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Why Did Yamaha Let Zarco Go?

Based on reports we have seen, just about every major factory in the MotoGP paddock made some effort to sign Johann Zarco for next year … with the exception of his current bike manufacturer, Yamaha. Why?

Zarco currently sits second in the MotoGP championship behind Marc Marquez (Honda) and in front of Yamaha factory riders Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales. He isn’t spending too much time complaining about his Yamaha’s performance, while the factory guys can’t seem to stop complaining about their bikes … blaming their bikes for their relatively poor performance this year.

We have enough evidence now to know that Zarco is a special talent. As we reported a few days ago, Zarco will be aboard a KTM beginning next year, having turned away interest shown by Honda, for instance. Zarco, in addition to his demonstrated riding skill, is also a very capable development rider. It isn’t just the fact that he has solved some of the Yamaha’s handling issues that the factory guys cannot (with far fewer resources at his disposal), Zarco just has a knack for identifying issues with the bike and helping to solve them. Another reason KTM wants him so bad.

Why did Yamaha pass on Zarco? Pure speculation, but logic points to the fact that Yamaha had already signed two very expensive contract extensions, including one with Rossi and one with Viñales. Likely there was no room in the budget for another star rider. One could also say Yamaha bet their immediate future on an aging star, Rossi, and, as a result, let a rising star like Zarco walk away.

Then again, Zarco may have moved on regardless of efforts from Yamaha. At KTM, he can lead the development effort, and the direction of the bike, where he would always take a back seat to Rossi, for instance, had he stayed at Yamaha. No matter how you look at it, Zarco may one day be viewed as the “one that got away.”

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  1. Vrooom says:

    If you buy that winning on Sunday means sales on Monday (Tuesday since most dealerships are closed on Monday), then Yamaha has a predicament. They signed Rossi as he’s the biggest name in motorsports these days, not the most likely to win, but the most recognized. If the win/buy formula is correct, they can’t put him on a 2 year old bike, in theory everyone is going to look for a used 2016 Yamaha (yeah I know it’s not that simple). Given they have Rossi and Vinales under contract, where exactly could they have slotted Zarco? Zarco is going to give KTM a great source of data going forward, both in development and comparison to the 2016 Yamaha. Bring it on.

  2. J Wilson says:

    From the outside looking in:

    Zarco, like MM, has no fear, and the accompanying ego to go with it: You must have that to be in this line of work. To him, he’s been getting ‘hand me downs’ from Yamaha, running at their pace nonetheless, and to now be bumped up to the factory team where he’d be another in the long line of second fiddles to Vale is not something his personality would be inclined to join.

    Yamaha, on the other hand, could not ‘save face’ by hiring the now departing Tech 3 team’s rider.

    I think Zarco is comfortable with Herve and Guy P, KTM is more than ready to throw boatloads of cash at him and equal equipment as well; that Tech 3 is willing to walk away from their longtime relationship with Yamaha is the tell here.

  3. Kent says:

    Don’t overlook … Zarco and the bike he rides currently are currently better than KTM and BOTH he and his team are joining KTM next year. That’s a lot of rider and maybe just as importantly a LOT of bike knowledge moving to KTM. Could almost be considered industrial espionage!

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      Tech3 is definitely not your average satellite team, and you are right – both Zarco and Tech3’s experience should bring some real value to the KTM GP project.

    • Pacer says:


  4. Gary says:

    Regardless of the reason for the decision, I’m delighted KTM has succeeded in signing top-flight talent. I’d love to see KTM fighting it out with Honda/Yamaha. It would be great for the series.

  5. joe b says:

    I wonder if Rossi or Vinales would do better with Zarco’s bike? … would Yamaha even let them test his bike? or are they just too proud. Rossi is always a threat, but both he and Vinales were out of the the last race, not even close. Ducati is banging their heads, how many ‘take outs’ by their own team mates, can they take?

    • TimC says:

      Pretty sure this was tried already.

      (Not to say it wouldn’t hurt to try it again.)

      (And note to admins – I was just trying to edit this but apparently “report post” got clicked in the process. It was me that “reported” it.)

      “This sort of thing has cropped up before, and it has always been due to human error.”

