YMR MD Lin Jarvis Interview: How Yamaha Changed Its Organization To Become Competitive Again, Part 1

It has been a tough few years for Yamaha in MotoGP. Since the switch to spec electronic software and Michelin tires, Yamaha have struggled to be competitive. In the first half of the current decade, from 2010-2014, Yamaha won 34 races. Between 2015-2019, that total dropped to 24 race victories.

The decline has been impossible to ignore, but it took some time to both register and to turn the ship around. The situation reached its nadir at the Red Bull Ring in Austria last year, the factory Yamahas qualifying in 11th and 14th, Valentino Rossi the first Yamaha to finish, 14 seconds behind the winner, Jorge Lorenzo. That Saturday, MotoGP project leader Kouji Tsuya stood up in front of the media and apologized for the factory team's poor qualifying, an unheard of move by a Japanese factory.

The 2018 season proved to be a catalyst. A string of underwhelming results, and little progress with the bike throughout the season prompted Yamaha to undertake a major shakeup behind the scenes. Personnel were replaced – Tsuya stood down as project leader, and was replaced by Takahiro Sumi – but the whole operation was examined and reorganized.

The objective was to get everyone inside Yamaha talking to each other again, to create open channels of communication between the race teams, the test teams, and the factory. To share information and ideas between groups, rather than retreating defensively behind departmental walls and shifting the blame onto others. It is one reason Yamaha has streamlined its MotoGP test team, to improve communication between the test team and the factory, and dispose of the different working methods between the European and Japanese test teams.

Yamaha's move is reminiscent of Gigi Dall’Igna's arrival at Ducati. The first thing the Italian did in Ducati Corse was change the way the departments communicate, which initiated a huge turnaround in Ducati's fortunes. They started winning races again, and challenging for championships.

2019 was the season that Yamaha started to implement its own organizational changes. New faces appeared in the Yamaha garage, along with more familiar ones: Kazuhisa Takano, the chassis specialist who had helped Yamaha during its most successful period, when Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo were sharing the wins between them from 2008 onward, is back working on the chassis of the M1.

The changes appear to be paying off. In 2018, Yamaha won just a single race, and scored a total of 13 podiums. In 2019, Maverick Viñales won 2 races, but Yamaha riders accumulated a total of 16 podiums. Viñales crashed out of a last lap battle for victory with Marc Márquez at Phillip Island, and Fabio Quartararo came within a couple of corners of winning at Misano and Buriram. The Yamaha is competitive again, if lacking in top speed.

To find out more about the behind-the-scenes changes at Yamaha, I spoke to Yamaha Motor Racing Managing Director Lin Jarvis on the Monday after the Valencia race, and before the Valencia test. Jarvis explained in some detail where Yamaha had gone wrong in previous years, and what they had done to address the problem. He went into some depth as to how Yamaha had tried to improve the organization and give themselves a chance at being competitive again.

In the first part of the interview, Jarvis talks about the personnel changes, the philosophy behind them, and the strengths and weaknesses of working in a broad-based Japanese factory.

Q: I remember talking to you about this time last year, maybe in Sepang. We had a brief chat about some of the organizational changes. Was Austria last year the trigger, or were these changes already happening?

Lin Jarvis: Neither, I would say. Austria was the lowest point, let’s say, where we faced the brutal reality for where we were. But I don’t think that Austria per se was a trigger point. It’s the collective result of that season was the trigger point. What it really came down to is we’d been talking a lot prior to Austria and after Austria about needing to change something. What we were doing was not working. We needed to find a new solution.

So we finally decided to change probably in November last year. I think it was implemented in December. I think it was implemented from December 1st, which was the change of the project leader from Kouji Tsuya to Takahiro Sumi. But that was the first key factor that happened. Then Sumi came onboard and he started to change the method and the way of working and the approach.

Q: Is it changes in organizational structures, or changes in organizational methods? For example, in Ducati when Gigi Dall’Igna arrived what used to happen is they had an engine team, and a chassis team, and a test team and nobody talked to each other. As I understand it, Dall’Igna started rotating the staff between the teams so everyone understood each other’s problems.

