The Cat Is Out Of The Bag: Petronas SIC Yamaha MotoGP Team To Be Presented At Silverstone

It is hard to keep secrets in the MotoGP paddock (though not impossible, as Jorge Lorenzo's move to Repsol Honda conclusively proves). One of the worst kept secrets has been the news that the Sepang International Circuit, or SIC, is to expand its current operation to include a MotoGP team. Over the months since rumors first started circulating that Sepang was interested in running a MotoGP team, details have slowly dripped out, until we now have an almost complete picture. The whole picture is to be formally announced at Silverstone, at a press conference at 6pm BST on Friday.

Here's what we already know: the team is to be an extension of the current Petronas Sprinta Racing team, which currently runs Adam Norrodin and Ayumi Sasaki in Moto3, and Niki Tuuli in Moto2. The Petronas SIC Yamaha team, as it will almost certainly be called, will be the showcase team for the Petronas-backed structure run by the Sepang International Circuit. The objective is to have two riders in each of the three Grand Prix classes, from Moto3 to MotoGP, as well as a team in the FIM CEV Junior World Moto3 Championship. 

Current Petronas Sprinta team manager Johan Stigefelt will continue to oversee the full team in all three classes, though management of the MotoGP team will be delegated to Wilco Zeelenberg, currently rider analyst for Maverick Viñales in the Movistar Yamaha MotoGP team. Zeelenberg will be too busy managing the Petronas SIC Yamaha team to take on the role of rider coach for the Petronas team, so an existing rider coach is to be appointed to the team to assist the riders. 

Though it is yet to be announced, the rider line up for the Petronas SIC Yamaha team was finalized at Assen, with Franco Morbidelli and Fabio Quartararo riding the bikes. Petronas has the budget to obtain much better material from Yamaha than Tech3 ever did, with Morbidelli set to line up on a near-factory M1, while Quartararo will likely be riding something more similar to a satellite machine. Ramon Forcada, currently crew chief to Maverick Viñales, will join the Petronas SIC Yamaha team to work as crew chief to Franco Morbidelli. The crew for the Petronas SIC Yamaha team will be made up of a large part of the current Marc VDS MotoGP squad, as that team are leaving the MotoGP grid in 2019.

The importance of the team is emphasized by the role call of Malaysian representatives present at the Silverstone press conference. SIC CEO Razlan Razali will of course be there, as the driving force behind the team, as well SIC Chairman Azman Yahya. Wan Zulkiflee, CEO of Petronas, the state-owned Malaysian oil company, will also be present, along with the Malaysian minister of youth and sports, Syed Saddiq. The goal of the team structure is to promote primarily Malaysian, but in the second instance, Asian talent along a pathway from the FIM CEV to MotoGP, but it is also important for the team to be successful at as many levels as possible. The reason for Petronas to back the team so heavily is for the promotional value of being involved in Grand Prix motorcycle racing, and that value is best served by winning.

The goal of winning races is why the rider line up took so long to assemble. Initially, Petronas and SIC had wanted an existing top rider, spending a lot of time courting first Jorge Lorenzo, and then Dani Pedrosa. Lorenzo chose the security of a factory team, while Pedrosa decided he no longer had the passion to keep the intensity needed to be successful in MotoGP. Franco Morbidelli was already destined for the Petronas SIC team, as a protegé of the VR46 Riders Academy, and so it was a logical step to put him in the lead role. The team took a gamble on the youth and potential of Fabio Quartararo over existing and proven riders such as Alvaro Bautista. 

Though there are few concrete details left for the Malaysian protagonists to reveal at the Silverstone press conference, it will still be eagerly awaited. Above all, it will give an insight into the reasoning behind this team, and demonstrate the seriousness of the commitment to the program. If the wilder rumors circulating in the paddock are true, this could be the future of the factory Yamaha team.


