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Hamilton's F1 moves are a template for a MotoGP giant

by Valentin Khorounzhiy, Simon Patterson
6 min read

The way Lewis Hamilton rocked Formula 1 with his seemingly abrupt decision to leave Mercedes for Ferrari was always going to be ripe for comparisons to any other major team switch scenario that cropped up in other parts of motorsport or F1's future.

MotoGP's already had one equivalent with Marc Marquez exiting Honda for Gresini Ducati, and with the volatility of the rider market going into 2024 it's braced for plenty more.

But when Yamaha MotoGP boss Lin Jarvis cited both of Hamilton's shock F1 team moves (McLaren to Mercedes then Mercedes to Ferrari) in relation to Fabio Quartararo, he did it not in relation to the chance of his star rider leaving as Hamilton's leaving Mercedes, but in terms of how Yamaha could make sure it keeps him.

There are some surface parallels between Quartararo's current situation and Hamilton's at both McLaren (which he suddenly left for Mercedes in 2013) and Mercedes (which he will now swap for Ferrari in 2025).

Like Quartararo's Yamaha tenure, both of Hamilton's stints brought him no shortage of silverware - but, like Yamaha has in the last couple of seasons, both McLaren and Mercedes stagnated in the years leading up to Hamilton's decisions.

However, that is not the way Jarvis is looking at it. Instead, he sees the rival efforts to sign Hamilton as informative, specifically in the longer-term promise being prioritised.

"If we're not 100% competitive this year, we need to be convincing that [through] our investments, we are making progress," said Jarvis when asked about the task of keeping hold of Quartararo, whose Yamaha deal expires at the end of the current season.

"Because if you sign a contract, you don't sign a contract for the bike that you have. You sign it for the bike that you expect that you will have in the future.

"And it's interesting looking at Lewis Hamilton's change now. Because it's a big, ballsy change that he's making.

"And I do remember, and he quoted it this week himself, that he made a big change in 2013. When he went to Mercedes, a lot of people, including me, I also said, 'Really, are you sure?!'.

"Obviously he knew something, he had some confidence that they were putting in place what was necessary to be competitive in the future.

"So the most important thing for the rider choice, and [also recruiting a] satellite team, is to convince them of our intention, capacity, skills, for the future."

Yamaha's long-term vision

The contrast here - beyond the philosophical difference in recruiting an outside hire versus convincing a current employee to stay - is that both of Hamilton's moves came in the immediate run-up to a major regulations change on the engine side.

His Mercedes pivot became a huge success thanks to the manufacturer maximising F1's switch to hybrid engines in 2014, and there is no doubt he has similar hopes for Ferrari and F1's new power unit rules in 2026.

For Yamaha, there is no regulation change reset to use as a selling point - the current MotoGP formula will be in place until 2027 - but there are fresh foundations that can and must pay off before that, especially now that Yamaha has more testing and development freedom under its 'Rank D' concession status.

Having lagged behind MotoGP's European manufacturers on the engine side and the aero development, Yamaha is making a concerted effort to turn the tide.

Its engine is already anticipated to have made a significant step forward in terms of peak power - an area Quartararo has been vocally dismayed about for multiple seasons - under the oversight of ex-Ferrari F1 engine chief Luca Marmorini.

And while getting to an acceptable level on the aero side will likely be a longer-term process, it has involved outside help while also recruiting aggressively from Ducati in particular.

Jarvis "hopes" it's possible for Yamaha to return to winning ways in a short time (2023 was its first winless season in MotoGP since 2003). "But," he stresses, "I am realistic as well.

"And we know the level in particular of Ducati; let's be honest, they are very high-level this moment, without doubt the leader, and eight super-competitive riders. So it's not easy.

"But we must come back to frequent podiums, I think we can win some races. Winning the championship, in my opinion that's a tall order. But it's a beginning of a process.

"It took us time to slip away and become less competitive, it will take us time to come back. But we will give it our maximum and best efforts to do so.

"It's going to be pretty tough to beat the reds this year, in my opinion."

Quartararo's take

Quartararo - who is well-acquainted with Hamilton - said with a chuckle of Jarvis's comparison when asked by The Race: "Lewis just left, so..."

The reliably candid Frenchman has spoken openly about the prospect of walking away from Yamaha if it doesn't improve at the pace he expects to see - but his tone has been seemingly softened by seeing what Yamaha is putting in place.

"The season hasn't really started yet... We have to be clever. I am 100% focused on the job," he said.

"I think they [Yamaha] are doing a big step compared to the previous years.

"Of course for the future, for my future, I will have to take my time. It's going to be a really important move, I would say."

Rider market frenzy

Hamilton's Ferrari announcement has jolted into life an F1 driver market that has barely moved in the past 12 months or so - with no changes to the grid between the final race of the 2023 season and the 2024 entry list, and many of the top drivers already signed through 2025 and beyond.

MotoGP's silly season, meanwhile, needs no jolt - not for a 2024 season that involves Marc Marquez's much-hyped switch to a satellite Ducati, nor 2025 when the vast majority of contracts on the grid expire.

Jarvis, who has not only Quartararo but also his new team-mate Alex Rins on an expiring contract and also needs to find a new satellite team after Yamaha lost first Tech3 and then Petronas SRT/RNF, expects a chaotic time of it.

"It's funny, because the other day in an interview I talked about the number of riders that did or didn't have a contract, and then I thought: 'Am I correct? Let me think about it'.

"And what I calculated this morning is 18 pilots don't have contracts [for 2025].

"There are four that do - which I think is [Brad] Binder, I suppose [Pedro] Acosta [officially on a one-year deal, but presumably with options at KTM that are bound to be taken up], [Johann] Zarco, [Luca] Marini.

"So it's going to be super exciting on the track to watch the races, and it's going to be super-complex off the track.

"Because you have also satellite teams, there are three satellite teams without contracts signed today for 2025, which is obviously Pramac and LCR and VR46, and then you have 18 or 19 riders then without contracts for next year."

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