LJ: A little bit of both, I would say. I would say more of an attitude and an approach change. We also had problems I think with, I would call it kind of island mentalities where we had these groups of people that were busy with their own elements and not collaborating enough and not with an open enough mind. Maybe some of them were protective of their situation, because we were under attack. So they became protective rather than open and collaborative.

I think that this new management method was, we have to see the bike and our operations as a whole, so everything is important coming together. If the electronics are the problem, then we need to find out how that interacts with the chassis, with the engine and everything else. So it was really a matter of making every island understand that they all had to collaborate together, because everything has to be considered in the package.

But the fundamental change I think was the need for open communication, interaction, inside the company, outside the company - because there’s a lot of expertise also outside the company. We have only limited resources with engineers and budgets and so forth. So we need to change within YMC, but also to listen and to go more outside and to consider also the expertise of our Italians or our Germans or whoever. And that was something that we were not doing. I think that we were in this dark tunnel and couldn’t see the end, and we became insular.

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Total votes: 21

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Comments

Been patiently waiting for this to drop.  Heard it mentioned earlier here and on the podcast. 

Thanks David for a fascinating part 1!!  

Total votes: 17

It boggles my mind that a multi-billion dollar company that spends so much money on the design of 1 very specific machine (in this case the M1) needs a "shakeup" to get engineers working together and becoming more collaborative. Same goes for Ducatis situation when Gigi came in. The sole purpose of their entire race squade is focused on 1 machine and one goal. Im interested to know how you get to such a break down in communication to begin with. Especially when you've been in MotoGP for as long as these companies have been. How can you expet everything to come together on a bike when design is silo'd. It sounds strange to me that these companies finally figured out that a communication approach based on common sense (Lets all work together) is some kind of new revelation. 

Total votes: 20

But racing isn't Yamahas sole purpose, it's a niche department within a much, much larger, profit-orientated entity employing thousands of people. And even if you take the MotoGP dept on it's own, Jarvis's description is absolutely typical of what happens in every industry, sector, company, especially when what they do is very difficult and very complicated. I very much doubt the chassis guy has the slightest idea what goes on in the IT department or accounts dept, because they don't really need to (until it becomes their problem) and it's only ever a short step for the silo mentality to extend across the whole organisation. It's refreshing to hear a very senior manager acknowledge that whole team meetings can be laborious and unprofitable for almost everyone a good deal of the time, but remain essential for success. As a wise man once said to me, if you understand the problem you're halfway to fixing it, and it sounds to me like Yamaha are well on their way.

Total votes: 17

After working within several major hospitals I am much less optimistic re expectations of organization efficiency and effectiveness. Started my own clinic.

Well articulated Tsilly Tseason changes were a good move. Note that riders would struggle in an overfunctioning manner to push and gets their needs met re the bike. Then we buy in to the biased narrative about them and attack them personally. Vinales was given a new crew chief after having one that put a damper on him. Crutchlow was told he would get better kit sooner w Herve. So forth. Inverse w Ducati as they struggle to get the latest Stoner on their bike while they continue evolving it into a better handling machine.

Suzuki can be next...major sponsor, collaboration w 2nd team down into lower class. Etc. Aprilia? May not be able/willing at this time.

Total votes: 14

  1. Congratulations on starting your own clinic!
  2. Health Care (organizations) are exceptionally silo'd and anti-disruptive (with rare exception.) Jarvis appears adept at (and committed to) breaking down barriers (even when some object to the time required to do so + the personal interaction required.)
Total votes: 17

Give Fabio's ablilty to put in quick QP laps and generally have a quicker pace Rossi than the factory Yamaha riders, is that covered in part two?

 

Total votes: 18

I really foresee Yamaha as a strong title contender in 2020. Apart of all the internal changes, Valentino is getting the bike he wants and Maverick has consistently changed his approach of race being more focused on doing the best with what he has and staying calm and happy, a very good mental improvement....

Let's not forget the excellent backup of the Yamaha Petronas team that also help and stimulate the whole system... Probably a very positive change in the 2020 championship aspect.

Total votes: 10