Razlan Razali talks “harrowing” RNF exit, next MotoGP move

Razlan Razali details the painful collapse of the CryptoDATA RNF team and reveals his next MotoGP move.

Razlan Razali, MotoGP, British MotoGP, 6 August
Razlan Razali, MotoGP, British MotoGP, 6 August

For the first time since 2019, a Sepang MotoGP pre-season test took place without Malaysian Razlan Razali as a Team Principal.

But the former circuit CEO, head of the Sepang Racing Team and RNF founder, was still in attendance, where he spoke to Crash.net about the collapse of his former project and future plans.

The RNF MotoGP team suddenly evaporated amid financial turmoil at the end of last season, after a partnership with CryptoDATA turned sour.

A series of announcements over the Valencia weekend began with the news that Razali would step down, then - amid rumours of American investors ready to take over the grid places - a CryptoDATA RNF statement insisting contracts with MotoGP and Aprilia remained in place, that an offer for the grid places had been “officially rejected” and that the team “does not have any debts or disputes with its suppliers”.

Razali’s departure, the team insisted, was due to “pressure made by the shareholders following poor performance and financial decisions.”

That effort to calm the waters didn’t last long.

A day after the finale, the MotoGP Selection Committee inflicted a knockout blow when it “decided not to select the CryptoDATA RNF MotoGP Team for the 2024 season” due to “Repeated infractions and breaches of the Participation Agreement affecting the public image of MotoGP have obliged this decision.

"The Selection Committee will be reviewing applications for a new Independent Team, using Aprilia machinery, to join the MotoGP class grid for 2024.”

CryptoDATA hit back strongly, saying it would contest the move and, a week later, a conciliatory statement announced:

“DORNA, IRTA and RNF have been able to amicably solve their differences... Although the RNF Team will not participate in the 2024 season of MotoGP, DORNA and IRTA wish the best of success to RNF and CryptoDATA in their commercial ventures.”

CryptoDATA arrived on the MotoGP scene as sponsor of the 2022 Austrian Grand Prix. With RNF in search of a new title sponsor after WithU backed out early from a multi-year deal, the two parties were introduced by Dorna.

A deal was done that saw CryptoDATA acquire 60% of the RNF team from Razali, who had already secured a switch to Aprilia, the big improver of the last year, for 2023. Five-time KTM race winner Miguel Oliveira and young talent Raul Fernandez joined to form a strong rider line-up and podiums looked a realistic goal.

But while CryptoDATA RNF’s on-track hopes were soon to be derailed by injuries for Oliveira, Razali said things also went rapidly downhill behind the scenes as a major split emerged with his new partners.

Massimo Rivola, Razlan Razali, MotoGP, Valencia MotoGP, 24 November
Massimo Rivola, Razlan Razali, MotoGP, Valencia MotoGP, 24 November

“It was harrowing”

“It was harrowing,” Razali told Crash.net during the Sepang test. “It got to the point where I didn’t enjoy it anymore. I didn't want to come to the track.

“It distracted me from the bigger things that I wanted to have planned for the team. It destroyed the momentum we’d been building since we took over from Petronas.”

Razali said financial “obligations” were not being met by his new partners from the early stages.

“For the first Austrian Grand Prix [as event sponsor] in 2022, they had paid everything [to Dorna] in such a close deadline,” he said.

“So they seemed to have money and kept on telling us, ‘money is not a problem’. And suddenly it became a problem.

“Not to say that they've done anything bad or whatever, it's just in my opinion they failed to honour their obligations.

“I’d go to a race weekend with virtually zero balance in the account, for example. That's not the way to run a MotoGP team.

“Every week I've been asking, ‘when is the next payment coming?’ Sometimes I'm surprised that we managed to last that long.

“But regardless of the problems internally, at the end of day they are the 60% majority shareholder of the company. They can do whatever they want. They can fire me if they want.

“But to effectively get kicked out of the championship [by losing the grid places], says something.”

Regarding his own departure, Razali explained: “I did tender my resignation as a [company] director, because I sensed that it's not going to get any better. And I also sensed it was doing harm to the championship. A championship that we all love.

“So, after discussing with my family, I thought it's just best for me to resign as director. I did not resign as a team principal until the end of the last race because I felt obligated to the team.

“I'm not the kind of person to abandon the team. I wish I could do more for the team. Because money is still owed from last year. And I feel very bad for that.

“But it came to the point that I could not do anything. I had no power whatsoever. I was not allowed to do anything, and I was cut off from all form of communication.”

Although Razali resigned as a director of RNF Racing Ltd in mid-November, he remains a 40% shareholder of a company he says is now effectively “dormant” with “no real value”.

The fact many former RNF staff, from team manager Wilco Zeelenberg downwards, have been hired for the new Trackhouse project is “the most important thing.”

But Razali also hopes outstanding pay will be settled.

“Money is still owed from last year, but at least the future is secured for them. I wish there's some solution for whatever is outstanding to be settled from last year, which I think in due time there will be.

“I just hope for some patience from them and that it will be settled.”

CryptoData RNF Aprilia team, Valencia MotoGP, 23 November
CryptoData RNF Aprilia team, Valencia MotoGP, 23 November

RNF name returns for Razali’s new project

Razali admitted that seeing his MotoGP dream fall apart left him depressed.

