Lin Jarvis Interview: On Rossi Retiring, Working With Viñales, Yamaha's Revival, And The Future Of MotoGP

It has been a tumultuous first half of 2021 for Yamaha. With Fabio Quartararo comfortably leading the championship, Valentino Rossi announcing his retirement from MotoGP at the end of the season, and Maverick Viñales winning the first race and then dramatically splitting from Yamaha mid-season, there has been a lot going on.

On Saturday of the Styria Grand Prix, the first race at the Red Bull Ring, I spoke to Lin Jarvis, Managing Director of Yamaha Motor Racing, about how their season has gone so far. We spoke about Valentino Rossi's retirement, and the impact he has had at and for Yamaha, and we talked about how Yamaha made the M1 more competitive after a difficult 2020.

We also talked about Maverick Viñales, though this was before the Spaniard's bizarre Styria race, in which a pit lane start and electrical gremlins saw him become so frustrated he took it out on his Yamaha M1, holding the bike on the stop in fifth gear rather than changing up. That led to a suspension and eventual split, but Jarvis' views on Viñales prior to these events are still instructive.

That discussion led Jarvis to explain their approach to finding a replacement for Viñales in the factory team, and what happens next at Petronas Yamaha. And finally, Jarvis gives his view of how the MSMA has come together to get through the pandemic, and how that affects MotoGP going forward.

Q: I didn't want to make this interview about Valentino Rossi, but it’s really hard not to start on about it just because of the importance of it. When did you find out he was going to retire?

Lin Jarvis: A few days ago. Maybe last Friday or something.

Q: We know that it’s been a possibility for a while. What did you do to prepare for it? How important has he been for Yamaha?

LJ: I think the importance for Yamaha is pretty obvious for everybody to see. We’ve had fifteen and a half years’ experience and understand his importance. When he joined us, he was really the catalyst that stimulated the renaissance of our MotoGP activities. In particular, he joined us in the beginning of 2004, and in 2003 we didn’t win a single Grand Prix race, which was probably our lowest point – certainly our lowest point since I have been directly involved, which was from ’99.

We had a decent level of success before that in the sense of with the Marlboro Yamaha team, for instance, with Biaggi and Checa we got second position in the world and third position in the world. But we hadn’t won a championship for many, many years. I can’t remember how many. Twelve years prior to that, or something. So, it was time for Yamaha to either step or get out.

Fortunately at that time, Valentino was ready for a new challenge when he was a Honda rider, and he took a giant leap of faith, I think, by accepting the proposal from Yamaha to ride on a bike that literally hadn't won a race. At that stage, he was the king of MotoGP. His arrival was kind of a do-or-die situation for Yamaha. We decided let’s do, and if it works it will be fantastic. If it doesn’t work, anyway we gave it our best shot and then we’ll see. When you take somebody like Valentino on board, you are obliged to step up and do the maximum you can.

I think his arrival combined with the arrival of Masao Furusawa were two key points, and that was approved by the president of Yamaha. It was a big step because he wasn’t cheap when he joined us, and it was a big move. So, also compliments to the president at that time, which was Mr. Kajikawa, for taking and backing the decision. The rest is history, as they say, because he went on to win the first race. He went on to win the championship the first year.

When I say it stimulated the renaissance, it gave us back the confidence that we could do it and that we were capable to win world championships and we were able to recover our glory days of the previous champions that we’ve had so many of over the years with Agostini, Kenny Roberts, Wayne Rainey, etcetera. So, it was really the beginning of a new era. We will be eternally grateful to him for that for having the faith to join us and then delivering us four championships.

But more than four championships on the track as well, he’s also been a great brand ambassador over the years. We did two stints with him. Obviously, the first stint was seven years and this second stint by the time it concludes will be a second stint of nine years. That’s pretty extraordinary. You don’t see that very often in motorsports world. But I think it’s a good sign of the collaboration we have together.

I’m really happy finally that when he does hang up his leathers, they will be Yamaha leathers that he finally hangs up. That’s I think for us very important and I really respect that. I think we had to give Valentino the room and the space and the confidence for him to make his own decision. So, I think it’s been a fabulous partnership and I hope it will go on in the future for many years in a different guise, in a different situation.

Q: It felt like last year, Yamaha got some unfair criticism in that everyone was saying, “Look, they can’t win a championship,” and yet you ended up winning six or seven races. It feels like Yamaha have made a small step this year which has had a big effect. And Fabio Quartararo really seems to have come into his own as well. How do you see the first half of this year?

