shot with us; everybody gave the maximum, but unfortunately it didn't work out.

However, we then found another solution. We said, well, look, he's a double World Superbike champion, he's a great guy, he's a super ambassador, and we need a top rider in Superbikes. So if we can't keep him in MotoGP, why don't we place him in the Superbike team? And again, we can do that, because we have the cooperation between Yamaha Europe and Yamaha Japan and Yamaha Racing.

MM: So you've almost got like a career path for riders - career path is probably a bit strong, but you've got much more flexibility in what you do with riders?

LJ: Well, career path, I believe that's too big a word, it's not quite like that. Career path, I look more towards McLaren and [Lewis] Hamilton, that's a career path, when you've taken somebody from a very young age, you've put them out first in karts, then here, then there, you've trained them up. That's a true career path. I don't think honestly we do that. But we try to take care of people, our people, we try to find the area or environment where they can perform best. That also fits together with Yamaha in the racing and in the marketing. And I think that this is our strength, so not really career path, but working together with riders, together with Yamaha network to find good solutions and good opportunities.

MM: Was that also the reason for bringing Tom Houseworth and Greg Wood [Spies' pit crew] in? Because they've moved straight in to the Tech 3 team, and you can see from Spies' performances that he wouldn't be up to speed that quickly if he had a different crew chief.

LJ: Yes, I think that's the other side of what we do, again to work with the riders and to listen to the riders, to try to find an environment where they feel comfortable and confident, and ready to perform.

And it's not with every rider that they have this strong link with one or two people, some riders are more flexible. As an example, when we brought Jorge [Lorenzo] in, we brought him in as a rider, but we selected who we thought would be the right crew chief for him. We chose Ramon Forcada, because Ramon is Spanish, lives close to Jorge, has many years' experience, also had gone through the whole learning curve with Casey Stoner, so was obviously used to working with a rookie moving into the MotoGP class. So we looked at that scenario, and said we should change the crew chief when he arrives, and we personally selected Ramon, and then introduced that to Jorge, and Jorge was wide open to that idea, and it worked.

But in the case of Ben it's a little bit different. Obviously, Ben is an American coming to Europe to start with. So that process started when Ben became available, but clearly an American arriving suddenly in Europe, three times AMA champion, he needs a comfort zone, he needs something where he can trust, he can rely on, he can feel confident and comfortable. So they brought [Houseworth] into Superbikes, and in Superbikes they did a great job, as the results obviously spoke for themselves.

Then when Ben was considering going into MotoGP, firstly anyway the contract was a Superbike plus MotoGP deal, so there was always a little bit of a hybrid element at the beginning, but also we considered, that it had worked out well with Woody [Greg Wood] and Tom [Houseworth], and for sure they had the ambition to come to MotoGP - I mean, had they not desired and been willing to come and follow, then OK, it's end of story - but they're ready, Ben would be happy, Tech 3 can accept the situation, we've had one year already, we know they're good. So there's absolutely no reason not to do it. Again, we worked closely, very closely with Herve, I have a close personal relationship with Herve, and we discuss these things openly and find solutions.

MM: Yes, whenever I speak to Herve, he's always very happy to be a part of Yamaha, because he gets so much support from the factory.

LJ: Yes, we don't say to him, you're an independent team, it's your project, your riders, go and sort it out. We like to work closely. We only have four riders - Honda have more, but we only have four, so we like to use our investment in his project and his investment in his project to find the best solution for him and for us.

MM: The other thing I really notice with all of Yamaha's riders is the level of intelligence, they all have a very sharp, keen intelligence, whereas you see other riders in the paddock who are fast, undoubtedly fast, but they're fast without thinking about it, they don't even know how they do it. Is intelligence something you look at, is it important?

LJ: Yes, we have them do a Yamaha GCSE [British high school exam] before they come in for their first discussion, and if they don't pass the 80% mark, we don't talk to them! [Laughs] No, joking aside, I would say that a winning rider is always an intelligent rider, and we search for winning riders.

