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Before the paddock sets off for the flyaways, motogp.com had the chance to speak to Monster Yamaha Tech 3 boss Herve Poncharal about his 2018 season, the situation Yamaha currently find themselves in and KTM – the manufacturer his Tech 3 team will race with in 2019.
Does 2018 meet your overall expectations or did you expect a little more considering the exceptional 2017 season you had?
"I would be lying to you to say that these results are up to our expectations. You mention the 2017 season which was exceptional, but the Official Tests and the beginning of the year had been just as promising. In Qatar, we started from pole and we led for most of the race. We then finished second in Argentina; Johann was on the podium again in Jerez. Honestly, until the French GP, we were on a cloud: we were second in the Championship just behind Marc Marquez! I think he had ample means to win a podium or more, but he was a little trapped with the pressure inherent in his status as No. 1 Frenchman. For his part, Hafizh was clearly the best rookie. But since his crash at Montmelo, he has had more trouble. So, the machine is somewhat jammed for one as it is for the other. It's obvious we're not where we were. Currently, there have been more moments of frustration than joy, unlike the beginning of the season. So no, we are not satisfied at all... These highs and lows are part of racing. We must accept it while understanding why to bounce back as quickly as possible."
20-year partnership: Poncharal on two decades with Yamaha
In view of the problems currently faced by Yamaha, do you feel it’s a good time to switch manufacturers, even if the choice to go to KTM was made a long time ago?
"I must say that I have trouble understanding what's going on. The Yamaha was perhaps not the best bike early in the season, but it was still good. We made excellent results in Qatar, Argentina, Le Mans... and then Valentino and Maverick, who do not have a motorcycle 'frozen', were able to 'be in on it'. At the Sachsenring, both were still on the podium with Marc! But last weekend, the best M1 finished behind the Ducati, the Suzuki, but also behind the Aprilia Aleix Espargaro. Overnight, we cannot do anything and honestly, I have trouble explaining it...
"At the time when I made my decision, there was not this 'malaise' that there is now at Yamaha. In fact, we had just arrived at a stage where we were thirsty for new adventures and the fact is that a manufacturer (KTM) came to us to offer us two machines identical to the factory team! This is all the more exciting since this brand arrived just two years ago. And then with two more bikes to help develop more, we can understand better. In short, it was an incredibly attractive opportunity both in sport and in human terms. In addition, I remain an entrepreneur, who must ensure the sustainability of his business. Here we were offered a three-year contract with KTM and Red Bull, so it really fulfilled all the criteria. We have had wonderful times in the last 20 years with Yamaha and we will fight until the last lap of the Valencia GP. After which a new chapter will begin."
How do you view KTM’s season, knowing that Tech 3 will line up with two RC16s next season?
"To be honest, I was pretty impressed with Bradley Smith's performance this Sunday... I know Johann's talent and I know that the Yamaha works all the same. So if Bradley finishes in front of us, it shows that this KTM is not so far. They work a lot, but a lot of things stopped them, otherwise they could have been stronger. Pol never fully recovered to 100% after his fall in Sepang. They then lost Mika Kallio, who was someone extremely important in development. Everything was resting on Bradley and it is not necessarily easy to work for the future, with someone who will not accompany you. In any case for my part, I trust them completely. They also have riders who are able to win and be World Champions, whether it's with Bezzecchi, with Binder or Oliveira. In MotoGP™ not yet, but I don’t worry. I believe in their potential, as well as in their determination. I do not hide that I would have preferred to see them on the podium every weekend... us also! But I do not have the slightest doubt about their ability to make a motorcycle that is progressing and that is soon to be at the front. I hope that we will bring our little stone to the building."
KTM announce Tech 3 MotoGP™ and Moto2™ teams
Part two of the interview will be published on Friday at motogp.com!
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