With the news that Takaaki Nakagami will join Alex Marquez next year in receiving 2021-spec machines at satellite squad LCR, it means that the MotoGP grid is increasingly moving towards a new model of equal machinery for every racer riding for a manufacturer.
Honda’s announcement brings it in line with Ducati, who this year ensured that both Jack Miller and Pecco Bagnaia have 2020 bikes at Pramac Racing, and has already pledged the same support next year for Johann Zarco and Jorge Martin as the current pair moves up to the factory team.
It’s also been KTM’s strategy since it expanded to being a four-bike manufacturer last year, with Tech3 racers Iker Lecuona and Styrian Grand Prix winner Miguel Oliveira on the latest machines that the Austrian factory can produce.
Furthermore, it’s something that both Suzuki and Aprilia, the two factories without satellite teams right now, have pledged to do when they eventually launch their second squads. That’s a move that’s widely anticipated for 2022, with the MotoGP grid set to see a considerable reshuffling when team contracts expire at the end of next season.
It’s something of a no-brainer, too, given the significant development advantages that having double the amount of data brings to a manufacturer. We’ve seen KTM making a big jump forward, as a result, this year, with Oliveira as competitive as factory rider Brad Binder and the pair sharing a victory apiece for the firm.
It’s consistently improved Ducati and Honda’s performance over recent seasons as well, by allowing them to use Miller and Cal Crutchlow respectively as racing testers, the first to try out new parts and strategies to allow the factory to give them over to their number one riders not just fully-developed but with data to use as well.
Which raises the question: why isn’t Yamaha prepared to do the same? Its satellite squad Petronas SRT are now (alongside second-tier Ducati squad Esponsorama) one of the few remaining outliers on the grid, as San Marino Grand Prix race winner Franco Morbidelli remains seated on an older specification of machine.
It’s a question that factory Yamaha rider Maverick Viñales is asking as well, admitting on Friday to The Race that he doesn’t understand why Yamaha hasn’t taken steps to ensure that Morbidelli too has 2021 machinery for next year.
“Sometimes it’s difficult to understand why Franco is faster than us on a different spec of bike, and I would prefer everyone to have the same,” he admitted, “that way everyone has the same possibilities and when someone goes faster you understand why.
“Franco is going well too, and he deserves to have the same bike as us. To have four factory riders would be fantastic for me – every rider brings something different and that is very good.”
Yamaha has remained tight-lipped about the decision for the move, as it prepares to repeat 2020’s strategy of three factory machines (for Viñales, Fabio Quartararo and Valentino Rossi) in 2021 even as Quartararo and Rossi swap places between the factory team and the satellite squad.
However, one person who is perhaps more understanding of the situation than his compatriots is Morbidelli himself, with the Italian accepting of the factory’s decision and the reasoning behind it.
“I think it’s an advantage for Yamaha to compare the data and see where the new bike is lacking and the other way around,” Morbidelli mused. “For me, not so much, because they can work in order to improve what’s missing on the new bike and I don’t know if I can improve the old bike.
“That’s the whole situation. For Yamaha to have four strong bikes and four strong riders, three new bikes and one old one that’s going fast as well, is just one more interesting package and more interesting data. For them, it’s better. For me, I don’t know.”
His current team-mate Quartararo agrees, admitting that the information produced from the other side of the Petronas garage, while different, has a benefit of its own.
“I don’t think that it’ll be a disadvantage,” he told The Race when asked if he believed it would hamper the firm. “but of course it’s always good to have four riders on the same bike, so that you get much more information.
“I don’t know; honest, it’s a question that’s tough to answer because it’s already the same this year in Yamaha and it’s good to see the positives of the bike that Franco has.”