An exclusive interview with Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team principal Herve Poncharal, conducted on the eve of the Assen round.

Bradley Smith is currently the leading satellite rider, scoring points in every race. Pol Espargaro has matched Smith's best result of fifth this season, but had only beaten his team-mate once prior to Assen.

Tech 3 also races with its own chassis in the Moto2 World Championship, where Marcel Schrotter and Ricky Cardus are battling to make an impact in the Kalex-dominated field...

Q:
Are you happy with the season so far Herve?

Herve Poncharal:
For MotoGP we are happy. We can't be unhappy because after Italy we were third in the teams' championship and for the start of this weekend we are equal on points with Repsol Honda. This is showing that our two guys are doing a good job. I think it's the first time since the teams' championship started that we've been ahead of the Repsol Honda team. We know why, I'm not saying our team is stronger than Repsol Honda, but it's something we have to be proud of.

Clearly I think Bradley is doing a really, really strong season. He has impressed a lot of people this year with his speed and his calmness. I don't want to talk too much about it because in racing we are always a bit superstitious! But if you remember this time last year, where he was very nervous and crashing a lot, reaching a peak in Germany with five crashes in one weekend.

So when you see what Bradley is doing this year it is very impressive - how much he has changed and how much he has matured. In general a rider is on track like he is in his personal life and you can see that he is much more self-confident when we talk to him. He is much happier. He is much cooler and nicer to the team. For sure this is linked. He has a better relationship with the team, he spends more time with us, he is more open to listen and you can see that on track. He is behaving a lot better. Also he takes more time. If we have a set-up to test, he doesn't go out for one lap, come in and say 'it's rubbish'.


We are very happy with what Bradley is doing. Also I think he is very happy to have been chosen by Yamaha to race in their official factory team for the Suzuka 8 Hours. I was talking with him earlier and he's really looking forward to it. He and Pol will fly to Japan for their first test after Assen.

Bradley is only one point behind Marquez - we know why - but if I had told you before the first race that it would be that way after seven races, you would have said 'Herve, you are a bit of a dreamer!'

On the other side there is Pol. I love Pol. He is an incredibly nice young man. Full of life. A good team player. When he's in the hospitality he makes the coffee for everyone and he always has a nice word for any team member. We would like him to perform on track too.

Q:
What do you think has happened to Pol this year?

Herve Poncharal:
What is happening with Marquez? It is a little bit the same, but of course Marc has been a double MotoGP champion and he has got a two-year deal so he is not so much under pressure. I understand Pol is frustrated and disappointed because he was expecting, especially being year two, to be a lot stronger. He is on a bike that is leading the championship by far. He is beaten by his team-mate. When you look at the success Pol has had in his career - 125, Moto2, then the year in MotoGP when he was the top rookie, everybody can say that this is not where Pol should be.

We are trying our best to help him. He is working very hard. This is only my analysis - and it's never one thing - but for me being in his second year and not doing what he wants in terms of results, he's putting more and more pressure on himself and he is trying harder and harder.

If you look at Bradley, who is trying a lot less hard than last year and doing a lot better on track, maybe the 'secret' is not to try too hard. We also know that the Yamaha M1, which we can say is the best bike in the championship at the moment, needs to be ridden very smoothly. So I know Pol will hate me saying that, he will say 'bollocks, blah, blah, blah!' but you clearly need to learn from the guys that are going fastest.

I think at the moment Pol still needs to adapt to the M1, but it's a fine line. He is not very far. At Mugello he was very close to Bradley in qualifying and the race but he is a bit less calm. Both of them are on a one-year deal, so it's getting close to contract time.

I still have 100% trust in Pol. I'm sure Pol is going to be a great MotoGP rider. So I've got no doubt about Pol, but at some stage you need to deliver. You need to show and move forward. He is working very hard, he is very motivated, very concerned. At the moment it is not easy for him and the problem is always - as I've said - when you don't have the results you have more stress, more pressure and try harder. Which is sometimes not the way to get the best from the bike.

Q:
How much longer do the riders have to impress you in terms of a 2016 contract?

Herve Poncharal:
So, as you know, Bradley Smith has a contract with Tech 3. Yamaha Motor Corporation (YMC) has got three riders under contract: Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo and Pol Espargaro. Because they can have only two seats in their Factory team, they placed Pol in our team. But Pol is contracted by Japan.

