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The Curious Case of Franco Morbidelli, world championship runner-up… but not for Yamaha

"Franky is not a factory Yamaha rider – the men from Iwata explain - Petronas got what it paid for, an unofficial M1. It wasn't our decision"

The Curious Case of Franco Morbidelli, world championship runner-up… but not for Yamaha

Saturday evening in our usual Bar Sport programme we not only talked about Marc Marquez's return at Portugal, but also about the curious case of the world championship runner-up, Franco Morbidelli, who strangely is given so little consideration by Yamaha to the point of not having an official M1.

We had actually posed the question to Paolo Ciabatti, a guest on our live show, but the Ducati Corse Sporting Director, like the true gentleman he is, preferred not to express any opinion on the decisions of a rival manufacturer.

The answer, actually, was not long in coming, and it was the spokesman for the Iwata manufacturer, William Favero, who gave us the explanation.

“This is not a Yamaha decision - said the communications manager - but a Petronas one: we gave them what they paid for. We would have been happy to offer a factory bike, but Morbidelli is not an official Yamaha rider. He is not one of our contracted riders, as are Zarco and Martin in the Pramac Ducati team. So the bike that was requested and paid for came from Iwata ”.

Not Yamaha’s responsibility, therefore; it was not Yamaha’s decision, but that of the sponsor that finances its satellite team and which this year has welcomed Valentino Rossi into its ranks after lengthy negotiations. Vale is an official Yamaha rider, albeit this season with only a one-year contract.

But is that really the case? Who pays Valentino? Does the cheque come from Japan or Malaysia? Is the factory M1 a 'gift' from Iwata for its most successful rider or does it weigh heavily on Petronas’s budget?

Because in this latter case it could be said - but we are prepared to receive a possible denial - that to accommodate Rossi in a team initially created to launch young riders, the money ran out, and at this point it was necessary to save on one side of the box. i.e. Morbido's...

On the one hand this would be ironic, because Vale and Franky are friends, indeed almost ‘brothers from different mothers’, but on the other hand terrible because in these economic dealings Yamaha does not seem to have had any consideration for its best rider of 2020.

Perhaps Franco Morbidelli was thinking about this on Saturday afternoon when he confessed through gritted teeth that he was gnawing inside about this situation. He went even further and called VR46 into question for more adequate choices regarding his future.

In short, whichever way you look at the situation, it is not a particularly nice one. And for none of the parties involved. For Petronas because it penalized its best rider, for Yamaha because it simply made it an economic issue, and for Rossi who unintentionally penalized a dear friend.

At least, in the past, the Japanese manufacturers rewarded their best private riders by providing them with top equipment when, at a certain point in the championship, they proved to be more competitive than the original riders.

It also happened to Kenny Roberts – the year was 1978 - who arrived in Europe with only one bike, as compared to the two available for Johnny Cecotto, who received a second one when the top brass realized that only the American could give them the world championship.

Learning from past errors has never been a trait of the human race, however. And the case of Morbidelli is further proof of this…


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