Ahead of the 2020 MotoGP™ season openers in Jerez, Italian journalist Stefano Padovani paid a visit to Managing Director of Yamaha Motorsport Lin Jarvis in Italy, while he was participating in some motocross action.
You have been a Yamaha man for many years, have you ever thought about changing manufacturers?
“It's true, I've spent my entire career in Yamaha. I thought of doing other things, something completely different but not in the motorsport industry. On the other hand, life is never a straight line so there are times when you can feel frustrated or looking for something new but I never considered the idea of working for another brand. Fortunately, I work for one of the best brands ever, the company is very human so no, Yamaha is my brand and it will probably be forever.”
Does riding a motorcycle make it easier for you to understand riders' problems?
“Absolutely, I would never allow myself to compare my performances with theirs. I have ridden motocross, endurance bikes on several occasions, I have ridden an M1 at Mugello, Misano, Silverstone and there is no doubt that it will allow me to better understand what they feel, how they feel even if they are in a completely another level. Practising motorsport allows us to share several aspects, there is no doubt.”
Is managing a rider like Valentino Rossi a complicated part of your job?
"It is a privilege to work in a company that collaborates with Valentino. He has been part of the company for many years. He won four titles with us before he took a vacation that didn't work and then returned to us. I think the one with Valentino is a story made up of numerous chapters. The first one can be said to have been extremely successful since we have won four world titles. He came from Honda at the beginning of his career, but when he came back, it was still a pleasure because we welcomed him again, probably giving him the opportunity to extend his career despite coming from a difficult period and competing again. For example, in 2015 he was very, very close to the possibility of winning the title. He has always been highly competitive and highly motivated. Sometimes, it is not easy to work with top riders but it is true that it is a challenge but in general it has been a pleasure to work with him and we have been collaborating for a long time now."
Throughout the paddock, the 2020 season will be unique. Is Yamaha ready for this adventure and what do you think the correct key to this season is?
“I would say that we are more prepared than all the others and if I say it, it is because health and safety are two aspects that we have always taken with great seriousness. We are probably one of the leading industries in this field. I have a very strong team that works in Europe and another in Japan, we have worked closely with Dorna to create the protocol and am I happy to go back to competing with the Covid-19 protocol? No, absolutely not, but this is what we have to do to get back to competing and we have to do it safely and responsibly. I think we are very prepared. We are ready to get back on track and in the paddock.
Do you prefer to work with experienced riders or with newcomers in the top class?
“With the fastest. I don't care if they are young or not, we are here to win some championships and we want to return to triumph in MotoGP. Marc Marquez has dominated the last few years together with Honda but, at the same time, I think we have an excellent group of riders. Valentino and Maverick in the official team, Fabio and Franco in that satellite, honestly, we have the best package in the paddock. Valentino is the most experienced rider, still very fast but at the end of his career. On the other side we have the other extreme with Franco and Fabio who are still very young and in the middle we have Maverick who is already in top form and I think that this year he can aspire to the championship."
Do you think we will have a new Valentino Rossi when he decides to end his career? Someone who can have the same value in terms of sports, communication that he has had during his career?
“Never say never in this kind of thing. If I think back to when he was very young, when he started and won, he was having fun and that's why many love him. He was able to combine exceptional talent with a passion for motorsport, with fun, with a feeling of community. Today there are many young and talented drivers, just think of Marquez who is still very young, so it is possible that some of his records will be beaten over time by Maverick, Fabio, or who knows by whom. But the complete package is not, Valentino is unique, the next riders will bear their baggage, their character, their talent, their style. Life goes on and it will be interesting to see what the future holds."
As a manager, do you think that after Valentino you have to look for another talent of his calibre?
"We have been looking for Valentino Rossi's replacement since 2005, because in that year, after two years with Yamaha, there was a great chance that he would leave us to go to Formula 1. So at that time we approached Jorge Lorenzo and welcomed Jorge with us and won three titles for us. That was the first time we thought of a possible replacement for Valentino but he remained and continues and as I said, in 2015 that he got very close to the title, it was him against Jorge. And now we have Maverick, Fabio who became rookie of the year in 2019. In my opinion, we already have the people who could succeed him on the track."
This preseason, even as far as the WorldSBK is concerned, it seems that many riders, Moto2™, Moto3™, have chosen motocross as a form of training. Do you think there is a particular reason?
“The problem in our high-level sport, both for MotoGP and for F1, it is not possible to train with the bikes used in the race. So you have to look for an alternative. Many train on the dirt track because it serves to develop sensitivity with the adhesion of the bike to the track, the grip, in control of the bike, so it is normal for them to do so. Motocross is a 100% physical job but it is also a way to develop skills in the race because the motocross track is different with each lap."
Isn't it dangerous for them?
"Yes, absolutely. I've been in charge of a team for many years and my philosophy has always been the following: these guys take big risks every day and you can't keep them under a glass bell and let them go out only on the Grand Prix weekend. I think the race is no longer protected by training because on the track they always look for the limit. So I think we have to allow them to practice motocross even though it can be dangerous. We had such a problem with Maverick earlier in the year. A couple of years ago Valentino risked not competing in the Italian Grand Prix due to a motocross crash, and we saw a few weeks ago what happened to Andrea Dovizioso. Yes, it's dangerous, you hope they practice it carefully."
Do you follow your riders from the track or from the office?
"It depends on the time of year and what's going on. There have been GPs where I haven't seen a motorbike in action until Sunday. We are always moving the business and interests of the company even if there are activities on the track. It's frustrating not being able to attend sessions sometimes because I love being in the box; sometimes I have the opportunity to accompany the riders' coaches with the scooters on the track to observe them. And when you see the speed they reach by being so close it is always impressive, even for me who has seen it for years."
Some top riders are not fast at motocross, but could you challenge them?
"No, I'm not known for my speed but I'm pretty good at endurance. But that doesn't mean it's fast. So no, I would never compete with any professional rider."
Photo credit: Stefano Padovani