Hey folks, Dre here. Now, this is something I used to do with football back in the day when I pretended I was a part of Sky Sports’ terrible “Good Morning Transfers” malarkey, but I thought a rolling MotoGP Running Diary of the major moves over the season, would actually be quite interesting.
I say this because, you can track my honest thoughts on everything in real-time, as the season develops. And I most likely pull out what’s left of my hair when everything goes exactly the way we all predicted. Don’t worry, I’ll be updating this as the week’s go by. Also, this post will be pinned at the top of the blog so you can’t miss it!
It’s January 28th as I write this, let’s talk about the first major piece of 2021 being locked into place!
January 28th – Maverick Vinales signs 2-year extension at Yamaha
As others pointed out around this deal being announced, Maverick Vinales likes to announce his deals early. Reason being so that the talk of movement/re-signing don’t become distractions once the season starts. He’s a good boy deep down.
This one isn’t a major surprise. If anything, it’s a nice commitment move from Yamaha to say that Mav’s their guy going forward. And compared to Valentino Rossi and his well-documented struggles the last two years, it’s a no-brainer. A lot of the high-side from the Yamaha factory (And to be fair, a lot of its drama too), has stemmed from keeping Maverick onside. From changing crew chiefs to question marks about his inconsistency.
But if there’s one observation from 2019 I stand by, it’s this. Maverick Vinales was the ONLY man in the field last year when at his best, could beat Marquez comfortably. No-one else in the field has that X-Factor right now, and Yamaha HAS to harness that potential. Because if they do make some gains on Honda and Ducati from a biking standpoint… lookout.
I’m not gonna lie, it’s why I was kinda disappointed he didn’t angle himself for a potential Ducati switch. Mav’s a bit more physical and aggressive with the Yamaha than his peers. By that logic, I think the scarlet red would have made some sense given the physicality needed to ride them. Especially with the Ducati factory going through a bit of an identity crisis with doubts on their riders going forward. Petrux in particular.
The knock-on here? Well, this might give Valentino Rossi the hurry-up. Fabio Quartararo is now the golden goose of free agency, given the odds of Marc Marquez moving are unlikely. I don’t think Yamaha can afford to let a man of Fabio’s talent walk, but we all know Rossi is his own entity. We also know, Lin Jarvis is one of the few team bosses who’s got no problem telling Rossi what his status is. (See 2010 for more on that.) I wonder how seriously he took himself when he mentioned the possibility of joining Petronas to “extend his career”.
He turns 41 next month. Does he really still want to do this, when it’s becoming pretty clear he’s now 3rd best on his own bike? Rossi has always said his performance relative to the field would determine his drive to keep going. I think 2019 was the straw that broke the camel’s back. We’ll know soon, and I suspect Mugello this year could be extra special.
PS: Dear Aprilia, there’s no way in hell Andrea Iannone is riding again, just give Bradley Smith the damn Aprilia seat already.
January 29th – Fabio Quartararo signs for Factory Yamaha Team, Rossi given “time to think” until Mid 2020
F*** me, that was fast. Less than 24 hours after Maverick’s new deal was put to paper, Yamaha becomes the first team to be locked in for 2021, as Fabio Quartararo becomes Maverick’s new teammate.
Not a surprise in theory. Fabio was the biggest story to come from from the 2019 season after repeatedly battling Marc Marquez for wins. When you’re doing that, as a rookie, in an arguably more impressive light than the factory team, you’re going to get noticed. And it was pretty obvious to this writer, that he was too good for Yamaha to let him walk away.
This is an all-in play for Yamaha and their next chapter. I do wonder though if it was the right decision to go with their strategy of having two “#1” riders in the same team. As much as Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi won them seven titles, there were clashes, to say the least. 2015’s season finale. Their constant bickering in 2016 and taking points off each other enabling Marquez an easy ride to the title.
Honda accidentally fell into a 1-2 punch via Pedrosa’s decline and Lorenzo’s struggles. Ducati’s done the same with Petrux, almost willingly falling into that role. Odd that Yamaha persists, but maybe having two bullets in the chamber in their eyes, is their only way to beat MM93.
But where does that leave Valentino? Well, Yamaha’s given Vale some thinking time, till the middle of 2020 to decide on his future. This goes hand-in-hand with the man’s interviews, which has alluded to him usually deciding on extensions around Mugello time. Can’t imagine why. But if he wants to continue, most likely via Petronas, he can. And he gets full factory backing with that too.