Q:
So Pol's future will be their decision?

Herve Poncharal:
Yes. This is very clear, by Yamaha and by Pol's management, that the negotiations and discussions will be between YMC and Pol. For me I've been told at the moment, and I fully agree because of the relationship I have with Yamaha, to just keep that seat for Pol and wait until I'm informed of the final decision.

For me it will take a bit of time. There are two races until the summer break and they have three races before Indy - Assen, Sachsenring plus the Suzuka 8 Hours. So I've got a feeling those three races are going to be very important in order to prepare the futures of our two riders.

I don't think there will be any decision before Indy or Brno. Last year we shook hands finally with Bradley on the Sunday night in Indy and we announced the deal the following week in the Czech Republic. So this sort of timeframe makes sense.

Q:
And Bradley's future will be your decision?

Herve Poncharal:
Yes. Of course I also have my word to say about Pol, but as I said before I am very positive about retaining Pol. I'd like him to stay, because at the moment it is like unfinished business.

Q:
What are the chances then that Tech 3 will keep both riders?

Herve Poncharal:
If you asked me three months ago I would have said it is almost impossible to retain the same riders because we are in a world of sport, but also in a world of - not show business - but we are here to entertain, to create some buzz, to create some media attention.

And if you keep Bradley for four years, Pol for three years, especially when you know that the factory Honda, Yamaha, Ducati and Suzuki teams will not change, for you guys and the fans it is a bit boring. So I would have told you 'no way'.

Today I'm telling you if I had to decide now, just prior to Assen, I would keep the two same riders. Because as I've said they are doing an okay job, for sure we would like to see them closer to Vale and Jorge, but still we are joint third in the teams' championship and leading the unofficial satellite championship.

Q:
How important is the top satellite position to you and therefore the future of the riders?

Herve Poncharal:
Bottom line is that we shouldn't talk about that because our bikes are very, very close - main difference is the gearbox [seamless for upshifts, but not downshifts] - to the Factory guys. So if you say 'I'm only here to compete against the satellite teams' this is already accepting the fact that you are not as quick as the others and we don't want to do that. Because the target is to try to be on the podium and win races eventually.

Having said that, there are only two Yamahas, two Hondas and two Ducatis in the leading factory teams. So to be the first satellite it means you beat Cal, beat Scott, beat the two Pramacs. It's not bad and today Brad is leading the satellite standings by quite a big margin. So this is quite impressive.

Q:
I guess the only thing missing from Bradley's strong start to the season is a podium...

Herve Poncharal:
Cal managed to grab the opportunity for a podium with a great move in the final corner in Argentina. For sure that race was good for the satellite riders because Jorge and Dovi were struggling and Marquez crashed. So it was a chance and we know Cal - he is so fast, so aggressive.

But we've only done seven races. Last year Bradley's podium came at round 16. So we still have quite a few races. We are closer in terms of time to the winners than last year. Just wait and see. In a regular race it is almost impossible for a satellite guy to be on the podium, which means without any crashes. So we need to hope for another exciting races, let's say, either a problem for the leaders or strange weather.

I hate to say that we need exceptional conditions to be on the podium. We should be in a position like in 2012 and 2013 when we had a chance in any conditions. But at that time there was not the Factory and Open rules, and now we've got Suzuki back and Ducati is very fast.

We're happy with our guys, but for both of them there is room for improvement and we shouldn't be satisfied to be first satellite bike. That's not the target.

Q:
Is the time gap that you want improved?

Herve Poncharal:
Yes. Most definitely it's the time gap. Because if you reduce the time gap you will be able to grab an opportunity to be on the podium.

Q:
What are the differences between Pol's bike and Bradley's bike? There is a different chassis...

Herve Poncharal:
What's the difference between Vale and Jorge's bikes, you know? Bradley has got the best package he can have following his rider style and comments. And the same for Pol. And sometimes the factory team will ask us for a chassis from last year because if a rider is struggling they want to confirm some things. Even the top guys are unsure sometimes.

But remember when Valentino was the only Yamaha guy performing in the past and all the other ones were struggling? We always had access to the data and were given the setting but when we've tried it with our riders it was a disaster. 'This bike is unrideable'

So we don't want to fool your readers into thinking this rider is the number one, number two, number three and number four at Yamaha. If Bradley's package was not at the level he wouldn't have beaten his team-mate in every race but Jerez so far.

