Continuing our series of comparisons between two of motorsport’s top categories: F1 and Moto GP, we look at driver power.
Particularly relevant during Formula One’s ‘silly season’ is the debate about which drivers have the bigger say in what goes on at their team.
Does Fernando Alonso really run the show at McLaren? Do any of the championship protagonists genuinely have the power to veto any potential new recruits?
When compared to the top MotoGP riders, Formula One drivers seem to have little say in what goes on with their team.
Back in 2016, Lewis Hamilton (then a three-time champion) was unable to prevent a reshuffle of the Mercedes mechanics, something which he referred to a few times over the course of the season.
Compare that to the current situation at Yamaha, where the confusion within Yamaha while managing Maverick Vinale’s box is the best proof of the rider’s power in MotoGP.
Leaving aside races and final results, one of the main points of interest of the Czech Grand Prix was Viñales’ box.
On Friday, Ramon Forcada (Maverick’s track engineer) confirmed he was told by Yamaha that Viñales had decided not to work with him again after the last race of the season in Valencia. From that moment on, Esteban Garcia (currently Bradley Smith’s track engineer) will be the man replacing him.
Forcada was one of the key people at Yamaha when the brand won its last three titles with Jorge Lorenzo (2010, 2012 and 2015), but at Brno he didn’t understand why Viñales hadn’t said a word to him about his decision. It’s been a similar situation with Javier Ullate, the man who holds the bike each time Maverick gets into the box. He also has to look for a job in 2019.
On Saturday evening, however, Viñales backed down and offered Forcada the option of renewing for one more year.
This is just the best example to demonstrate a widespread theory in the MotoGP paddock: that nowadays riders have huge power over the team to take key decisions – even if the team itself believes those decisions are not beneficial.
Yamaha doesn’t want to lose Forcada, despite having succumbed to Maverick’s desires, and for that reason will place him inside Franco Morbidelli’s box, working with Yamaha’s satellite structure sponsored by Petronas.
“Now you not only hire a rider, you hire a multinational company. In the past, riders started to work in a factory and had to adapt themselves to the work system of the brand. That is the only thing you cannot buy; the rest of the things such as trucks and material is a matter of money. However, now, a rider has a lot of power. Sometimes, it’s the team who has to adapt itself to the rider,” Forcada told motorsport.com some months ago, as if anticipating what was going to happen.
“Every manufacturer does the same: it protects its rider, and that could be right from some points of view, but at the same time, it’s true that there are some things that the executives didn’t permit in the past,” he explained, without giving away too many details.
“Current riders have more influence on teams than ever before. Fifteen or twenty years ago, a rider was just another worker in the team; he spent many hours in the box and helped you to improve the bike. That doesn’t happen nowadays,” Forcada continued.
“At that time, any mechanic was fired because of the arrival of a new rider with his own mechanics. At most he could bring one with him, if there was an available spot. Now even a whole team can be fired. That is the result of the media hype,” concludes the Catalan.
By: Oriol Puidgemont
All images: Motorsport Images