On Tuesday night, Monster Yamaha MotoGP boss and IRTA president Herve Poncharal got a call from Jonas Folger’s manager Bob Moore to say the rider would not be taking part in the 2018 season as he is taking the year off to fully deal with the Gilbert’s syndrome which put paid to the latter part of 2017.
Not making the call yourself could be considered fairly rude but etiquette is now the least of Poncharal’s worries as there are only eight days to the first test of 2018 and the likeable Frenchman only has one rider. Not a big problem in itself but his contracts with IRTA, Dorna, Yamaha, Monster and other sponsors demand a two-rider outfit.
Which is what will be causing the headache. At this point, everyone who is capable is already signed with someone else, so Poncharal is going to have to pry someone loose from an existing deal or plead with Yamaha to let one of their factory-contracted WorldSBK rider make the step up. Which then leaves Paul Denning with a headache of finding someone who knows the R1 inside out and is capable of top fives.
Stefan Bradl had been in the blowing in the wind after his Honda WorldSBK contract expired but he now has a job as test rider with HRC, and that contract will be difficult to unpick as would Sylvain Guintoli's testing contract with Suzuki. Sam Lowes has got a good seat in Moto2 and is unable to go back to the big class.
It’s difficult to know whether Poncharal’s phone will have been red hot or stone cold when the news broke yesterday. Clearly, any rider worth his helmet deal will want the spot but they will also have a bike ready and waiting for them if not in Malaysia then at Jerez in a week or so’s time.
It might be that Poncharal will have to field whoever he can get, instead of someone he wants, in order to fulfill his obligations for 2018 and make a better plan, with contingencies, for 2019. Or Yamaha put in 22-year-old test rider Kohta Nozane until a replacement is found for next season. You could get fairly good odds that Folger won’t figure in that strategy…
Poncharal has stated he will not go looking for a rider that is under contract unless that rider or the team he is with can prove they have already located a replacement. Which is very good of him and the paddock is a small place, so what goes around comes around.