Q:
But is it possible that the change of chassis disrupted Pol a bit?

Herve Poncharal:
No I don't think so and anyway the difference is almost nothing. It is terms of setting. Why he got something a bit different was he destroyed his two original chassis, so there were no more parts.

At the moment Bradley is our best placed rider and if Yamaha's got to bring something new - and better - for our team it will be, minimum, for the two riders at the same time.

For example, I read somewhere that Pol has got the new [slash cut] exhaust system because he is a Factory contracted rider and Bradley does not have it because he is not. Completely wrong. They both received it in Catalunya and Bradley said after FP1 'take it off, it is too loud'. We know in terms of performance it is exactly the same as the old exhaust. It is just very slightly lighter and when you crash there is not so much to damage. No difference really.

Bradley decided to use the old system because the sound was too loud it disturbed him, but then some people say 'a-ha, because he is Tech 3 he has the old system!' What can you do?

Q:
There may not be room at your team, but are there any riders in Moto2 that you think should be in MotoGP next season?

Herve Poncharal:
Clearly the top three guys at the moment - Tito Rabat, Sam Lowes and Johann Zarco - have the profile to move up to the MotoGP class.

Tito could have done it at the end of last year, but he didn't have any good opportunities so he decided to stay. Johann is in his fourth year in Moto2, is leading the championship and it's time for him to go because, like Tito [26], he is not very young [24]. Sam is in his second year. He is a lot better than last year and also is not particularly young [24].

So I think these three guys are more than qualified to move to the MotoGP class.

Q:
Have they been to see you?

Herve Poncharal:
Well...! As I told you before, this is completely honest, if I had to decide now I'd keep my two guys because any of these three names - for sure they will be fast on a MotoGP bike, but there would be some time to adapt.

Our guys are the same age as them, or a little younger [Espargaro and Smith are both 24] and they already have the experience. I want and need guys that can deliver now. Not in two or three years. At the moment everything seems like it is going in the direction of keeping the same two riders.

Q:
Is it also partly because of wanting stability with the rule changes and new tyres for next year?

Herve Poncharal:
No. Because, as I said before, is our mission to create some buzz, some new adventure to tell the media and fans about? Or is it to make the best results and give visibility to my sponsors?

I really believe if I can keep the same two guys, they still have room for improvement, but they already have a very strong level. So why change?

Bradley is improving every race and I'm sure Pol will be strong in the near future. If I can I would like to keep the two of them.

Q:
How significant will the Suzuka 8 Hours be for Bradley and Pol, in terms of impressing Yamaha Japan let's say?

Herve Poncharal:
This is very important for Japan because it's the first time in a long time that Yamaha will have a full factory project in that race where, let's be realistic, for the last maybe ten years it was virtually monopolised by Honda.

It's going to be tough. I'm sure the bike will be competitive but everything around the bike is very important for an endurance race and I think Honda has so much experience and so many staff trained for quick repairs, pit stops, refuelling, wheel changes...

The mechanics must be almost automated. Is Yamaha going to have that around the bike? I don't know, we will see. Clearly I think Brad, Pol and Nakasuga will be inside the top three teams in terms of speed. So they have a good chance to do well but in an endurance race so many things can happen.

The last time I spoke with Mick Doohan he said the biggest danger is backmarkers, because in some cases you are lapping 30-seconds quicker than them. When you arrive on a group of four or five guys fighting and you are that much quicker, you don't know how they will behave.

But this race is certainly very important for Yamaha and the new R1 is a key bike in their communication and marketing strategy. So if ever they would win that race Yamaha would be so thankful and grateful. That doesn't mean it would automatically lead to [a new MotoGP contract] because at the end of the day I am the team owner, and Yamaha does not own my team. But you know we are working really closely with Yamaha.

This is going to be an important opportunity for both Pol and Brad's careers, in terms of being part of the Yamaha family.

Q:
Also on the subject of 2016, where do you stand on the types of concessions that should be available for the less successful manufacturers?

Herve Poncharal:
For me the most important thing is to have the same ECU, same 22 litres of fuel and the same tyre choice. No more soft and hard tyre allocation. In these areas there will be no concessions. As a team manager these are the most important and we will be on equal terms.