  6. VLJ says:

    Yamaha’s problem isn’t that Vinales and Rossi aren’t good enough or fast enough to contend for the title. They are. The problem is with the bike. It simply doesn’t work now in hot conditions or wet conditions, and we know Rossi was always very good in the wet, and also in blisteringly hot conditions, such as Sepang. The last time the bike really worked was in 2016, and Rossi was right there, just as he was in 2015. Vinales was right there last year, until they hit the hot weather, following the French GP.

    These days, you can simply check the weather report to know how the factory Yamahas will fare come Sunday.

    Clearly, Yamaha shot themselves in the foot in 2017 when they attempted to fix what wasn’t broken. They’ve never recovered, and in the meantime Zarco has been riding that same 2016 model, which is not the same bike that the factory guys rode last year, or that they’re riding now.

    • TimC says:

      Here it comes…where are you N… say it with me now


    • P Harris says:

      …and yet there is Zarco – the point of the article. He rides the bike he has. KTM will have a real barometer as to what the bike is capable of, with Zarco on board. They are smart people and he’s a very very good rider.

      • VLJ says:

        Zarco’s bike is different from the bikes the factory Yamaha guys have been riding the last two years. It’s not an apples-apples comparison.

        Which begs the obvious question, why not just have the factory squad revert to the spec of Zarco’s bike, including the electronics, which, by all accounts is where the problem lies with the factory M1s.

        • Dirck Edge says:

          Because then they would have no excuse for being slower than Zarco😉. Who says they aren’t on the same bike already.

          • VLJ says:

            Yamaha says they aren’t all on the same bike. So does Herve Poncharal. Among other differences, Zarco’s bike has simplified electronics and a different chassis.

            Also, Zarco hasn’t always been faster than Vinales and Rossi, who both finished ahead of Zarco last year. They also won races last year, which Zarco still hasn’t accomplished.

            Even this year, Zarco was trailing Vinales in the points heading into Jerez, and he would have been trailing Rossi too were it not for what Marquez did to Rossi in Argentina.

            The difference between Zarco and the factory guys isn’t about speed, it’s about consistency. The factory guys are faster than Zarco when their bikes are working well, but slower than Zarco when the weather is either very hot or rainy. Meanwhile, Zarco is always right there every week, just as Rossi was in 2015 and 2016, back when he was using the bike Zarco is using now.

          • Dirck Edge says:

            Rossi was faster than Marquez when Mark has was a rookie. Not sure what that proves. Zarco is learning and getting faster, just like anybody else who enters the Moto GP category. Not sure how much different the bikes are at this point, because I believe the factory team went back to an older chassis. If you are saying that Zarco has a better bike than Rossi and Vinales, I don’t buy it.

          • Pacer says:

            With favorable conditions the M1 is fast. They just can’t adjust.

          • VLJ says:

            Like Rossi’s ride in 2015 and 2016, Zarco’s bike doesn’t completely fall off a cliff as soon as the clouds open up, or the mercury climbs into the 90s. Rossi has ridden Zarco’s bike, last year’s bike, and the current factory M1. He makes no bones about it, the older model’s electronics worked better, and that bike didn’t fade late in races due to eating up rear tires, the way the factory 2017 and 2018 M1s do.

            Some of it is the chassis. Certainly, last year’s issue was largely related to the chassis. Vinales was going great guns early last year, until they switched chassis. Ever since the switch, he’s never been the same.

            Mainly, however, it’s the electronics. On this point, everyone in the Yamaha camp agrees. The simpler, less obtrusive electronics on Zarco’s bike make the thing more rideable, and, more importantly, more consistent. Zarco’s performances aren’t affected by the weather, at least not to anywhere near the same degree as the factory bikes are affected by the weather.

            That is, unless you truly think Valentino Rossi truly is a ninth place rider in the wet/mixed and very hot conditions, and so is Maverick Vinales…and Zarco is just that much better than they are.

            I’m sorry, but I’m not buying it. Zarco is undoubtedly great, but he’s not markedly better and more consistent than Maverick and Rossi.

            It’s the bikes.

          • Pacer says:

            I’ve got nothing but love for Rossi. Also, I have a soft spot for Yamaha and Vinales. Still, it can’t be ignored that the bike has floundered. I figure it is one of two things. 1: Yamaha cant figure out the electronis. 2: The 2016 M1 is Lorenzo creation and Rossi and Vinales can’t develop it. Is it Yamaha, or the riders.

