Yamaha have suffered a costly blow to their MotoGP program. Today, the factory Yamaha team announced that the three-year deal with Malaysian oil giant Petronas to sponsor Yamaha's MotoGP team will not be extended, and will terminate at the end of 2011. In a joint press release issued with Petronas, Yamaha stated that after three successful years, the agreement had "reached its natural conclusion."
The announcement is very bad news indeed for Yamaha. The deal was reportedly worth $8 million a year for the Japanese factory, and coming on top of the loss of Fiat as a title sponsor at the end of 2010, Yamaha is currently being forced to fund a much greater part of its MotoGP budget - thought to be between 50 and 70 million euros a year - out of its own pocket, a situation that is not sustainable in the current economic climate. The factory seized the opportunity offered by its 50th anniversary in racing to run in factory colors for 2011, which was very well received, especially when the team ran the red-and-white livery that was such a massive hit with the fans. No such anniversary looms for 2012, and with motorcycle sales still in a downward spiral, and no sign of recovery in the global economy, the cost of racing in MotoGP could be too much to sustain for Yamaha.
Throughout 2011, MotoMatters.com pestered Yamaha spokespersons and their MotoGP boss Lin Jarvis about the prospects of obtaining a title sponsor, but our enquiries were always met with stock phrases that talks were ongoing, that Yamaha was hopeful of a successful conclusion, but that it was far too early to say anything, either on or off the record. Yamaha has been linked with several potential sponsors over the past year, including low-cost Malaysian airline AirAsia, which is already heavily involved in sponsoring both a 125cc team (and a Moto3 team for 2012) and a number of MotoGP rounds. Given Yamaha's focus on Southeast Asia - Yamaha's Indonesian subsidiary is a sponsor, and Jorge Lorenzo and Ben Spies have both spent time in the region for the company - it is conceivable that Petronas is making way for another title sponsor, with a number of companies high-profile candidates from that region.
For the moment, speculation about Yamaha's MotoGP sponsorship must remain just that. Perhaps some real news will be forthcoming when preseason testing starts again at the end of January.
Below is the official press release from Yamaha announcing the end of Petronas sponsorship:
Yamaha and PETRONAS Conclude MotoGP Partnership
As 2011 draws to a close it marks the end of a successful partnership between Yamaha's Factory MotoGP Team and PETRONAS.
The integrated Malaysian oil and gas corporation came onboard with Yamaha in 2009 and has enjoyed a hugely successful three year relationship.
Yamaha and PETRONAS have been privileged to share in two consecutive Triple Crown MotoGP victories, in 2009 and 2010.
Commenting on the conclusion of the three-year partnership, Lin Jarvis, Managing Director of Yamaha Motor Racing said "The relationship between Yamaha and PETRONAS has been a great success, we have enjoyed some major achievements together in the MotoGP class. Now that the partnership has reached its natural conclusion I would like to thank our friends at PETRONAS for the support during their time with us and wish them well for the future".
Mohammad Medan Abdullah, Senior General Manager of PETRONAS Group Corporate Affairs Division: "We are happy to have had this opportunity to work with the Yamaha Factory Racing team over the past three years. In that time, we have enjoyed the benefits of strong brand exposure through the privilege of being associated with a team that shares our values and passion. The team has achieved many successes through a high level of competitiveness and stretched performance standards and we wish the team continued success in the future".
Jointly issued by Yamaha Factory Racing and PETRONAS Motorsports