Now they are talking about the possibility for some factories to test more, have more than seven engine changes and allow engine development. We know now that Yamaha and Honda have the capacity to build an engine fast enough to win the championship and still be reliable enough to do 18 races with just five changes. So I'm not too concerned. This discussion is more inside the factories. For me the important spec is ECU, fuel and tyres. The rest I don't care too much because the big thing at the moment is the different tyres.

Q:
Things are going well for Tech 3 in MotoGP, but it's been a tougher start in Moto2...

Herve Poncharal:
If you look at the results Marcel [Schrotter] ended up 16th in Catalunya and last year he was ninth. But last year he was 33 seconds from the winner and this year he was 20 seconds behind.

What I mean is that in terms of positions you can say he is very far, but in terms of time - which is most important for us - we are closer. That doesn't mean we are happy. That doesn't mean we are close enough. But it's not a disaster, as you might think just by looking at the positions.

The Moto2 grid is more and more competitive. There are so many guys, so close. Okay, we talked about the three big names before - Rabat, Zarco and Lowes - but there are a lot of other guys in the top ten who are fast, like Rins, Folger, Luthi and Aegerter.

But I'm disappointed and my riders are disappointed because although we are closer, in the end when you talk to your sponsors and the outside world still it is 16th place. So for sure everything is not fine and we need to be doing more.

I think Marcel is doing an okay job. Ricky [Cardus] was seventh last year in Catalunya, this year he crashed while he was in 19th. Ricky is really lost this year. Why I don't know. I don't want to shoot on an ambulance and say it's his fault and not mine.

We are not happy and are working hard in order to please the riders and give them something they like, but you know in the end our 'weak point' is that we don't have the same chassis and this is opening room for complaints and lack of confidence. When you are a rider and you are behind you think 'maybe it's me, but maybe it's also my package'.

Then when you are the only one to use the chassis the doubt enters, and you can imagine that all on the outside - media, sponsors, friends, fanclub - are saying 'you are on a piece of shit. If you were on a Kalex you would be winning etc etc'. So it affects the morale of the rider and his approach to racing.

But you and I have had this conversation so many times: What should we do? Buy a Kalex? That would be a failure and what does it bring? Speed Up managed to keep on going - modified their bike, the swingarm - and now Sam is showing that bike can compete at the front and win. But he is the only one doing that on a Speed Up. So if Sam wasn't with Speed Up a lot of people would still rate it as 'rubbish'.

Like when Vale joined Yamaha in 2004, the year before there was only one Yamaha podium, our guy Alex Barros. Yamaha were supposed to be lost and then the next year Vale was world champion. I'm not saying we are Vale or Yamaha and we clearly need to work on our bike, but also to do that we need data and comments. Not whinging only.

One thing I can tell you is that we will race with Kayaba suspension this weekend (Click Here for more).

Q:
It seems hard to imagine a top rider moving away from Kalex at the moment...

Herve Poncharal:
I will never say one bad word about Kalex because if they have this super ultra-dominant position it is because they are best and riders want them because they believe that with a Kalex they will have better results.

Which if you look at what Luthi and Aegerter are doing is not necessarily true. So I think some people have been switching to Kalex, they saw that it is was a very good bike - Luthi won in Le Mans - but it is just a bike and even with the best bike one day you don't find the right feeling, find the right set-up, have the same problems to solve.

A chassis is just a piece of aluminium linking the front and rear wheels with the engine in-between. I'm being provocative. But this is the sixth season of Moto2. We've had the same engine for six years and almost the same tyres during that time. Do you think in those six years we, meaning all the Moto2 manufacturers, have not had a chassis from all of our rivals in our workshops to measure the dimensions, the rigidity of the chassis and the swingarm?

If I tell you that everybody is very, very, very, very close... I even read the other day that the Speed Up swingarm looks a lot like the Kalex one.

Q:
So there is not much difference between the Moto2 chassis on paper?

Herve Poncharal:
Yeah but if I say that... I'm not pretentious and the facts and results are talking against what I'm saying and some readers will say 'Poncharal is a big mouth, his bike is a piece of shit, he doesn't do enough development, the poor riders...'

