With hindsight, did Yamaha move too early in deciding it’s 2021 Factory MotoGP team line-up?
But it was the other satellite Petronas rider, Franco Morbidelli, who went on to finish the season as top Yamaha. The Italian made a huge leap forward compared to his previous results, claiming three wins, five podiums and title runner-up behind Suzuki’s Joan Mir.
With Morbidelli also riding the only A-Spec M1, Vinales was ranked best of the Factory-Spec riders in sixth (one win). Long-time championship leader Quartararo slipped to eighth (three wins), with Valentino Rossi 15th (zero wins) after missing two rounds due to Covid.
Although overlooked for a factory contract, Morbidelli was re-signed by Petronas for 2021 and 2022, and will continue on the A-Spec bike this year, when Rossi swaps seats with Quartararo.
But if Yamaha had waited, might they have given Morbidelli one of the seats at the Official Monster team, something that now can’t happen until at least 2023?
“Regarding the timing of deciding riders for the future, firstly I would say we are very happy with our choice. We believe in our riders that we have chosen for 2021 and 2022,” said Yamaha Racing managing director Lin Jarvis.
“It’s competitive on the track and it’s competitive off the track in this world. There are six manufacturers and all understand that the rider is very, very important if you want to achieve your goal to be world champion.
“So we are also competitive off the track and nobody wants to, shall we say, be ‘gazumped’ and see their rider of choice taken by a competitor.
“Last year we made an early move with both Fabio and Maverick and, at that same time as that happened, Valentino was uncertain to decide his own future.
“So it was a very particular circumstance, and I can only say I don’t think it will change our… Franky’s later results this season were very, very good and very, very strong. And it puts Franky in a strong position.
“But bear in mind that Franky is riding a Yamaha [in 2021] as well and he will be riding a Yamaha in 2022, if we confirm our new contract with the Sepang team for a further extension.
“So it’s always difficult. To some extent, it’s gambling. At a certain moment in time you need to make your choice with all the information, with all the good expectations that you have. You make your choice and then you run with it.
“I’m happy with our choices.”
Although the first manufacturer to complete it’s 2021 factory line-up, Yamaha wasn’t alone in deciding on its future official riders before the belated (July 19) start to the 2020 season.
Repsol Honda confirmed Marc Marquez on February 20 and then Pol Espargaro on July 13, Suzuki announced an extension of the contracts for Alex Rins on April 19 and Joan Mir on May 2, while KTM named Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira on June 25.
The only exceptions were Ducati, which signed Jack Miller to the Official team on May 27 but didn’t decide on his team-mate (Francesco Bagnaia) until September 30, and Aprilia, which extended Aleix Espargaro‘s contract on June 9 but won’t decide on his team-mate (either Bradley Smith or Lorenzo Savadori) until the end of pre-season testing.