The Yamaha satellite team have an all-rookie line up for 2017, which some may have questioned when they first announced it. However, you will do extremely well to find someone who doesn’t think that Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger will mix it up with the leading teams on more than one occasion this year.
Zarco joins Tech 3 with two consecutive Moto2 world titles under his belt. Many rookies find their first year in the premier class extremely difficult, look at Tito Rabat for example, who was Moto2 world champion before Zarco. For the Frenchman though, this doesn’t seem like it will be the case. Admittedly comparing the two is harsh on Rabat, as he had arguably the most difficult bike on the grid (Honda), whilst Zarco has last year’s Factory Yamaha which most consider to be the easiest bike to ride. No matter, for Johann to go just 0.4 seconds slower than Maverick Vinales at the Sepang test was somewhat extraordinary. The 26 year old again impressed in Qatar, finding himself only half a second down on Vinales. It goes to show what a great bike the Tech 3 is but it also indicates just how fast the Cannes born rider is.
Potentially the most impressive man across the tests though was Folger. I will openly admit that I was sceptical about whether or not the German could cut it in the premier class, but boy have my doubts well and truly disappeared. Jonas is fast, very fast. For me, getting to within a second of Maverick at Sepang was impressive, but to then go to Phillip Island and Qatar and finish 4th and 7th overall was astonishing. Not to mention being within 0.5 seconds of a potential world champion at both circuits. Folger has a great wealth of experience too, in both 125cc/Moto3 and Moto2. He will have mastered his own technique and like Zarco, that may be incredibly important to Tech 3, who endured their first season without a podium from a rider since 2007.
Talking of circuits, Tech 3 also have their favourites. Phillip Island is a circuit that Yamaha on a whole do well at. Smith took a podium in 2014 at the track and there was a double top ten for the team at the track last year. Misano saw Bradley Smith take a heroic 2nd place, whilst Catalunya was home to a 5th place for Pol Espargaro, likewise at Le Mans. Yamaha enjoy circuits with long corners and big, wide esses, like Brno. Jonas Folger won the Moto2 race last year, whilst Johann Zarco won there in 2015. Losail may go well for the team too, seeing as Bradley Smith managed a front row in 2014 and that Cal Crutchlow put the bike in 4th in 2012. Expect an upset with the French-based team.
I think it is safe to say that both men look comfortable and will be upsetting a few factory teams right from the off. Not only that, but I’m predicting a hugely competitive inter-team battle to see who can come out on top. I’m sure the pair will be eying up that Factory Yamaha seat once The Doctor decides it’s time to call it a day…
Eliott York @journoyork