I know a lot of people want to pin this down as the Rossi retirement year. I’d be guilty of thinking the same. But the more this saga developments, this doesn’t seem like the actions of a man about to announce his retirement. Yamaha is absolutely right to leave it to him, he’s earned that right in my opinion.
And the marketing value is off the charts. Rossi isn’t going to be snagged by another factory now, and he’s an “ambassador” for life whatever happens. Imagine if Rossi and Lorenzo end up as Yamaha’s test riders?! While flogging whatever R1’s the factory pumps out? Back the wagon up.
But overall, I think Yamaha’s pulled a blinder here the last two days. They’ve got their team backed in for 2021 and can start work accordingly. You’ve kept Valentino happy, with the option to still run him next year if he chooses, and still gives you plenty of time to find a replacement if he does decide to retire. And if he stays, those sweet, sweet merch sales, and still a decently competitive rider. It’s a win-win. Probably.
Confirmed Team: Movistar Factory Yamaha – Maverick Vinales and Fabio Quartararo
February 1st – Alex Rins signs 2-year extension at Suzuki (via Sky Sports Italy), Jorge Lorenzo returns as Yamaha Test Rider
Okay, sorry this update took a little longer, work commitments and all that. But let’s catch up.
First of all, Yamaha completes their talent dream team with the return of Jorge Lorenzo, coming home as Yamaha’s new test rider. Poor Jonas Folger.
I mean.. Okay, it’s nice to see him back. And this has certainly been a trend of the bigger factories maximising resources as far as testing goes (With Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa taking similar roles in recent years), but I can’t deny, this takes a little bit of the emotion of his retirement away from me from back in November.
“So Jorge, you talked about nearly being paralysed after Assen, but I’m testing 3 months later?” I know, I know, I’m being selfish, just find it a bit weird. Besides, how many riders do you need to tell someone: “Yeah, lads, we need more power!”
Yamaha now has a fleet of Maverick Vinales, Fabio Quartararo, Valentino Rossi (probably), Frankie Morbidelli and Jorge Lorenzo. They’d better start beating their heads together to make a winning bike because they haven’t got an excuse with this much talent in their camp, FAR more than any other factory in the sport.
As first reported by Sky Sports in Italy, Alex Rins has signed a 2-year extension with Suzuki to take him through to 2022. No-brainer for me, he clearly took a step forward last season with a pair of impressive wins in the UK and US. Still a touch inconsistent and the bike in general needs more “ultimate pace” in qualifying to make life a little easier for their riders, but they might have the best all-round bike in the field now.
The main knock-on here is that Ducati was also gunning for his signature. And by the looks of it, they’ve had their fingers burnt twice in a week. It’s kinda odd how hard they’re making a play for free agent talent here (I assume for Petrux’s seat) when Jack Miller’s staring them in the face.
Ducati is clearly thinking bigger, but I don’t think there’s anyone better they can get from the market. Maybe Frankie? Still, makes you think – Has Ducati lost some of its lustre, given they’re a team that’s normally excelled in high profile rider acquisition? We shall see.
20/2 – Marc Marquez signs FOUR (!!!) Year extension at Repsol Honda
In the words of Duke Nukem: “Bingo, the motherload”. This was the one we’ve all been waiting for, but it’s funny. This was nailed on, the boring extension of the window, and yet, MM93 still finds a way to make it spectacular by announcing it’s a FOUR-year deal. In the context of MotoGP extensions, this is huge, as most of them are 1-2 years to mitigate risk and for riders to explore the open market more easily. 4-years is a crazy commitment, and for Marquez, it makes total sense.
Marquez has done nearly everything right since joining HRC. He’s gained their trust and knows what to do to make the bike work for him. You could say that it’s ultimately hazardous to put all your eggs in one man’s basket, but when you essentially won the Triple Crown single-handedly last season, who’s arguing with success?
Now, I get the frustration from a fan standpoint. We want to see Marquez on something that isn’t orange. It’s maybe the one argument left that’s stopping him from being the undisputed #1 rider of all time (If he isn’t already). But if you’re Marquez, with the team you have around you, your brother now on the payroll, and the pick of HRC’s elite engineers, why on earth are you leaving? Our own fandom sometimes likes to ignore logic for some mindless self-indulgence. Yes, it’s boring, but the riders won’t give a shit as long as they keep winning.
So, 4 more years of terror? You hate/love to see it. (Delete as appropriate.)