until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Yamaha’s latest play in the bid to poach KTM’s MotoGP prodigy

by Simon Patterson
4 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Moto2 rookie Raul Fernandez has had an exceptional year in the middleweight class. Graduating only at the start of the season from Moto3, he gelled immediately with his KTM-branded, Triumph-powered Kalex machine. With seven wins to date and a similar number of pole position starts, only the efforts of veteran team-mate Remy Gardner look set to stop him winning the title.

That very much made him a hot property for the 2022 MotoGP season, and despite considerable interest from rival manufacturers, KTM moved rapidly to ensure that its long-term project would remain a part of the Austrian talent factory for the near future. Signed up alongside Gardner for satellite team Tech3, Fernandez will make his full-time debut next week at Jerez in the only post-season test of the year.

Raul Fernandez KTM Moto2

Yet that announcement came veiled in confusion and secrecy, as KTM moved to secure Fernandez very rapidly – and perhaps even against his will, to some extent. With Fernandez believed to have had a strong offer on the cards from Yamaha, one that even included meeting the not-inconsiderable buy-out clause in his KTM contract, rumour has it that his camp was ready to agree terms when the Austrians spring a surprise by announcing his move half-way through a MotoGP free practice session.

And the silence from Fernandez in the aftermath was deafening. Believed to be favouring a chance to remain in Moto2 and to wrap up the title before moving to MotoGP on machinery of his own choosing, the 20-year-old completely failed to acknowledge the 2022 move on his personal social media – a rather telling sign indeed.

And even after securing his future with the Austrian team – and even after testing the RC16 bike for the first time at Misano last month – there have been fresh rumours suggesting that he was trying to find a way out of his deal.

Adrian Fernandez Moto3

A rumoured trump card in the form of a contractual clause that insisted that KTM also needed to provide factory-backed machinery for little brother Adrian in the Moto3 class looked like another option to escape when the younger Fernandez was kicked out of Max Biaggi’s Husqvarna-branded KTM team.

There was even an option of a Moto2 stay on the cards, which would entail joining Yamaha’s newly-formed team in that class. A joint venture with Valentino Rossi, the new Yamaha VR46 Mastercamp squad will take over the grid spot vacated by Petronas Racing and will give the Japanese manufacturer a much-needed talent progression ladder – the perfect place to put Fernandez for 2022.

Yet KTM has quickly moved to address the situation by reshuffling riders around within its factory structure in the junior class. Tech3 KTM’s 2022 Moto3 line-up, which had been already announced as comprising current rider Deniz Oncu and rookie Daniel Holgado, was quickly rearranged, with the rookie moved to the Ajo team to replace new champion Pedro Acosta (who will in turn replace the elder Fernandez in Moto2), making a space for the younger Fernandez brother.

This means that, only four days away from the semi-official start of the 2022 season in Jerez, it’s hard to imagine that Raul Fernandez will be anything other than a KTM MotoGP rider next year.

Raul Fernandez Tech3 KTM MotoGP

But Yamaha clearly hasn’t given up hope yet – and seems to be preparing a future option that might well see it still able to swing MotoGP’s hottest new talent its way for the year after.

Fernandez joins KTM next year on a one-year deal, officially only confirmed for 2022, although there are bound to be various options and clauses that could see the partnership remain beyond that.

But the same also applies at newly-formed satellite squad RNF Racing, who take over from Petronas Yamaha as the Iwata brand’s junior team next year. With Moto3 rider Darryn Binder arriving to considerable controversy given his lack of big bike machinery, it could well be that the South African is nothing more than a stop-gap measure for the team.

And it’s made one signing that makes it look very much like it is still interested in seeing Fernandez on their bike next year, by securing the signature of his current Ajo Moto2 crew chief Noe Herrera to work with Binder next year.

Noe Herrera Raul Fernandez KTM Moto2

Given how well the Fernandez/Herrera partnership has worked out this year, it’s hard to see the decision to bring Herrera into the Yamaha fold a year ahead of Fernandez being back on the open market as anything other than a sign of intent that Yamaha is not yet ready to give up on signing the youngster for its future plans.

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