Who will join rookie Jonas Folger at the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team in MotoGP next season?

Pol Espargaro currently rides alongside Bradley Smith, who is heading for KTM, while the likes of Moto2 star Alex Rins have long been linked to the team.

With rumours swirling, Crash.net sat down with Tech 3 boss Herve Poncharal on Sunday evening at his home Le Mans round to get the latest on the available M1 seat, plus the newly-announced deal with Folger.

"I would love to retain Pol," began Poncharal. "Because I like Pol, he is a very nice guy, always a team player and I think his level is better than his results. And he showed this weekend [fifth place] that he is fast.

"Will he stay? I don't know. I fully understand that he wants a factory [team] ride. It is his third year with Tech 3 and if he stays with us forever he will be a satellite rider. So he is now trying to get a factory Yamaha, Honda, Ducati or Suzuki.

"I told him: 'Go. Hopefully you'll have it. If you find something I'll be happy for you, but sad for me. That is life and I understand you want to make the last step'. But I think the rider line-up for the four top factory teams will be clear quite soon. For me by Barcelona everything will be fixed. That is my feeling.

"But I also said: 'I'm not going to do anything until you tell me, 'Herve I've signed for factory X. Or I've talked to all the factories and there is no room for me, can we talk?''

"So until he either says to me 'can we talk?' or 'I'm gone', I'm going to wait.

"If he is not with us next year, do we want an experienced rider or another rookie? I don't know yet. We have to explore all the options. The situation is that you have four factories - Honda, Yamaha, Ducati, Suzuki - who are the priority and will get the best riders. So now we have to wait until they are full.

"Once they are full we will be able to see who is left. And maybe there will be a name that we don't think is going to be left - a big name - and that could be very exciting for us. I always remember when we had the Crutchlow-Dovizioso line-up, it was incredibly successful. It was a really strong season...

"I'm not in a hurry. I wanted to sign Jonas because he had some other opportunities and for me it is important to secure at least one seat. And the second seat for the moment is for Pol. But I know this is not his priority."

Espargaro, whose contract is directly with Yamaha, is currently sixth and the top satellite rider in the MotoGP standings.

'Rins only wants to talk to factory teams'

Folger, a double Moto2 race winner, was announced as a 2017 Tech 3 rider earlier in the Le Mans weekend. The 22-year-old German has qualified on the front row in three out of the five events this season, and taken two podiums, but France was probably his worst weekend of the year.

"Jonas had a bad weekend with some crashes, so I hope this is not the MotoGP signature effect! Joking aside, why did I choose Jonas? I think, as I've said before, you have four riders who are more-or-less dominant in the Moto2 class," Poncharal said.

"They are: Sam Lowes, who has a three-year deal, starting with Gresini in Moto2 this year and then Aprilia in MotoGP. Johann Zarco, who has signed something with Suzuki. He cannot talk to any other manufacturer. The next is Alex Rins, but Rins is telling everybody that he only wants to talk to factory teams. He says he has a good chance to go to a factory team. We are not a factory team so it means we can't talk to him. We are too small!

"Then the fourth guy is Jonas, which doesn't mean he was our fourth choice. Jonas is a guy I like a lot. He is a genuinely nice guy. My team has always been like a family and he will fit in really well. He is not somebody who says 'I want a factory team...' I think he is fast. His riding style could, and should, be quite efficient on the M1. And the bottom line is that you have to choose somebody and Jonas was my choice.

"Is it going to be a success? In Moto3 Aleix Marquez and Alex Rins were the same speed, then they switched to Moto2 and Rins is a lot better and faster. Nobody could predict such a big gap when they changed class. Marc Marquez, Vinales, Pol Espargaro when they switched from Moto2 to MotoGP were instantly fast. but Tito Rabat is struggling a lot more. So you never know.

"But if Jonas is fast next year, everybody will say 'Herve is a genius! He can spot the talented young riders!' And if not everybody will say 'Herve is stupid!' Like a French guy who just said to me, 'You should have talked to Zarco, Jonas is good at nothing'. We will see.

"I am confident. You know, Bradley is leaving so I had to make a choice. As I say, when you make a choice you never know if it will be a complete success but Yamaha, my partners and my team support this decision."

Poncharal added that he had been talking to Folger since 2014, "but it was a bit too early. This is his third year in Moto2 and I think now is the right moment. I know he is not dominating Moto2, but he is fast. He's 22, still young. And if he is going to make the move it is now.

"So we have an opportunity, he has the will, he is ready, he has the experience. So why not?"

By Peter McLaren


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