LJ: It is funny because we’re doing this interview while in the Red Bull Ring, and I would say Red Bull Ring last year was probably the deepest point for us, the lowest, most critical moment of last year’s season because we had well-documented engine troubles last year. That started from a mistake in the planning at the beginning of the season, or before the season. Misunderstanding of the rules and a mistake in the planning. Wrong batch of materials. We had all sorts of troubles last year with the engine, from the first race onwards.

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Comments

I'm not trying to say anything negative about Lin Jarvis, i think he's a top bloke but is his head full of a mountain of stuff or is this just his natural way of expression ?

'I think now maybe he’s fifth in the championship.'

'I think he was fifth, maybe.'

'I think he finished second.'

Maybe he's just used to giving nothing away to the media, in business dealings etc.

If you're not too specific you can't get nailed down.

edit to correct misspelling.

 

Those Petronas assumptions didn't age well. Two weeks is a long time in this game. It must be doing his head in at the moment.

The collapse of the Petronas team is much bigger news than the Vinales thing.  As you point out, that was Yamaha's strong satellite team and feeder system *two weeks ago*.  LJ specifically called out the Petronas Moto3/2 team which is now going to be axed.  If major backing cannot be found (and it's not exactly a good time to go looking) then the MotoGP team will run old Yamahas and be like Tech3 used to be however in a significantly more competitive era.  That's not going to be an attractive ride even if they can hang onto the awesome core team staff.  I find it really sad that such a major company has again come and gone within a couple of years, shades of Red Bull in the late 90's.

I went to Europe in 2019 and splashed out on a pole position tours 'team experience' package at Assen.  I booked Petronas and was bumped at the last minute to Gresini and with all due respect I told them to no way because Petronas was the coming thing and that's what I'd paid to experience.  Happily they sorted it out (I guess many casual- or non-fans wouldn't care less what team they are with just want to be in the paddock?) and I had a great weekend in the Petronas hospitality and even got into the pit box during Q2 and the race, also parc ferme and pit lane after the race.  The team were awesome, there was a real vibe there.  Petronas stuck it right up the factory team that year and also 2020.  I actually envisaged them taking over the factory team and fixing some of the cultural problems I perceive (with zero direct knowledge) to exist there.  That they're now history is shocking to me.

 

Hope to see a full length David Emmett analysis of the Petronas implosion. So many ripple effects.

Right?

And, saw the other option being a Factory Yamaha merger w VR46, the other (and more Euro/Italian) tour de force and pipeline.

Plop...

That must have been a lifetime gem memory Bregs!

 

Hey Shrink, I vaccilated back and forth about the cost of it, but in the end so very happy I did it - well worth it!  There was such a buzz to the team, they were new and exceeding all expectations.  I felt there was a good chance FQ would get his maiden win that weekend, right from when I booked it.  He got pole and the Saturday evening/night was a buzz of of anticipation among all the PPT guests and team.  I thought he might do it but he had those front end problems and such, got 3rd in the end and Frankie slicing through to get 5th and so very nearly 4th at the end.  Huge buzz.  Saturday night was a presentation and meeting with the venerable DE among others, which was of course a highlight!  The other one I really enjoyed meeting was Manuel Pecino, who gave us a race preview and paddock insights, he was cool. Lorenzo had just had his big crash that day and MP showed us photos of the crash and comparing them to Raineys and thanking every deity that the meeting was not under the pall of a life changing injury or death. 

You were still very much at arms length from the action mind you, basically got you a free pass to the Petronas hospitality and free reign of the paddock up to the rabble-side of the transporters only.  I had to hustle a bit and sweet talk the Petronas boss lady whose name now unfortunately escapes me (Lily?) in order to get into the pits at the ideal times, but they sorted me.  You got trackside passes shared around automatically though, so at times could walk the trackside where the photographers are etc, pit roof too.  Brilliant.

The Petronas hospitality was 'dry' but I was there to max out every moment not lose it in an alcoholic fog.  You also felt it was a matter of respect for the culture of the team brass, so it suited me fine.  It was also absolutely roasting hot, so all I wanted was one mineral water after another.  The evening when we went to the Gresini hospitality to start the pit tour they had a full bar set up (very Italian!) so that was a different vibe.

Hopefully PolePosition Travel survives the last 2 years and thrives again.  I will certainly do it again if I have the opportunity and would recommend them unreservedly.

I'm so glad that you got to experience that. For us non-paddock folks these are the things that dreams are made of.