Officially, Yamaha is still to decide if it will even run a satellite MotoGP team in 2019, following Tech3's switch to KTM.

At last weekend's season-opening Qatar Grand Prix, Yamaha Racing managing director Lin Jarvis said that he 'hoped' to find a replacement, but added:

"Of course, it’s an option not to do it. There are two options; either replace Tech3 with another team, or not. So we have to evaluate that, depending on the possible partners we can find."

But the hot rumour at Losail was that Marc VDS has moved into pole position to take over the M1s in 2019.

Currently last-in-line at Honda, as well as offering a professional, well-funded MotoGP team, Marc VDS could provide Yamaha with a ready-made rider development programme through its title-winning Moto2 team.

Alex Marquez is one of the favourites for this year's world championship, while reigning Moto3 champion Joan Mir is starting a three-year Marc VDS contract.

But of more immediate interest to Yamaha would be a second chance to work with Franco Morbidelli.

Morbidelli has been promoted to MotoGP by Marc VDS after winning last year's Moto2 crown. He is also is a member of Valentino Rossi's VR46 Riders Academy, for which Yamaha is an 'Official Partner and Motorcycle Supplier'.

"We have this programme with the VR46 Academy, with the idea to take some of their guys if they’re interesting for us," Jarvis said.

"Sometimes it doesn’t work out. A good case in point was Franco Morbidelli. Because he became available to move [to MotoGP in 2018]. We would have been very interested to take him onboard.

"But at that time, Jonas Folger and Zarco already had confirmed contracts for this year. Rossi and Viñales already had confirmed contracts for this year. We had no place. That was the problem."

Jarvis also revealed that Yamaha missed out on another VR46 rider, Francesco Bagnaia, who has signed to join MotoGP with Pramac Ducati in 2019.

"Bagnaia was another very interesting case. The reason we eventually discovered that Tech3 would change [to KTM] was while we were considering whether we could take and place Bagnaia… we found out that the team wasn't able to accept him."

While Bagnaia looks to have slipped away, Morbidelli would become part of the package if Yamaha agrees terms with Marc VDS:

"Franco is under contact with us until the end of 2019, that is clear," a Marc VDS spokesman told Crash.net.

But if Marc VDS has the most to offer Yamaha, what will it take to persuade the Belgian team to leave Honda and turn down Suzuki?

"We are looking for a long-term partnership with any manufacturer and Michael [Bartholemy, team manager] has stated publicly that a three-year deal is the preferred option for us," the Marc VDS spokesman added.

"I can’t talk about specific manufacturers, but we would obviously be looking for the best technical package possible from any manufacturer, especially if Franco performs as expected this season."

In other words, a latest-specification factory bike for Morbidelli could help swing the deal, especially given the present year-old bikes from Honda.

But unlike LCR Honda and Pramac Ducati, Tech3 was never given a factory bike - despite even the heroics of Johann Zarco last season - something cited by team boss Herve Poncharal as a factor in their decision to leave Yamaha.

Jarvis defended the level of support given to Tech3 but crucially also said that the policy of not supplying a factory bike to the satellite team could change as part of a new agreement.

"I think Herve got a proposal [from KTM] that he himself described as 'an offer he couldn’t refuse'," Jarvis said. "Normally those offers come from Italy, but in this case it came from Austria!

"We respect that decision and we regret that decision, because we’ve had 20 years together. For sure Valencia at the end of the year will be a sad day."

The Englishman added: "I don’t believe Hervé left because he didn’t feel the support from Yamaha.

"I think Hervé left because he had a fantastic offer from a competitor, that really needs to have a satellite team. That offer probably included many things including bike performance, finance, stability.

"It’s true that we haven’t provided a factory bike to Johann, but we’ve always respected our policy and our contract.

"Our contract with Hervé was not to provide a factory bike. So we’ve provided a bike that is sometimes faster than our factory bike, so I think there are always two sides to every story."

When asked if Yamaha's factory-satellite policy could change in future: "It could, yeah. But that will be subject to a new discussion and a new contract with a new team."

That could also open the door for Zarco to stay at Yamaha in 2019, riding a full-factory bike at the new satellite team.

"It's possible," said Jarvis.

However all the signs are that Zarco wants a seat at an official team next season, with KTM and Repsol Honda the favourites to secure his services, followed by Suzuki.

The other concern for whichever team picks up the satellite Yamaha baton is the looming prospect of a VR46 MotoGP team.

However Rossi's contract extension means it won't happen until 2021 at the earliest:

"Hopefully we'll talk about the MotoGP team later when I stop - but not in 2019 or in 2020," Rossi said.

Quizzed on whether the next satellite Yamaha team will merely be bridging a gap until VR46 arrives, Jarvis responded:

"Valentino hasn’t even decided yet to enter definitively into MotoGP, so firstly there is that factor. Secondly, if he should enter, is it in 2021? If he enters, is it with one rider or two riders? There are many factors.

"That’s three years away. We can change a lot of things between now and three years time if we want to. It’s certainly something we will consider and I don’t think it will be a barrier to another team considering to get involved with Yamaha."

To convince a team that they have a future with Yamaha beyond the potential arrival of VR46 would mean agreeing to supply more than one satellite team.

Jarvis says that could happen:

"If you go back way into the past, Yamaha was supplying more bikes than now - in the days of WCM, Luis d’Antin, we were supplying eight bikes at a certain time.

"Then we changed from supplying eight bikes, we said, ‘that’s not getting us the victory, which is what we were missing in those days.’

"We had a lot of quantity but not so much quality. Then we made a change and went in another direction. We found the optimum level to achieve both was to have four bikes.

"Now that may change in the future as well, because a lot of things have changed in the last ten years.

"Year by year, things are always changing so we will definitely be open to looking at supplying more than four bikes in the future. So I don’t see that as a problem."

And when might a new satellite Yamaha agreement be signed and sealed?

"We’d like to have it done probably before June because then you start to get into planning for the next season," Jarvis said. "You have to be ready with all of your decisions regarding manpower, support, ordering parts and so on."

 

 

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