    • Pacer says:

      You are correct. This isn’t a rider’s inability to race, the bike is lame. Vinales and the M1 were crushing it until Michelin changed the front tire. Maybe there is another culprit behind the scenes as well. That said, now the question is if Yamaha out to lunch, or are the riders unable to give the factory the proper feedback?

  7. Artem says:

    May be he is good with bike he has

  8. Pacer says:

    Yamaha’s big mistake was not loving Tech3. If they gave them at least one factory bike everything would be different. Zarco may have stayed. Instead they are counting on Rossi’s team in 3 years. That’s a long time in Motogp.

  9. Jeremy in TX says:

    Rossi and Vinales aren’t exactly slouches.
    Yamaha has a lot of money tied up in those two riders. Zarco can also demand a lot of dough considering his performance.

    Let’s face it… Yamaha probably can’t get rid of Rossi until Rossi decides to leave. He’ll probably never win another championship, but Rossi is still a marketing force of nature around the world. Yamaha can’t afford to diss him

    Vinales deserves another shot I think. And he’s Spanish. That really does count for something when it come to sponsorship contributions. If Vinales doesn’t perform well during his next contact period, I’m sure Zarco will be available, tired of fighting for tenth place on a fledgling GP bike, and cheaper to hire as a result.

    • Pablo says:

      Nailed it Jeremy. Rossi is almost universally loved worldwide and the amount of $$$ he would bring in from marketing would probably eclipse the rest of the field combined. He is unlikely to win another title unless MM gets injured. I wonder why Zarco didn’t get offered Pedrosas ride? Can a realy talented rider like Zarco put the KTM on the podium? I guess we will find out in 2019.

      • TimC says:

        “He is unlikely to win another title unless MM gets injured” – well there also seems to be a pretty big loss of direction with Yamaha esp around the software (and somewhat around the chassis too). The RK problem is pretty serious, and it sounds like if Yamaha would do what it takes (outside help)(if it’s not too late, too far behind) to address the electronics issue he’d still be right there.

        I’m sure in hindsight Rossi increasingly regrets bungling what was likely his last championship shot so massively the more this goes on….

      • P Harris says:

        ha ha – sure VR is really breathing down his neck….

    • Pacer says:

      I think everyone is underestimating KTM and Zarco. He and Tech3 are gathering important data refining what I consider the 3rd best bike on the grid. KTM just tested a new engine, and Pol was 1 second faster in race trim than he was on Sunday. They have corners and sides of this puzzle in place. My guess is Zarco will start 2019 in the top 8, and be a regular podium contender by the summer break.

      • Jeremy in TX says:

        I don’t underestimate Zarco, but I don’t think the KTM is going to be a podium contender even under his ridership. If all of the other factories fail to improve their bikes for next year, then maybe top-fives are a possibility. But they will improve. KTM needs to take three steps for every one step of the other guys.

      • VLJ says:

        Why on earth would you consider the KTM the third best bike on the grid?

        The Honda (including the factory and top satellite bikes), Yamaha (same), Ducati (ditto), and Suzuki are all clearly better than the KTM right now. As it currently stands, the KTM is roughly equal only to the factory Aprilia, and it might be a bit better than the second-tier satellite Ducatis.

        • Pacer says:

          Not the KTM, I switched the conversation from the Yamaha to the KTM without telling anyone in the post above, oops. The 2016 M1 that Zarco is on. Very rarely do you see a models capabilities throughly ironed out in Motogp. Factories normally show up with new bits for the bike instead. Tech3 is in a unique situation to do so with the 2016 M1. If I had any input, I would be checking torsion on the frame and swingarm, and other things like that. Tech3 is much more than just a basic satellite team. They are going to show up with relevant R&D data.

          Fwiw, I have to accept my KTM fan boy status. Totally bias. 🙂 That said feel free to debate me, I enjoy the conversation, and really do believe my own insanity.

          • Dirck Edge says:

            Couple of thoughts. First, the things being said about KTM now were said about Suzuki not so long ago, and a good rider can put the Suzuki on the podium. Second, it is possible that Zarco is talented enough that he can put a mediocre bike on the podium. Maybe his talent lies somewhere above Most of the “aliens”, and close to that of Marquez.

          • Jeremy in TX says:

            Having watched Zarco in Moto2 and now GP, I believe he probably is a cut above the “average” alien. But I think even the sharpest talent isn’t going to put the KTM on the podium at this point.