So, you know, I quite like this aspect of the job and the world, because you can see quite clearly, the closer you get to the riders, you can see the different skills and abilities they have, and I think, of course they have to have pure raw talent, but to succeed as the very maximum level, one should never underestimate the intelligence that's needed to work on the bike, develop the bike, manage themselves, manage the press, manage the race strategy. It's not easy, there's a lot of pressures on these guys, and normally it will be the ones who are the most shrewd and intelligent who will be successful.

MM: Speaking of intelligence and the talent that Yamaha has, you're in a real quandary. You have three of the five best riders in the world, and you've only got two factory seats.

LJ: That's true.

MM: And it's contract time.

LJ: That's also true.

MM: How far along are you in that process, or are waiting to talk to people?

LJ: We are busy with our own thoughts, planning, and we are always busy discussing with the riders and the riders' management; it's a constant process. I wouldn't say that on day one you begin something. You know, Jorge's negotiation and situation started, what, now three and a half years ago, and it's a constant process. Ben is the only rider on a two-year contract, so Ben has a contract with Yamaha Motor Company for 2010 and 2011, without being specified where he will be placed.

The ideal scenario for me at the moment would be honestly speaking to retain all four. That would be the perfect scenario. I don't know whether that's possible or not, because Colin is towards the back end of his career, I don't know when Colin will decide to stop. Also we have to look at young blood coming in, but last year he had a fabulous year and he earned his seat again with Herve and that's Herve's decision as well, which we fully support. Ben has the contract and so he could be flexible. I think where he is now he's very happy and it works well, so for him it's Tech 3, or if anything let's say a step up, if I can say that, but he's very very happy where he is now. Vale, we want to continue with Vale, we want to continue with Jorge. That process is ongoing, I mean they are probably the two most desirable riders on the scene. I'll let you know when we have something to say.

MM: The real dilemma must be between Vale and Jorge, because they're both such incredibly powerful marketing images as well. And you know that Valentino Rossi will be selling R1s or whatever has replaced them in 2025, and Jorge has the potential to be the same, he's only 23 right now.

LJ: In a way, our problem [with Lorenzo and Rossi] that we have now has been created by, I would like to say good planning, because nobody knew when Valentino may or may not stop. And so we recruited Jorge early, in order to bring him on and bring him up to speed so that if eventually Vale decided to retire or go to cars or Formula One or rally or whatever, we would have a succession scenario.

Now we have a situation where Valentino is riding as good if not better than ever; he's still motivated and wants to stay in the sport, and Jorge has done pretty much what we expected of him, so they're pretty much, often on an even par. So it's not going to be easy to keep them both in our project - we would like that, but let's see, because I'm very much a realist.

I personally think something's got to happen in Honda; they will make a move sooner, rather than later I believe. And depending on what they will do, well, there's only a very limited number of super top riders at the moment. Ben is already on a contract with us so you can rule out Ben, so you've got Vale, Jorge, Casey and Dani. I think Honda will be quite aggressive in their rider recruitment, and let's see which rider they will approach. But, it's not going to be, it's a good position for those top riders, but let's see. I think both for Vale and Jorge, we'd like to keep them here, and I think they're both very happy here. I still believe for next year this will be the best place for both of them, but … nobody knows what will happen.

MM: Any thoughts about the 2012 regulations? About continuing to run 800s, or going to 1000s, I know Yamaha wants to keep running the 800.

LJ: I have no comment on our plans at the moment. But with the MSMA we agreed together with the FIM and Dorna on the new regulations to try and find a solution to increase the number on the grid etc. How we will decide which configuration to use will be done later, we will be evaluating all of the possibilities and the elements and the investment as well and the performance potential.

But something's got to change in my opinion, in order to allow the possibility for more people to enter the grid. I think that Yamaha making four bikes is a step in the right direction. Personally, I have always felt this and said this, I think Suzuki should put more bikes on the grid. I think Honda are doing a good job already, Ducati are doing a good job. I think we also have to look at Superbike at the moment. In Superbike, the principle is that you should be racing production bikes, but I think some of the new manufacturers there in Superbike are racing with what in my opinion is much closer to a prototype than a Superbike. Those manufacturers should be here; this is the prototype class. So I think we need to do, the existing participants, some of them need to provide more, and we have to find a way for other factories, the other constructors to enter. And this is the solution that's been tabled at the moment, and probably it's not perfect, but it's a step in the right direction.