Back to top


an ambitious, well funded operation from Asia with the muscle to buy the best from Yamaha- though I do wonder how sour it got with Tech 3 as Yamaha never before said there was much better kit available if you had deep enough pockets! We have a stellar crew, exiting riders from the top down and, after they named a nondescript grandstand the Hazifh Syahrin grandstand, SIC sold it out instantly!

Call me an idealist, but I still hanker after the six manufacturers having four bikes/two teams each, with the ‘B’ team being very close to the ‘A’ and with quality test riders appearing as wildcards periodically, pushing development and the full time riders ever onwards.

Dorna seem-from the dark CRT days-to be playing one winning card after another; from my first Brit GP in 1983 to my first foreign GP at Assen 1985, whilst my memory fades and can be hazy at times, I can’t remember more satisfying times. And to really put the hat on it, we have David Emmett putting it all into glorious relief. I am a lucky man with Aragon and Sepang looming but jeez, I wish there were more...!

The "deep enough pockets" bit that is. I wonder if there truly was ever an option for TECH3 to get better then they got. It always seemed that Herve couldn't get as good as he wanted and never implied (that I can recall) that the cost was the limiting factor. It's more likely to me that it's just Yamaha changing their MO in light of their recent "fall from grace" so to speak. Goes right in line with the Euro test team addition.

My point entirely, I do think Yamaha are desperate and know they need more works-or near works-input to get back to the sharp end. It may be that Herve, who let’s face it, is no fool, is really pissed because the ‘more you spend, more you get’ option was never offered to him. So SIC came on with a big wallet AND the ever growing Asian market to turn Yamaha’s head. Let’s face it, the Japanese brands are opening up these markets by selling their lower end, older production bikes to mass Asian markets. They know that brand recognition is key here. I congratulate Herve for aligning his project with an equally ambitious outfit in Europe, but unless they bridge the gap to Ducati and the Japanese soon, will the generous funding of KTM continue forever? I doubt it...

...some more complex issues IMO. There is the Z factor too. Let me explain: in the past - until 2016- I heard many interviews of Hervé in French (bearing in mind these guys very rarely talk to the press without an agenda, particularly Poncharal who is also head of IRTA). Speaking his mother tongue to "his" audience he never hinted at wanting more. 

Most of  the time his riders were faring well and it always sounded that the deal was clear and both parties content. I remember a long interview of Pol Espargaro summer 2015 I think praising the data they were given by Yamaha factory after every FP  and how that helped both him and Smith. He was in awe when telling that they could not figure out how JL and the Italian could do what they were doing. 

Then some major things happened : Smith never got around the Michelin. The 2017 Yamaha was a disaster. And Zarco managed to be in front of the factory boys a couple of times. And Poncharal with, no doubt, the help of Fellon, started looking at the whole thing in a different way. Expecting more from Yamaha despite the fact that their contract has always been clear. 

That is when in his french interviews he started hinting at an unfair treatment from Yamaha. And that they don't get enough. And that Zarco deserved a full factory bike "because he beat both factory riders". My guess is that he used zarco's good results as leverage to obtain more from Yamaha. 

But his plan was in clear conflict with Fellon's plan: Zarco wanted in in an official team. Somehow the KTM move came as a plan B considering that there might be a Yamaha VR46 team in 2022. 

Was this a smart move? I honestly don't know. But I have the feeling that Jarvis was always very clear about the terms of the relationship with Tech 3. Less so Poncharal who saw Zarco as a negociating asset without realizing they wanted different things.

The good thing is that Tech 3 will be growing with KTM and bringing to the table all the precious knowledge acquired with Yamaha....

On a side note: I'm delighted that Morbidelli's struggle with the Honda will soon be over. Seeing how  well "pescao" is doing I'm fairly confident he can do better. I'm more puzzled by quartararo...

Morbidelli will love his 2019 factory!
(Bike is coming good Sam)
If Quarty get an updated motor and electronics he will too. Yamaha does such stuff (like Zarco now as I understand). And SIC has serious cash. LOVE the aqua blue back!