Petronas’ quest to emulate its F1 success in MotoGP
After agreeing a deal to sponsor Yamaha’s new satellite MotoGP team, Petronas is aiming to emulate the success it has enjoyed in Formula 1 with Mercedes.
When they had the opportunity, Petronas bosses didn’t hesitate to go for it in MotoGP. Entering the premier class as title sponsor to a new works-supported team is not a chance that comes every day.
The ultra-successful tie-up the Malaysian oil giant has enjoyed with Mercedes in F1, which has yielded five drivers’ titles in the last five years, provides the blueprint as it seeks to capture the top prize in motorcycle racing.
Tech 3 signed an agreement to become KTM’s second team, ending a 20-year relationship with Yamaha, which paved the way for the SIC (Sepang International Circuit) team to take off with Petronas backing.
Whereas Tech 3 had to make do with hand-me-down machinery from the factory, the new Petronas SRT outfit will enjoy a much closer relationship with Yamaha, which for all intents and purposes will supply a bike for Franco Morbidelli very similar in specification to the ones that factory riders Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales will use.
Sometime grand prix racer Johan Stigefelt is the man in charge of the all-new operation, ably supported by Jorge Lorenzo’s former right-hand man Wilco Zeelenberg. In Year 1, the goal is to simply settle into MotoGP – and then grow, grow and grow.
This is exactly what Petronas expects from this project, both in terms of results as well as the technology applied in this field. After all, there’s no better test bench in motorcycling than MotoGP, and that has been a key motivation for the firm to begin this new adventure.
“Motorcycle racing is one of the most popular disciplines among young people in Malaysia,” Afiza Mohd Yusof, the woman in charge of Petronas sponsorship, tells Motorsport.com. “We’ve been supplying lubricant and oil for the Mercedes F1 team, and the results couldn’t be better. Now we want to find that success in MotoGP.”
“We have to relearn, because not everything that has given us success in F1 can be applied to MotoGP. What we want is to be able to develop our products on a test bench as demanding as this championship. We aren’t just a sponsor for Yamaha, but we are also part of the team and we will show up at every single grand prix.”
Datuk Razlan Razali, Sepang International Circuit’s CEO, is the other key mover behind this ambitious programme. He was the man in charge of communicating with the various parties and making everything fit together when the opportunity arrived.
“We didn’t plan our entry to MotoGP, even if it is obvious that was our wish”, says Razlan. “With Yamaha it all depends on the budget, it’s that simple. At the beginning we wanted both riders to have an official bike, but it makes no sense to spend money on an official bike when Fabio [Quartararo, the team’s second rider] needs to learn and get used to the category.
“We expect a lot from Franco, he’s arriving after being the best rookie of the  season. He really impressed us the first two days on the bike [during Valencia post-season testing last week]. We want to be the top independent team and he wants to be the top independent rider; that is why he will have an official bike.”
The official launch of Petronas SRT will probably take place at Sepang, just before the first pre-season test of 2019, set to take place on February 6-8.
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