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*I'm looking at you BMW and Aprilia*

What a sharp guy. I wonder if he speaks Italian and Japanese (and what else?). When ever I see him speak on video I get the impression that if it were not for motorsport, he'd been politics.

I was wondering about that as well... interesting... maybe because of the newness of the bikes they are not considered as much of a 'solid' production bike as the Japanese have? But then how do you bring in a new bike without having it at some stage of it's life closer to a 'prototype', it is a brand new bike after all... not sure if he meant in that sense.

But it's also been widely commented on that Aprilia have built a racing bike from the start. They did not start building a street bike and then take it racing, more like build the sort of racing bike that they wanted and then found room to stick a headlight on the front!

Even so, more power to Aprilia I say. If the Japanese want to setup up their game with a whole new generation of racing-based production motorcycles then great. (It's all good for me if bikes like the RSV4 become more widely available.)

Vespadaddy, it's probably fair to say that the Aprilia and BMW are ahead of the Japanese bikes and Ducati in that they are completely clean-sheet designs and both utilise a lot more of what you'd term 'race' technology than their competitors. Examples, the BMW valve gear takes design cues from the BMW F1 engines, and the RSV4 frame is adjustable to the nth degree. Furthermore, Aprilia has a choice of either gear driven cams or chain driven cams, to help find the power delivery characteristics they want (very controversial, this bit!) and its diminutive size is probably on par with all of the MotoGP bikes.

I agree with Jarvis - the RSV4 in particular is closer to MotoGP than WSB in design and execution.

The other salient point - which Jarvis was too diplomtic to mention - is the bore of the BMW. At 81mm, it is right at the limit for the new 1000cc MotoGP regulations, which happen to allow a production-derived powerplant. In short, the BMW engine is quite capable of powering a MotoGP bike under the new rules... and we know it is not short of power. In MotoGP guise and with the sort of serious electronics package that it currently lacks*, it could be formidable.

* BMW are doing an inhouse TC for the S1000RR, which is one of the reasons it's not as consistently fast as the other bikes - the TC can't control wheelspin well enough to leave Tres Corsage** with enough tyre at the end of a race.

** courtesy of The Melvis Race Reports on VFR Discussion : )

isnt racing ultimately about improving the breed?
i love it how bmw and aprilia (and other manufacturer's) have made it possible for average joes like me to ride and race bikes armed with cutting edge technology that are probably quicker than full on prototypes from a few years ago. the one thing that irks me slightly is that i believe wsbk production bikes should only be allowed to use the electronics and traction control that is offered on the bikes they sell. hopefully it makes the japanese pull their finger out

i read a review - in an american bike mag i believe, either late last year of the start of this year - of the aprilia RSV4 factory, where it was described as being the closest thing to a prototype racebike available to the public; i recall the reviewer (wayne gardener, i am CERTAIN) saying it was pretty much a motogp bike.

Great questions.

By far, I've read more substantive interviews on this site than any other. Not only great questions, but the choices of interviewees - insiders, decision makers, in short, key people.

With regard to Jarvis' comments regarding a couple of the bikes in WSBK being closer to prototypes than production superbikes (and I've heard and read many others in the racing industry saying similar things, particularly with regard to the RSV4), when you can sell to the public a production version of the M1 (and, no, a cross-plane R1 will not do) at the price that Aprilia sells its RSV4 Factory (and the same for the other factories as well, being able to sell production versions of their MotoGP prototypes for ~$20,000 U.S.), then perhaps the observation will deserve more credence.

Don't know if Aprilia is taking a loss or not on every sale of its RSV4s, but whatever the case, they're not selling them at $2 million a pop, which is probably closer to what Yamaha would sell the M1 for (of course, assuming that one would even be able to buy one at any cost, which would probably not be the case) than to $20 K.

With regard to the need for enlarging the MotoGP grid, if the MSMA's solution is to guilt BMW and Aprilia into running proper multi-million dollar prototypes because their production superbikes are too good, too technically advanced, and also guilt one of its poorer brethren, Suzuki, which is barely getting by with just two bikes, into running two more bikes, which is what it sounds like may be the case in one interpretation of Jarvis' comments, then it sounds like we'll continue to have a grid of no more than 17 bikes.

