Petronas Yamaha Boss Razlan Razali, Part 1: On Canceling 2020, Rider Contracts, And Having Valentino Rossi As A Rider

2020 was set to be a huge year for the Petronas Yamaha SRT team. After an astonishing debut year, Fabio Quartararo had a full factory bike and factory backing from Yamaha, and was expected to win races and challenge for the title. Franco Morbidelli had a year of experience of the M1 under his belt, and a better bike ready to take on the season. Both riders had been fast during testing, showing signs they would live up to their promise.

It was also set to be a big year for Razlan Razali, who was due to step down as CEO of the Sepang International Circuit, home to the Malaysian round of MotoGP and owner of the Petronas team, after nearly twelve years, to focus solely on his role as Team Principal of the team. He had a lot on his hands in that role: expanding sponsorship and the profile of the team, handling the success of last year, and fielding questions about 2021, with all the signs pointing to Petronas Yamaha having Valentino Rossi in the team.

The global COVID-19 pandemic has changed all of that. With the death toll around the world now already past 200,000, measures to curb the disease have been put in place across the globe. That has put any thought of international motorcycle racing on the back burner. That, in turn, has forced teams to change their plans, and raised a number of questions which teams had never even thought they would need to answer.

To get a perspective on how things have changed for the Petronas Yamaha team, and for Razlan Razali in particular, leading Israeli journalist and broadcaster Tammy Gorali spoke to the Team Principal. She covered a wide range of subjects with Razali, who spoke from his experience both as CEO of a Grand Prix circuit and as the head of the only team with riders in all three classes.

In the first part of this interview, Gorali asks Razali about the impact of the coronavirus crisis on the Sepang International Circuit, on holding races behind closed doors, on whether he thinks the 2020 season should be canceled or just postponed, and on the effect of a curtailed or canceled season on contracts for 2021. Razali also discusses whether or not he would be willing to have Valentino Rossi in the Petronas Yamaha SRT team, and the advantages and disadvantages of such a famous and powerful rider in a satellite team, whose primary purpose is to nurture talent to get them ready to move up to the factory Yamaha squad.

Being based in Malaysia, Razlan Razali also has a keen eye on how the COVID-19 outbreak is developing in that part of Southeast Asia. So that is where Tammy Gorali starts.

Q: Do you see a difference in how the COVID-19 is affecting Europe compared to Malaysia?

Razlan Razali: I think it affects everybody, every country in the world the same. To some extent, that depends on the respective countries, but in the industry that we are in, I think it's the same everywhere. We are not suffering less than what the guys in Europe are suffering, it's the same.

We are entertainment, we are a nonessential industry, and the first thing that gets hit is us, the entertainment industry and motorsports. And the last to recover is also us. This pandemic is very much different to an economy in recession, because in a recession, you can still be healthy, safe and alive but now if you are not careful you can be seriously sick and worse. And on top of that the economy comes in and you are struggling financially.

Nobody is immune to this pandemic and it's an unprecedented life-changing experience for everybody, for our kids, my kids, myself. Even my late parents never went through this kind of experience in their lifetime.

Q: How do you think the Sepang circuit will handle this financially? Can it handle a race without spectators?

RR: The last time I was at the circuit, which is less than a month ago, we left with a financial scenario which is quite scary already. We were already financially affected, we have closed the track for a month already, since March, we were expecting to close until May. We don't know if the Ministry of Health will allow big events. All of our series races are canceled, Asian series races are canceled, the only thing left for us is to protect the Malaysian MotoGP as much and as long as we can.

The idea of having an event without spectators is a good proposition, but we need to look at the financial impact of it. I think there should be more dialog with Dorna to see exactly what that entails because there must be a balance between both parties, how much we pay as a race fee and how much we can do, because we will lose a lot of revenue for sure.

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Razlan Razali touches on the obviously weak link in a global capitalist economic machine - that it must run 24/7 to stay alive. It belongs to time. When a force majeure event such as a pandemic arises, the weakness is exposed. Only essential productivity is taking place while the clock continues to tick on contracts for all. Markets are still running, interest is still compounding, bills are still arriving and hardly anyone is working. Why not hit the pause button on the time component of the economy? Why not forgive time? Sounds simple and naive, and probably impossible to implement. It would be a legal nightmare with everyone vying for their interests. It may be in Razali's best interest to keep Quartararo for 2021. But his idea of forgiving across the board, equally for all, is inspiring.  

Interesting how blunt Razlan was regarding Vale's hypotheticaly signing for Petronas. Not until now I heard anyone in the industry admitting that it was not a done deal. I wonder how these comments will be digested in Tavullia.
Waiting for the next chapters. 

Is a wonderful but scary thing for any team. He is still extremely powerful on track and off. A sponsors dream in many ways, but probably very expensive too - unlike young bloods. A team established on low cost riders would see budgets stretched and team focus turned around from leading a rider to being led. And perhaps just for one year. The re-start afterwards is unlikely to be like their dream first year. VR would want his own crew chief and others, which would also unbalance what appears to be a very well-balanced team.

A third bike and crew might be easier and could morph into a VR46 team after a year or two, but that puts pressure on the Petronas satellite team deal - who would be first choice for riders or Yamaha?

The state of the world economy after the current mess is a big question too.