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MotoGP

The jolt Yamaha needs? Its MotoGP rider switch explained

by Valentin Khorounzhiy, Simon Patterson
6 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

The decision to axe Franco Morbidelli and snap up Alex Rins from LCR Honda was one Yamaha MotoGP managing director Lin Jarvis acknowledges his team didn’t have to take.

Morbidelli looked untenable in his seat but had made a tangible step forward this year, having amassed just seven points fewer than team-mate Fabio Quartararo eight races into the season (with the gap having been 103 points at the same moment last year).

But Morbidelli’s improvement has come amid a significant Yamaha year-on-year decline – and Jarvis argued the jolt of a change could be beneficial for both sides of the equation.

When asked by MotoGP.com whether the split was initiated by Yamaha or Morbidelli, Jarvis said: “It was the team’s decision to make a change.

“And in my personal feeling, that is something that the team didn’t have to do but decided to do. But I think it could play out well for both parties.

“Because sometimes if you’re not able to extract the level of performance that you want as a rider as well, sometimes changing the scene, giving yourself a new motivation, may also be good for the rider as well as the team.

“So let’s see. If we all knew what the future would bring, it would be easier. But it was just time to make a change.”

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Pulling the trigger on a change will have been made much easier by Rins’ availability, with both Jarvis and Quartararo fairly effusive in their praise of the six-time MotoGP race winner – and fairly aligned on what he can bring to the table.

“Information,” Quartararo told MotoGP.com. “He’s a fast rider, he understands a lot. I think he’s the only rider on the grid that will ride three different bikes in three years. He rode the inline-four [at Suzuki], V4 [at Honda]. He has a lot of information. And he’s fast.”

“Certainly he’s got a lot of experience,” said Jarvis. “He hasn’t won a world title thus far in his career but he’s won many, many races. And what I like about Alex is firstly his experience, which I think can be valuable to us, but [also] I like his fighting spirit.”

Both Quartararo and Jarvis pointed out that Rins was the sole rider this year to win a grand prix without being on a Ducati Desmosedici, which to Jarvis “already says a lot”.

“He also won two races at the back end of last season as well. I think he’s riding very very well at the moment in his career.

“And I think he wants to be in the Yamaha team, he really expressed an interest and a desire to be with us, and that’s really important as well.

“So that, plus his experience in MotoGP, plus his experience on inline-four, I think should help him to adapt.

“And we think he’ll be a good team-mate together with Fabio and hopefully that will raise the level of our bike and both riders.”

WHY RINS JUMPED SHIP

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Rins – who had originally signed a two-year deal with Honda to ride for LCR – is not available to speak at Silverstone as he continues to recover from a nasty leg break sustained all the way back at Mugello in June.

But he did give an interview to Spanish broadcaster DAZN in which he said Honda would’ve had a better chance to keep him had it given him more priority within its line-up.

In an interview with The Race after he ended Honda’s win drought at Austin in April, Rins had expressed his hope that Honda might consequently give him greater priority for development parts – despite not being in the factory team – but he didn’t get his wish.

“In the end, Honda, HRC have preferred to give the factory team the new parts to test even though I am also a competitive rider… well, I would have liked them to have given me a little bit more support,” Rins said.

That meant when Yamaha came calling, the chance to get proper factory prioritisation again outweighed the great relationship he’d already established with LCR boss Lucio Cecchinello.

“I’m sorry because the relationship with Lucio is spectacular, I’ve never had it before with any other team manager and the vibes in the box are immaculate,” Rins added.

“I thought about whether to do it or not, but I couldn’t refuse.

“I told Lucio I even felt bad. It was a hard blow but he told me that he understood perfectly.

“It’s a unique opportunity, it’s a factory team and I think it’s something I deserve”.

HONDA’S REACTION

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All four current Honda riders have been rumoured to be departing the brand during the first half of 2023 – three of their own volition. Rins is the first to go, and may ultimately prove to be the only actual departure.

His three stablemates all reacted supportively.

Rins’ LCR team-mate Takaaki Nakagami – the man who seemed set to be ditched before the prospect of a wider exodus gave him some protection – joked that blue must be Rins’ favourite colour given many years at Suzuki and this week’s news.

“He’s got good potential, unfortunately he had an injury but he won the race in Austin,” Nakagami continued.

“Definitely he has done an amazing job this season so far apart from his injury.

“Of course it’s not the best feeling, only a few races [together] and then I saw the news my team-mate already decided to leave Honda, but this is life, he decided.

“All I can say now is I wish him to recover very well and I hope as soon as possible to race again with him.”

The two Honda factory riders spoke about the move to MotoGP.com and while Marc Marquez said he had been caught out by the news given Rins’ early promise on the Honda, Joan Mir – who had been Rins’ team-mate at Suzuki – felt it was no surprise.

“I think that he will match well with the bike. He is a very fast rider and I’m sure he will enjoy being there,” said Mir, who has been linked with his own move away from Honda – not to another factory seat but to Ducati satellite team Gresini.

“I’m happy for him,” said Marquez. “It’s a good move. Because you are moving from a satellite team to a factory team, to a good team that is Yamaha, with a lot of power, energy and history in the past.”

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