If you thought the 2019 MotoGP Silly Season was already in high gear, a bombshell announcement has just put it into overdrive. Today, the Monster Tech3 Yamaha team announced that from 2019, they will be parting ways. Tech3 will no longer be a satellite Yamaha team.
The split brings to an end an association of nearly 20 years with Yamaha. They first started in 1999 with Shinya Nakano and Olivier Jacque in 250cc, before switching to the premier class with the same pair in 2001. Tech3 have been a loyal partner for many years, giving up one seat to a factory-backed rider on a number of occasions, as occurred with Ben Spies, Colin Edwards, and Pol Espargaro.
However, there had been a few signs of tension over the past few months. Although Hervé Poncharal remained ever the gentleman when talking about Yamaha, toeing the company line, there were occasional hints of frustration in his response to questions, though never anything explicit. With Tech3 having been given a better offer from a different manufacturer - as the press release states - that made it easier to end the association with Yamaha.
That huge piece of news opens up a whole range of questions. Who will be supplying Tech3 with MotoGP bikes next year? Will Yamaha have a satellite team in 2019? And does this open the door to the VR46 team to make their entry into MotoGP?
To address the first question first, there are only really two candidates to supply Tech3 with MotoGP bikes from 2019: KTM and Suzuki. Neither the budget nor the size of the racing department at Aprilia would suggest that the Italian factory would be capable of offering Tech3 a better deal than Yamaha. Both Honda and Ducati are already supplying a lot of teams with bikes for 2019, and neither would be able to add another satellite squad.
Between KTM and Suzuki, a similar principle applies: KTM has one of the largest budgets in the paddock - the Austrian factory is investing €250 million over a five-year program - and the resources in the racing department to support a satellite team. Both KTM CEO Stefan Pierer and head of racing Pit Beirer have expressed an intention to have a satellite team in the near future. In an interview with MotoMatters held last year at Aragon, team boss Mike Leitner said "Of course, it would be nice to have a satellite team one day. This is clear. This is the commitment from Mr. Pierer and Pit."
Suzuki, on the other hand, has a much smaller racing department and budget. Team boss Davide Brivio has also expressed a desire to have a satellite team, but has always met with some resistance from senior management in the Japanese factory. When discussing the possibility of a satellite team, Brivio has always said that having a single satellite rider would be manageable, but supplying two riders would be more difficult.
So although it remains speculation at the current moment, it looks more likely that Tech3 will partner with KTM than anyone else. That would also make sense given KTM's expression of interest in having Johann Zarco ride for them in 2019. Zarco would then swap to the factory team from Tech3, and make room for new riders in the Tech3 satellite squad. Those riders would most likely be Miguel Oliveira and possibly Brad Binder, who are both under contract to KTM in Moto2, and are believed to have clauses in their contracts offering them a seat in MotoGP in the future.
Tech3 parting ways with Yamaha would almost certainly also mean a split with current title sponsor Monster. The obvious replacement for Monster would be Red Bull, and if Tech3 were to become a KTM satellite team, then the F1 Toro Rosso junior team would serve as an example.
If Tech3 are parting ways with Yamaha, where does that leave Yamaha in 2019? The most likely answer is, without a satellite team. Although Dorna is know to be keen to have the Sky VR46 team in MotoGP, the series organizers have guaranteed the grid slots to the current MotoGP teams for a five-year period ending in 2020, meaning that a vacancy for a new team would only open in 2021. Dorna has stated explicitly that they do not want to expand the grid beyond 24 riders, as that would require them to support those riders financially as well.
The current satellite teams know that any contract with Yamaha would be merely temporary, until the Sky VR46 team could take a grid slot in 2021. Given Valentino Rossi's strong association with Yamaha (beyond his own history with the brand, the VR46 Riders Academy also has a contract with Yamaha to supply bikes), there is no doubt that when the team bearing his name enters MotoGP, it will be with Yamaha. This would also open up a route for talented riders from the VR46 Academy into MotoGP, whoever is in the factory team.
The only realistic way for the Sky VR46 Racing Team to enter MotoGP before 2021 would be to either partner with an existing satellite team, or to purchase the grid slots of the team. Partnering with the VR46 organization would be a very one-sided affair, and basically amount to a takeover. Selling grid slots would be a better, more lucrative deal, though it would mean stepping out of MotoGP. With the money involved - an educated guess would put the price of two grid slots for two years somewhere in the low seven figures - a team would be able to race in Moto2 or Moto3 quite comfortably for several seasons.
All this is speculation, for the moment. What we do know is that Tech3 won't be with Yamaha from 2019. Who they will be with, we expect to find out fairly shortly.
Below is the press release announcing the split:
TECH3 AND YAMAHA TO PART WAYS FOR 2019
Yamaha and Tech3 announce that 2018 will be their last season as partners in the FIM Grand Prix MotoGP World Championship.
Gerno di Lesmo, Italy & Bormes les Mimosas, France - 22nd February 2018
After 20 mutually successful years of partnership, Tech3 have informed Yamaha that they will end their collaboration with Yamaha at the end of the 2018 season.
Yamaha have accepted Tech3‘s decision and will provide its full support to the team until the last race of the 2018 season.
Tech3 will continue its participation in the MotoGP (and Moto2) World Championship and will announce its plans for 2019 and beyond at a later date.
Yamaha is in the process of deciding whether they will run a satellite team for 2019 and, if so, what form that collaboration will take.
GENERAL MANAGER MOTORSPORTS DEVELOPMENT DIVISION, YMC | PRESIDENT, YMR
Very recently we were informed by Hervé Poncharal, the owner of Tech3, that he has decided not to extend his contract with Yamaha to lease YZR-M1 bikes. After discussions with Hervé it was clear that he has chosen to align with a new partner for the future and therefore, regretfully, we were obliged to respect and accept his decision.
The end of such a successful partnership is always a bit sad, as it also marks the end of a long-term relationship. We are very grateful for Hervé‘s loyalty and support to the Yamaha brand and for the excellent results obtained throughout that time.
We will continue to provide our full support to the Tech3 team and their riders throughout the 2018 season, while we simultaneously evaluate our options for an alternative team in the MotoGP World Championship class for 2019 and beyond.
MONSTER YAMAHA TECH3, OWNER & TEAM PRINCIPAL
To summarize 20 years of an incredible partnership between Tech3 and Yamaha in a few words is a very difficult mission. Since I first met Mr. Iio in 1998, where he gave me the opportunity to join Yamaha Motor Corporation, it has been an extraordinary journey together. All I remember are fantastic memories, great results, an awesome atmosphere and astonishing feelings we shared with the Yamaha family, which will always be in my mind and in my heart. Clearly, to end that kind of partnership is a big decision for me. All I want to say is more than a huge thank you to Yamaha, to Mr. Tsuji, Mr. Tsuya, Mr. Jarvis and Mr. Nakajima, plus all the guys that have been supporting and helping us.
Tech3 is a small company, which has to think about the future and has to weigh the different options. We‘ve been offered a deal, that includes something we‘ve been waiting for almost since we started with Tech3 and I couldn‘t say no. But obviously, we are the Monster Yamaha Team until the last lap of the Valencia GP 2018. Johann Zarco and Hafizh Syahrin will be fighting for top positions and without a doubt, Yamaha can count on us to be a loyal performant partner.
One more time a huge thank you for Yamaha‘s support. I hope they can carry on and have the success they deserve and eventually find a partner to replace Tech3.