            Espargaro has high hopes for the newest KTM, claiming he is half a second faster on it. I wouldn’t be surprised if Zarco could add a second on top of that. But I also think the Yamahas, Ducatis and Suzukis will improve for next year. It isn’t impossible of course, but I just don’t see KTM improving that much, even with a rider of Zarco’s caliber. But I hope they prove me wrong.

        • Dave says:

          “Why on earth would you consider the KTM the third best bike on the grid?”

          I think he’s referring to Zarco’s current Yamaha with that statement.

          I get where Jeremy is coming from, but I think in these early days of the KTM, those three step jumps are easier to come by. It’s when they get close that the advances are harder and harder. We’ve also seem some teams go backwards (Yamaha, and less recently, Honda) with chassis development. As long as Red Bull keeps funneling R&D money their way, they should continue to march forward.

    • Tim says:

      I agree, Jeremy and Pablo. Just having Rossi ride your bike probably sells more bikes and brings in more sponsorship money than even having someone like Marquez ride it would. If winning a championship was the sole factor, they probably would have tried to replace Rossi with Zarco, but MotoGP is a business first, and businesses prefer maximizing revenues over all else.

  10. 5229 says:

    Yamaha has put themselves in bad spot with Rossi. No one can argue that he is one of best riders of all time. Yes he has a huge following and market appeal. Only one problem, he has not won a championship since 2009. For the amount of money Yamaha is paying him the results aren’t there. As stated in the article Yamaha has bet their future on an aging star. Rossi is not a serious contender for the Championship.

    • Random says:

      Rossi’s salary is probably (and correctly) filed as marketing expenditure, and he’s probably seen as a good development rider too. The young, championship contender rider for Yamaha should be Vinales.

    • Jason says:

      Racing is advertising and Rossi it the biggest draw in motorcycle racing by far. It doesn’t matter if he wins. What matters is if his fans tune in to watch him on a Yamaha.

  11. VLJ says:

    I think the answer is quite simple. Yamaha has no available factory seats, and Zarco wants and deserves a full factory ride. Having already signed Vinales and Rossi to multi-year deals, Yamaha’s only option with Zarco would be to create a third full factory team, or, at the least, run a slight-step-down satellite team with a same-year factory bike, as Honda is doing with Crutchlow, and Ducati is doing with Petrucci.

    It’s not my money, but if I was in charge over at the Tuning Fork garage I would have tried to convince Zarco to accept a full factory ride with his own satellite team, including Herve Poncharal as team manager.

  12. Dale says:

    Perhaps Rossi name still speaks volume in regards to marketing, merchandise sale, etc.

  13. Neil says:

    Interesting that Yamaha does so well and then changes their bike and does worse. MM93 continues to wipe the floor with everyone else. Vinales just seems psyched out and he can’t qualify like Valentino used to. Lorenzo is lost on a bike that moves under him. Rossi is mortal now. See this chart at the bottom (yellow wins) before and after his 2010 leg break:

  14. Dave says:

    I think he solved the Yamaha’s handling problems by not experiencing them in the 1st place. He rode Jorge’s last Yamaha last year while the factory riders spent the season trying to get the new bike to work as well as the old bike did. He’s on that same chassis again this year.

    Yamaha also didn’t let “him” go, they let Tech3 go, and I haven’t heard if they have plans to supply those two bikes to another team, yet. If they don’t, they’ll be supplying the same number of bikes in the field as KTM, Suzuki, and Aprilia – 2.

    • Dirck Edge says:

      Factory guys went back to an older chassis this year, as well.

      • ROXX says:

        Let’s be honest, we don’t know exactly what those factory guys are riding. I can guarantee they have stuff on those factory bikes that is not on the satellite team bikes.
        It’s the nature of the beast; to keep trying new things.

        • Dave says:

          Of course, we don’t get to know details, but there have been cases like this that were publicized, when a rider/team abandoned the “new” chassis for the old. Marquez did it a few years ago, too.

        • Jeremy in TX says:

          They’ve both publicly stated that they’ve gone back to the old chassis, so that part isn’t a mystery. What additional changes they’ve tried to make to it to improve is unknown. Both Rossi and Vinales both say that the primary issue is in the electronics.

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      Marc VDS will be running the satellite Yamaha team.

  15. dt 175 says:

    is guy coulon going to work on the katoom also? galbusera is no jeremy burgess and forcada is seeing that maverick is no hor-hay. the tuner (NOT “crew chief”) plays a yuge part in this game…

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