I think people may be missing something.
The argument may not be about bikes in their showroom form. Jarvis' comments about prototypes in wsbk may refer to the fact that their is barely any components of the road bikes left, essentially only the engine cases and frame. Everything else is a bespoke racing part. The TTXTR forks that yamaha have used for the last couple of years cost 50 grand per leg. The whole bike costs less than 20 in the showroom.
I agree with jpbits that only the electronics available on the stock bikes should be permitted in WSBK, if that means production run homologation specials with programmable ecu's, then all the better.

was referring to WSBK in general as being too "prototype," which is what you seem to be saying, and with which I wouldn't disagree -- certainly there is little resemblance between WSBK bikes and anything that the average public would be buying off a showroom floor. Nevertheless, Jarvis referred to the couple of new entrants - obviously implying BMW and Aprilia - and the comments here largely addressed this subject.

Jarvis' comments didn't seem to be lamenting the increasing technical advancement in general of WSBK, but rather singling out BMW and Aprilia to encourage/guilt them into entering MotoGP, and thus increasing its grid. His comments support what seems to be the MSMA's understandable position, which is to increase the grid if possible, primarily with additional bikes from additional and existing factories, thus at the same time maintaining the dominance of the factories. The MSMA does not want privateers getting their hands on non-factory-sourced bikes capable of beating factory-sourced bikes. This is understandable. Factories are in racing ultimately to sell bikes. That's how they make their money.

The various parties involved in racing often don't share the same interests.

Organizers want to sell tickets and media rights. That's how they make money. Whatever formula they are able to come up with that will make money is what they will adhere to. Ezpeleta isn't concerned about grid numbers because he's concerned about GP history/tradition; he's concerned that fans may lose interest. The Flamminis don't care about the "purity" of a production superbike. They want to make money, and, if that means prestige and cachet from unobtainium on their "production-based superbikes," then the bikes will be as close to being "prototypes" as possible without actually being prototypes.

Even fans themselves have differing wants, many of which may be unrealistic and/or unfeasible financially.

If fans want to see which factory makes the fastest bike, simple: have Rossi, Lorenzo, Stoner, et al., each ride all the bikes and time them.

If fans want to see which rider is the fastest, again, simple: put all the riders on the same bike, a la Red Bull Rookies (but, only to make it even more on even ground, the same crew will prepare all the bikes).

If fans wanted, in WSBK, to see which factory built the best superbike (and thus dispense with all the arguments about why Ducati is alternately too persecuted, too politically powerful, etc.), simple: ditch all weight/performance restrictions, ditch all displacement regulations, ditch all weight regulations, ditch all configuration regulations, do put a cap on the budget/cost of each bike (either at the team or showroom levels or both), and let the factories have at it.

Again, fans may want many different things. But that doesn't mean that organizers want any of those things. Nor factories. Nor teams, etc.

Bottom line is, with regard to the issue of enlarging the MotoGP grid, as far as Jarvis (and the MSMA) is concerned, yeah, it would be nice to increase it, but not at the cost of losing the factories' hegemony over racing success. This leads to those who then advocate for "putting the factories in their place." But - and I think David has pointed this out before - a prototype class without factories is pretty much a death knell for MotoGP. Superbikes are readily available - and sorted out of the crate - and a superbike series can survive an exodus by factories, as the Flamminis have demonstrated; however, if factories leave MotoGP, and you get privateers building prototypes that will likely be much slower around tracks than superbikes, how long do you think MotoGP will survive?

The MSMA wields a great deal of power in MotoGP and deservedly so. Not saying it's a good thing; just that it's an unavoidable situation, at least in MotoGP's current form. And, judging by what snippets we got from the MSMA meeting in Jerez, and now reinforced by what Jarvis is saying, it doesn't bode well for increasing the grid numbers.

Interesting to hear (read) Jarvis' insider perspective on the contract negotiations.  I wonder, in a situation like this, if he is repeating conventional wisdom to keep the story abstract, or if it really will play out as he suggests...

If Honda are really eager to make changes, what will happen if Pedrosa and Dovizioso mature into the bike and consistently compete for the podium?