The last guy anyway who did well and got podiums with our Moto2 bike was Bradley and look what he is doing in MotoGP. Because also a lot of people outside and inside the paddock said that Bradley will never be fast on a MotoGP bike and it was a wrong choice by me. Today he is the leading satellite rider and sixth in the world championship.

We will continue to push. I'm really glad Kayaba believed in us. We are in Moto2 because we like to work on our bike development to give the possibility to our young engineers to learn, show what they can do and develop. We have better, more qualified guys who understand more than only assembling parts, thanks to the Moto2 project.

Also I see Moto2 as our junior team. If the guy is good enough, like Bradley, they can move up to the MotoGP team. Then if the guy is good enough he can join the factory Yamaha team.

I think some riders who have said 'no' to me, I can't tell you any names... Actually I can. A long time ago, I think in 2010, I contacted Alex de Angelis because I liked him, he was fast and I offered him the project.

I said 'Alex, join us in Moto2. If you do well you will automatically be upgraded to MotoGP'. We talked and talked and he declined. The other day he told me 'Herve, every time I see Bradley I think about what you told me'. Look where he is now and where Bradley is now.

This is also why we are in Moto2. Because still I believe a top guy can be top five with our bike. It is possible. Then if he is regularly in the top five, is young and showing good potential, he is most likely to be offered the MotoGP ride.

But anyway, we carry on. As we say in French, 'The dogs are barking but the caravan goes on'. It's difficult to translate, but it means ok I know a lot of people are saying our project is not good and our bike is not competitive, but still we push on.

I'm not saying our bike is as good as the top guys. Maybe yes, maybe no. No-one can prove either way without the same rider on all bikes on the same day with the same preparation.

But for sure every Sunday night - Saturday at Assen - I have quite a positive feeling about MotoGP and I'm not happy with the Moto2. Okay the MotoGP is so much bigger and more important in terms of the future of our team, but I do care about the Moto2 project because the guys involved are nice guys. They work very hard and this is our baby.

So of course we have our pride and even if I say 'the dogs are barking...' still it hurts.

Q:
How much of a disadvantage is it to have only three Tech 3 bikes (Schrotter, Cardus and Tasca's Louis Rossi) on the grid?

Herve Poncharal:
I understand our riders when they say that sometimes when they are lost they don't have the possibility to do what the Kalex guys do and say 'okay it's me, because this bike is on top of the timesheet'. When you're on the Mistral and you are far from the top, but you are still the best Mistral, it's easy to get demoralised.

This is why I'm very much impressed by Sam. Because last year he had a difficult year, especially the last part of the championship and instead of saying 'one more year with this piece of...' he kept on pushing and from the first winter test we could see 'wow'. This is a champion's attitude, like Valentino had when he joined Yamaha, so Sam is doing really well and showing that there is a life even without a Kalex in Moto2. But he's the only one, so for that I have a lot of respect for the guy.

Q:
How many chassis manufacturers do you think there will be in Moto2 next year?

Herve Poncharal:
I don't know. We had 13 manufacturers at one stage in 2010. Now directly involved there are only Kalex, Speed Up and Tech 3. Suter has two bikes but is not directly involved. I think Suter will continue because they have big passion, like us and Speed Up. But for sure there will be some more in the future who will say 'why continue, for what?'

Q:
What would be the consequences of that?

Herve Poncharal:
As long as we have this one engine rule we might see 100 percent of the grid on Kalex. Then you know that Kalex will be able to play the way they want. 'You have the 2015, you have the 2014, you have the 2013'. Because nobody can check. We can check the engine and various things to make sure it is the same for everyone, but the chassis is completely free. So you could have manipulation like we had with Aprilia at the end of the 250cc era.

Is it what we want? I don't know. Also the prices could go very high. If this happens then maybe the championship will go like in Moto3 with cost caps. It's difficult also because the manufacturer can tell you whatever they want. It's not so easy to control. I don't think in the interests of the sport it is good to have a monopoly so let's hope that the competition between the manufacturers will stay alive.

Q:
Thanks Herve.

Herve Poncharal:
No problem. You are more than welcome.

Espargaro matched Tech 3's best result of the season with fifth place at Assen, with Smith just 0.174s behind in seventh. Schrotter crossed the line 18th in Tech 3's first Moto2 race with Kayaba suspension (+25s). Cardus failed to finish.

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