The Tech3 team's decision to switch from Yamaha to KTM sent shock waves through the MotoGP paddock. Few had been expecting Tech3 to abandon a relationship of 20 years and give up a bike which a proven track record of success. Simultaneously, the shock waves Tech3's announcement triggered a reaction among the other teams in the paddock: with two Yamaha M1s up for grabs, other satellite teams not already locked in are weighing their options. After Tech3, who's next?
The names being bandied about to replace Tech3 as a satellite Yamaha team are self evident. Marc VDS have been strongly linked to the rides, with the Angel Nieto Team a close second, though Avintia are also in the fray. With suggestions that Suzuki and Aprilia are also examining the possibility of supplying bikes to a satellite team, it seems there is much to play for.
At the Jerez Moto2/Moto3 test, I spoke to Gino Borsoi, team director of the Angel Nieto Team, who was there to oversee the test for the team's Moto3 riders, Andrea Migno and Albert Arenas. The subject was of course whether the team had any interest in taking over the Yamahas which had been freed up by Tech3, and their plans for 2019 and beyond.
A second door opens
Tech3's decision had taken them by surprise, Borsoi admitted. "Well, of course it's something that we didn't expect about Tech3. We heard some rumors around the paddock last season, but then you never know really what's going on. So we were surprised when we read in the newspaper that Tech3 decided to end their relationship between them and Yamaha, and from that point we started to understand honestly that maybe we have another door open to us, and maybe we have a chance to talk to Yamaha."
Such talks had not yet taken place, Borsoi added, and the media stories linking the team to the bikes had also been a surprise. "Until now, we didn't discuss with Yamaha at all," he said. "So I don't know why all the journalists say we have a chance to get the Yamaha, because we haven't talked with them, honestly."
The main objective for the Angel Nieto Team was to extend their existing deal with Ducati, Borsoi said. "Our idea was to sit down with them in Qatar and discuss the future with Ducati, because honestly, we are happy with Ducati, we have a good collaboration, the bike is OK, there are no issues, no reason to change our manufacturer. But Yamaha has a really good bike, so maybe we will sit down and discuss with Yamaha."
Borsoi believed that the team was not first in line for the Yamahas, though. "Honestly, I think Marc VDS already started to talk with [Yamaha], they started a bit earlier than us for sure. Because also maybe they have a plan to change from Honda to another bike, so as you said before, Carmelo [Ezpeleta's] plan is to have every factory bike with a satellite team. It seems at the moment like that will be possible, because Tech3 with KTM, maybe we have a chance to continue with Ducati or have a chance to get a Yamaha or Suzuki, we don't honestly know, and from Qatar, we will start to discuss with everybody."
The elephant in the room when any discussion of the satellite Yamahas come up is obviously the Sky VR46 racing team. When Valentino Rossi retires, he is expected to take over the running of the VR46 team and for the team to enter MotoGP. Given Rossi's long and close ties to Yamaha, it is inconceivable that the Sky VR46 racing team will not run Yamahas as a satellite team. So any deal now with Yamaha would likely only be until Rossi retires, probably in two years' time.
Borsoi admitted this would be a factor going into negotiations with Yamaha. "It's something we have to keep in mind, of course, when you start talking with Yamaha. But anyway, nobody knows if it's true or not, it's a rumor around the paddock."
Two years is too short
The Angel Nieto Team would only be interested if there was a long-term deal – three years, at a minimum – on the table. "I think if we will start a new project with Yamaha, it's clear we want to continue a few seasons. To go from Ducati to Yamaha, it's really difficult, you have to start from zero. So it makes no sense to change from Ducati to another brand just for two seasons."
This was something which Yamaha must surely also be aware of, Borsoi added, and would likely have some flexibility on. "Anyway, even Yamaha knows that. If Valentino wants to come, maybe he will get another satellite team with Yamaha. Why not? Because at the moment, OK, we could have a Suzuki or Yamaha, then we have to see what's going on with the Avintia team, and if there are two teams with the same satellite bike, what will happen? Nothing at the end."
Balance of power
The positive development in all of this is that it gives the teams more negotiating power, because they have more choice, Borsoi said. "This is right, we have more choice of course. Seems to be a little bit easier for us to close a deal with a factory. But as I said before, our program was to sit down in Qatar and close the deal with Ducati for the next two seasons, so we are having an internal discussion right now, but our plan is still to sit down with Ducati and talk with them about the future."
The Angel Nieto Team's priority is to see what Ducati has to offer first, and then see what other manufacturers have to offer, Borsoi told me. But they will be having meetings with Yamaha in Qatar as well.
Should the Angel Nieto Team – or any other satellite team – decide to switch suppliers, a decision will have to come very soon. To prepare properly, a deal would have to be signed before MotoGP returns to Europe after the first three overseas races. Borsoi indicated that the end of April was a hard deadline, meaning that contracts would likely be signed at Austin. The first three races are going to be a hive of activity for the factories, and for the satellite teams.
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