We were ready for a scintillating market this year, with the majority of riders contracts up for renewal. Third of the biggest chess pieces, Vinales, Marquez, and in Qatar Rossi too, have been confirmed with their current teams. And there's a risk that the same will go for other top riders.
"I think one of the reasons is the fact that we have many manufacturers in MotoGP now and each one is looking to secure the best riders – explains Lin Jarvis, Yamaha manager director - In recent years, things are moving increasingly early, it's more difficult, you need to stay in the game. The positive is that moving ahead of time means stability. It's not something totally new, because we had Lorenzo sign a contract when he still had a year and half to run in 250".
Was confirming Valentino a simple decision? There had been many rumours... He is 39 after all.
"We were both moving along the same lines, he is convinced he's competitive and we want a competitive rider. If he'd have wanted a one year contract, we'd have said yes, also two. If he'd said five, we might have thought twice (he laughs)".
Will he be competitive until 2020?
"Everything's a gamble, life's a gamble. You have to make a decision based on what you feel and know at the time, anything could change from one day to the next. We're very pleased that Valentino will stay with us for another two years. By the end of the 2020 we'll have been together for 15 years, which is something unique in our sport".
For Yamaha, Rossi is...
"Simply an icon. Everyone recognises that he brings positivity to the team and to this sport. He makes us want to improve, even when times are tough. It's a pleasure to work with him and he's still competitive, we've seen that in testing. There's no doubt he's still at the top of his game. And he's still motivated".
You never considered embarking on a new adventure with a young rider?
"Zarco is very fast, we saw that last year and this winter, but we never seriously considered him. Valentino is Valentino, he's the greatest rider in Yamaha's history and is not easily replaced. If he wanted to continue, it's because he knows he's still competitive and we did not hesitate in keeping him”.
The good news about Vale's renewal was preceded by bad news: the Tech3 team's decision to leave Yamaha for KTM.
"I don't believe Tech3 is leaving us because they didn't feel supported by Yamaha, but because they received a fantastic offer, also from a financial and stability standpoint. It's true that we didn't give Zarco a factory bike but we simply respected our contract. As for this season, we want to enjoy the ninths months we have together. We will guarantee maximum support. The decision to leave was theirs and we respect that, but we are also regretful after 20 years together. The last race at Valencia will be a sad day".
Might there be a third factory M1 for the Frenchman?
“It will be something we'll discuss when negotiating a new contract with the new team. It's possible that Zarco will have a factory bike next year. As for this season though, it will be very difficult, I don't think Johann is lacking Yamaha support right now. He has a different bike but is nevertheless very competitive".
Now you face a tough decision in replacing the Tech3 team.
"In the past, we've had as many as eight bikes on the grid, but quantity did not ensure good results and so we made a change. Now we have four bikes, but we could go up to six. Valentino hasn't yet decided whether to enter MotoGP with his own team. if he does so, it would be in 2021, and then we'd need to see if it was with one rider or two. There are many elements still to be clarified and we have three years. Our intention is to have a competitive satellite team, we're very busy right now but I can't give you any details".
If Valentino were to change his mind, it would be the best solution.
"We have a relationship with VR46 and it's an interesting project in terms of attracting new talent. It doesn't always happen though, Franco Morbidelli is a good example, we were interested in him but we didn't have any space at the time, not in the factory or satellite teams. Bagnaia was another very interesting rider, but while we were considering this, Tech3 decided to leave us. In the future, we'd like the Riders Academy to be opened to riders of all nationalities".