“As you can imagine, this is a sport that I love and owning a MotoGP team was a dream come true. So to lose it like that is hard to accept,” he said.

“I was depressed for quite a while. But I consolidated my position, met up with new partners who saw the potential of what we can do with MotoGP and that lifted my strength to come back and be relevant again.”

That brings us to Razali’s new project which, perhaps unsurprisingly given his recent experiences, aims to address the chronic lack of new sponsors in MotoGP.

“From the team launches we’ve seen, besides Pertamina that was already present, what new sponsors are there? None. They go from one team to the other but it’s the same sponsors,” Razali explained.

“So basically, we are aiming to connect global brands with MotoGP through financing and sponsorship.

“There are still opportunities out there. It's just that teams are so preoccupied either with what they are doing [on track], or they don't have the right resources or connections to introduce MotoGP to new groups of sponsors and investors.

“What the sport needs is to get new sponsors, who don't know anything about MotoGP. That's where the big gap is now.

“So I'm trying to connect these brands to the sport.”

One potential recruiting ground is F1.

“We’re still building the platform for the new project at the moment but my new partners, who have followed me since Le Mans last year, have been inviting potential sponsors who only know Formula One and don't realise how exciting MotoGP is.”

And the name of the new project?

“I'm not going to disclose the full name but I'm bringing back my brand, RNF.”

Razali created the name as a tribute to his family, using the initials of his children Razali, Nadia, Farouk.

Quartararo, Morbidelli and Petronas Yamaha SRT, Valencia 2022
Quartararo, Morbidelli and Petronas Yamaha SRT, Valencia 2022

“My track record is not so bad…”

Appointed CEO of Sepang Circuit from 2008, when it also hosted the Malaysian F1 Grand Prix, Razali launched SIC’s own grand prix team in 2015, which reached MotoGP with Petronas and Yamaha backing in 2019.

Petronas Yamaha SRT enjoyed a dream debut season of seven podiums with star rookie Fabio Quartararo, with Razali stepping down from circuit management to fully focus on the race team from 2020.

That year saw Quartararo and Morbidelli claim the first ever MotoGP wins for a satellite Yamaha team, the Frenchman leading the early world championship standings before Morbidelli finished runner-up to Suzuki’s Joan Mir.

Quartararo then left for the factory team, to be replaced by the sport’s biggest icon, Valentino Rossi. But The Doctor finished no better than eighth in his final season while Morbidelli took a single podium before stepping back for knee surgery.

However, the biggest blow came when Petronas elected not to renew its sponsorship, bringing the whole Sepang Racing Team project, spanning all three grand prix classes, to an end.

Razali then split from long-time partner Johan Stigefelt to form RNF and kept Yamaha machinery for one more year. But star rider Andrea Dovizioso retired mid-season and title sponsor WithU backed out shortly after.

Despite all the on and off-track difficulties last season, Oliveira came close to a podium on several occasions and Fernandez claimed a career best fifth in the finale. RNF finished eighth out of eleven in the teams’ standings.

“I think my track record as team principal is not so bad,” Razali reflected. “I think I'm the only individual here that has comprehensive experience both as a promoter and a team principal.

“But I want to say that I had a great team manager in Wilco, a great team and great riders.

“What we did with Petronas was amazing. Second in the world championship. And even while we were still building the RNF project we never came last in the teams’ championships.

“It didn't go too well on track last year, but we knew that the following year [2024] would be better.

“Looking back, I'm satisfied. I wish we could have continued, but it is what it is and we just have to find a different way to be relevant in the sport.”

The new Trackhouse team suffered an early setback when Fernandez suffered a big highside on his fourth lap of testing, forcing him to miss days two and three at Sepang.

“Unfortunately, Raul fell within one hour of testing. Being impatient, as always!” Razali smiled. “But I put my money on Raul doing well this year.”

Fernandez bounced back with the fifth-fastest lap time at the following Qatar test.

Bogdan Maruntis, Razlan Razali, Ovidiu Toma, Valencia MotoGP, 6 November
Bogdan Maruntis, Razlan Razali, Ovidiu Toma, Valencia MotoGP, 6 November

CryptoDATA: “We invested 9 million euros in the team”

Asked for a response to the funding situation at RNF last season and money still owed to staff and suppliers following its MotoGP exit, CryptoDATA’s CEO Ovidiu Toma said:

“When we invested in the RNF team, we paid all the debts from 2022 and purchased the majority shareholding from Razlan.

“We kept Razlan as team principal and agreed upon a budget for 2023. The budget was agreed to be 11 million to be spent over the year. Razlan overspent, including about 2 million we never agreed upon.

“All my costs for last year were over 9 million euros. Yes, in the last two races, I stopped paying any money to the team, because we had reached 13.5 million spent for the season.

“But when we finished the season, we had the current salaries outstanding and probably 30-40,000 euros worth of suppliers, which were paid after Valencia.  

"Nobody can argue or debate that we never paid our suppliers.”

Toma also alleged that the issue of the former CryptoDATA RNF grid places is not completely resolved.

“Dorna agreed to pay us a price, which was quite high, to sell our team…  They have only paid half.

“Now we are going to court in Switzerland and Spain. We will see what the judges decide. The claim is about 10 million euros.”

Dorna declined to comment.

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