What if all the attention being paid to the Fantastic Four gets interrupted by Hayden or Dovizioso beating one or more of them, after a contract gets signed?

Of all people, Honda should be the most apprehensive about leaping too quickly, since it could be easily argued that's the root of their troubles since some time in 2005.

Regarding his thoughts on Aprilia (or, especially BMW), it would be more easy to interpret them that way if Aprilias were smashing the field...  but they're not.  It is much more easy to argue the top-down success of Yamaha last year than it would be to suggest the reverse, as Suzuki prove year after year.

I think he is suggesting that loosening up the rules would make it more attractive for Aprilia and BMW to enter the fray, without having to spend on a completely different R&D staff and equipment.  And then, maybe someone will field a 1000cc SBK Suzuki motor in a GP frame and be competitive with the 800cc factory bike right away... ;-)

He is yet another example of how the musical instrument company does a better job achieving success with happy people than an engineering company does with typically stern-looking people.

Lets not forget who brought HRC its last World Title. And who the bike was being built around, So far its backfired. Most pundints believe Honda is gonna act quickly and aggressively towards the top 4 but Dovi and Hayden may throw a wrench in some plans if they continue their pace, and its July with no signed contracts! I'm no Einstein but looks like Haydens the top Duck rider, alot different scenerio then we had last yr at this time.

Great article,
Too early to say who's top rider or not. Personally i think you can't judge Hayden's success and say he's a top Duc after only one good race. Stoner is incredibly fast on any ducati and will probably be faster on 1000cc ducati than hayden ever will be. Just look how easy they all go around Hayden, I cant remember that any of fantastic 4 ever struggled to overtake him no matter how good he raced in last few years.

Good on Aprilia and BMW for lifting up their standards. New R1 is good but only when they are being backed by Factory. Aprilia and BMW are amazing and in another league alltogether. Put a CAP on how much can you spend on your base model bike and it will produce some great racing and they will try and not make Yamaha weighing 208+kg with no ABS and pricing it $21000 AUD when you can buy BMW S1000rr for $21900 AUD.

I think that in order to attract new factories/entrants in MotoGP they need to stabilise a set of rules for more than a couple of seasons.
Swapping between engine capacities/fuel limits/engine life rules etc every 10 minutes will only put off prospective entrants and make competing in MotoGP much more expensive than it should be. Any cost saving rules will be drowned out by the cost of developing a new engine every tinme th erules change.
By contrast the WSB rules are reasonably constant, which allows factories/teams/entrants to plan long term racing strategies rather than work from season to season without knowing what the rules will allow next year.
Both BMW and Aprilia have mentioned that this played a significant part in theri decisions to race in WSB rather than MotoGP.

I find the interviews on here always extremely interesting. Especially the choice of interview partners and the smart questions put you a step above the rest. This one is just another example of that excellence.

The question about the intelligence of riders was great, as was his answer to it. In my opinion this is something that's often overlooked or neglected in discussions. Being an intelligent rider, not only knowing exactly what you do, but also how to present yourself and how to manage the press has a lot to do with professionalism which is crucial at this level of motorsport. Many fans might love the out-of-control wild riders because they deliver the carnage and the "bad boys" because they stir up the paddock, but these are rarely the ones best at their job.

Some very astute observations made. The Beemer / Aprilia reference; yes certainly a little elbow in the ribs goad to join the premier class of racing. Possible for a giant like BMW to run in both series, but doubtful for Aprilia without big outside backing. Whilst Jarvis has both series under his Yamaha umbrella, there is no doubt where his loyalties lie.

Since forever production bikes have resembled racing machines. This intensified somewhat with the introduction of the GSXR750 in 1984, but it's nothing new. Cutting edge proddie racing machines generally have a two year shelf life. The Beemer & Aprilia are certainly class leaders for now, but what's in the pipeline 2011 from the Japanese? Kawasaki are bigging themselves up. Racing improves the breed undoubtedly.

Family has made a mess of the motorcycling scene for me, but I was lucky enough to rack up 50km on the new BMW SSR in full fat mode - that engine & front end - wow! But the RSV4 Aprilia, oh, now there's really something about that. GP bike with lights? Yeah!