When Yamaha announced they would be leasing their M1 engines to ex-CRT teams for 2014, the first wave of reaction was overwhelmingly positive. With 24 liters of fuel allowed, and 12 engines instead of 5, the Yamaha engine package looked like being the best thing on offer to the so-called non-MSMA teams, as CRT is to be called from next year1.
Then doubt set in. Looking at the Yamaha M1 package, what you'd want from Yamaha was the chassis rather than the motor. The engine is the least powerful of the MotoGP prototypes, but its chassis was by far the best of the bunch. Both the Honda and the Yamaha non-MSMA packages appeared to be offering the worst part of each bike: Honda offering their chassis (good, but not great) and a dumbed-down version of their superlative engine; Yamaha offering a full-fat engine (the weakest of the bunch), for teams to have someone build a chassis around without Yamaha's 20+ years of experience building Deltabox frames. Perhaps the Yamaha M1 lease package - a lot of money, just for some engines - was not the bargain it at first appeared.
At the Sachsenring, all that changed. In meetings with Yamaha bosses, the head of the NGM Mobile Forward Racing team, Giovanni Cuzari, obtained guarantees that Forward would receive something resembling a full Yamaha M1 to be used as a non-MSMA entry for 2014. Previously - or at least, since 2004 - Yamaha have contended that they did not have the resources to supply more than four bikes, saying that they felt that was more than sufficient. The introduction of the CRT class, and the convoluted negotiations which created the technical regulations for 2014 have seen Yamaha go further, however, first offering engines, and now offering an engine and chassis for teams to use next season, according to various sources at Laguna Seca.
The basic idea, Yamaha Managing Director Lin Jarvis told the press, was to supply engines, plus 'a basic chassis package' to the Forward team, to allow them to get started on their own project. Forward have a contract with FTR to build a chassis to house the Yamaha engine, but given the lateness of the hour - the original plan for Yamaha was to have all the contracts wrapped up at Assen, at the end of June - it was decided to provide a little help. Next year, Forward will receive sufficient material to supply two riders with engines, plus a 'standard chassis' and swingarm. Suspension, wheels, fairings, tank and airbox will all be the responsibility of Forward.
This means FTR can work in several stages. Until the end of the year, they can work on designing the missing parts of the chassis (fairing, tank, airbox) to fit the Yamaha chassis. With the chassis in place, FTR can start to work on their own frame design, but with significant input from Yamaha to help to get it right. It is in the interests of both Yamaha and FTR to work together: the main objective remains to beat Honda's production racer. That means that Yamaha will have to provide strong guidance on how to get the best from the engine in terms of what kind of chassis and weight distribution is needed, while FTR listen carefully, and plan their experimentation with great caution. The response to the FTR chassis being used by Forward, BQR and Gresini's CRT team has been overwhelmingly postive. FTR will have to continue along in this path.
This much input from Yamaha will make the Forward team an extremely attractive prospect for riders. Current NGM Forward rider Colin Edwards is angling for a contract extension with the team, especially now there is the prospect of truly competitive machinery in NGM Forward. A contract extension may be just reward for Edwards being the poster boy for the CRT project (the NGM Forward team was the first to announce they were going the CRT route, and Edwards was signed up to lead it), but a couple of years of mediocre (at best) results have done nothing to raise Edwards' stock. With Nicky Hayden having been dropped by Ducati, the NGM project could very well be an attractive project for Hayden to be involved with, and his best chance of a ride, if the rumors of there being space at Gresini come to naught.
The NGM Forward team could also prove to be the ideal training ground for young riders entering the class who do no make it into a satellite or factory team. Riders such as Tito Rabat or Scott Redding would be prime targets for NGM Forward, and would offer them the chance to spend a year learning the category, while being exposed directly to Yamaha staff, and the chance of a ride in the satellite or factory team in years to come. The project solves Yamaha's lack of a feeder team in Moto2, giving them the opportunity to evaluate young talent before moving them up to a more serious role.
Paddock rumor suggests that Scott Redding is high up on the NGM Forward list of candidates. If Forward does secure the services of the young Englishman, it will be much to the chagrin of his current team, Marc VDS Racing. Marc VDS had looked long and hard at moving up to MotoGP, with engines supplied by Yamaha and chassis built by Kalex. The team had really wanted a deal similar to that on offer to the Forward team, but Yamaha had failed to make them the same offer when they were negotiating with the Japanese factory. It is ironic that Marc VDS team manager Michael Bartholemy should see his own plans for taking Scott Redding into MotoGP fail, only to find himself as Scott Redding's manager, negotiating a ride with an almost identical set up in a different team. If Yamaha had considered this option earlier in the year, no doubt Marc VDS Racing would have moved up into MotoGP with Redding. Now, Redding will likely have to get used to a new technical starf, while his experienced Moto2 crew -all of whom have served time on the roster of top factory teams - get to grips with a new rider hired to replace Redding.
The Forward team could also be a haven for Bradley Smith, if Herve Poncharal is forced to move the Englishman aside. Though Smith has a contract with Tech 3 for 2014, Yamaha may leave Poncharal with no solution but to find alternative accommodation for the young Briton. If Tech 3 manages to hold on to Cal Crutchlow, something they are working tirelessly to do, with Yamaha taking the unprecedented step of offering to subsidize Crutchlow's salary, and if Tech 3 are forced to accept Pol Espargaro into their ranks, then the Forward team could be a good place for Smith to end up, without getting the short end of the deal with Poncharal. Yamaha's influence over the signing policy of Yamaha's satellite team remains deeply problematic.
1 From 2014, MotoGP entries will be divided into MSMA entries and non-MSMA entries. These will be the equivalent of the entries currently referred to as 'prototype' and 'CRT', but with the Claiming Rule dropped, calling the entries 'Claiming Rule Teams' makes no sense. All entries will be forced to use the spec Magneti Marelli ECU hardware, but the MSMA entries will be allowed to write their own software algorithms for the hardware. The trade-off is having only 20 liters of fuel and 5 engines to last the season. Non-MSMA entries will be forced to use the software developed by Magneti Marelli for Dorna, but in compensation, they will be allowed 24 liters of fuel, and 12 engines for a season.