until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Why MotoGP won't force Ducati to hand over a team to Yamaha

by Valentin Khorounzhiy, Simon Patterson
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

MotoGP promoter Dorna says it has zero intention to place a regulatory limit on the amount of bikes Ducati has on the grid - as rival Yamaha's bid to add a satellite team looks increasingly likely to come up short yet again.

Ducati has three satellite teams making up its MotoGP roster alongside its factory outfit, meaning eight of the 22 bikes on the 2024 grid are Ducatis. It has a contract with Gresini running beyond 2024, but the deals with Pramac and VR46 are up for renewal this year.

This is happening against the backdrop of Yamaha seeking to re-establish a four-bike presence on the grid, after its long-time partner Tech3 left to work with KTM in 2019 and Tech3's successor Petronas SRT-turned-RNF (now Trackhouse) walked away to link up with Aprilia ahead of last season.

Yamaha is known to have sounded out both Pramac and VR46 and has been very public in its desire to bolster its ranks, as a satellite team is seen as a potentially crucial accelerant to its current MotoGP rebuild.

And Dorna is not shying away from the fact it would very much like for Yamaha to succeed in its pursuit - yet it would not take steps to force it through via the regulations.

Such a move would already be presumably quite politically complicated, given Ducati - which would be disadvantaged by any such regulatory push - has already recently agreed to a major revamp of the concession system giving each of its rivals competitive breaks.

But a rule change forcing Ducati to trim its line-up is also not something Dorna's MotoGP sporting boss Carlos Ezpeleta sees as fundamentally right because of what it would do to the MotoGP satellite market from a "free market" perspective.

"Of course there's a lot of noise about this, a lot of chatter," said Ezpeleta during his appearance on The Race MotoGP Podcast.

"As you know, and we're proud of it, independent teams are very important to the championship. Very.

"Having a strong regulation limit of saying 'you cannot have more than six bikes', so can't have more than three satellite teams, is actually worse for independent teams.

"If you go into today's paradigm, without saying any names, but manufacturer A does not have an independent team, manufacturer B has three independent teams, manufacturer A has to present an offer that is appealing enough for that change to happen. And if Dorna stops manufacturer B from having three teams, it means that manufacturer A has all the power in that negotiation. Which is not what we would like.

"Having said that, of course it's in our interests for all the manufacturers to have independent teams. And that's where we're pushing."

Yamaha getting a satellite team would also require Dorna to provide it with an extra financial subsidy, but Ezpeleta described this as "an investment we're happy to have because we think it's important for the championship".

Not fast enough

For now though, a third and fourth Yamaha M1 look like a long shot for 2025.

Both Pramac and VR46 have been very firm publicly in their intention to stay with Ducati, whose bike offers them what the M1 currently cannot: a chance to go into almost every weekend eyeing up a grand prix win.

Pramac won the teams' championship with its works-spec Ducatis last year, while VR46's year-old Ducatis took it to third place.

They scored, respectively, 238% and 193% of the points the works Yamaha outfit managed in 2023 - and both are ahead in the standings this year, too, despite VR46's somewhat shaky start.

Valentino Rossi's team has been particularly keen on getting factory-spec machinery in its possession but Ducati has not been acquiescing - yet it does not sound like that will end up a deal-breaker.

Rossi's right-hand man and VR46 team boss Uccio Salucci described Yamaha as his "second home" when talking to Spanish Motorsport.com, but said it needed to offer the team a "more competitive bike".

"The Ducati is a great bike and its performance is very high. We have a responsibility to our partners [sponsors]. A change wouldn't be easy."

If that proves an insurmountable hurdle on both the VR46 and the Pramac front, Yamaha and MotoGP may well have to kick the tyres on the idea of adding a satellite partner until the Japanese firm's new concession status - allowing it freedom of testing with race riders and in-season race engine development among other things - starts to pay off on track.

"It's hard to say 'struggle'," said Ezpeleta of Yamaha and its fellow 'fallen giant' Honda.

"It is, because of today's competitive environment... but, you know, again, incredible credit to Yamaha and Honda, they're incredibly committed to the championship, they're rethinking a lot of stuff, and of course we can only wish that they're back to being very, very competitive as soon as possible. And I think having an independent team is part of that."

Why not just bring one in?

Intuitively, the problem of Yamaha being unable to find a partner team seems like it could be solved by just adding a new outfit to MotoGP on the condition that it would run M1s.

But Dorna already rebuffed KTM's push to bring in a new entry to expand its roster to six bikes - and Ezpeleta makes it clear there's very little interest in going back to a 24-rider grid.

"With the sport as great and as entertaining as we have now, explaining 22 or 24 stories is quite a challenge, presenting those riders to the newer fans, which are our target of course at the moment.

"And our experience with 24 riders in '22... we saw that there probably wasn't that much in favour."

Those two extra grid slots aren't out of the question, but they're being reserved for a new manufacturer entry - which no longer looks the pipe dream it once did, given BMW has now openly acknowledged it will look into a programme.

"Of course, you're then at a point if another manufacturer comes in, and we're at 22 riders, it would mean at least one manufacturer would never be able to have an independent team - and that's of course a sporting advantage, to have four bikes on the grid [instead of two]," Ezpeleta added.

"So then it sort of circles around, to be honest.

"But it's not our target to have 24. If we could avoid it, right now I'd say we would rather avoid it."

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