Updated 16th April 2021 to reflect the 2021 season changes
Decades of division may finally be over between the factory and satellite teams in MotoGP.
For years it was almost like watching two races.
There didn’t seem to be any change in sight until Dorna decided this no longer provided fans with the best possible racing experience.
Closing the gap between the factory and satellite teams has taken place over the past few years and has certainly proven successful.
So, if you haven’t really followed the satellite teams it is definitely worth staying up to speed as the divide between the two disappears.
First, we need to understand the difference between factory teams and satellites teams.
A factory team such as Repsol Honda and Monster Energy Yamaha are directly managed and funded by the factory who manufacture the bike.
In theory this means the factory riders have the latest bike with the latest technology and access to the best engineers, mechanics and so on.
A satellite team has the bike on lease or purchased from a factory i.e. LCR Honda or Tech3 Yamaha and so on.
The team is neither managed nor funded by the factory and they do not build the bikes themselves.
They will also in theory have technology from at least the year before, as well as an older version of the factory teams’ bike.
However, it is not always black and white, it really depends on the contract each independent (satellite) team has with the factory they are purchasing or leasing the bike from.
For example, last year Cal Crutchlow’s bike was the 2020 RCV213v, the same as the Marquez brothers’. However his teammate Takaaki Nakagami was riding the 2019 version.
We will see a similar situation with the Petronas team. Rossi will ride the factory-spec bike the same as factory Yamaha. While Rossi’s protégé and now teammate, Franco Morbidelli, will continue with an older-spec Yamaha M1.
There can be funding provided by the factory to cover wages, they may agree to provide technology and technicians.
There are so many variations of how a factory team may contract with an independent team it is impossible to say exactly how each team works.
The general rule is a factory team manufactures the bike and manages the team, a satellite team or independent team do not manufacture their own bike and have a contract with a factory to utilise their bikes and technology.
If you follow this general rule you can never go wrong.
What is the unified software and how has it closed the gap between teams?
Before 2016 satellite teams were at a disadvantage due to software available.
Not only did factory teams have advanced technology they had the technicians to utilise it better.
There were also questions around how far certain software could be manipulated to gain an even bigger advantage in terms of bike performance on race day.
So, in 2016 Dorna began a unification process of software across the field that has proven a huge success in achieving a more exciting race each round.
Here is a quick look at exactly what this process entailed.
Closing the software loophole
MotoGP bikes are fitted with what is called an Electronic Control Unit (ECU) and an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU).
What do these units do?
The IMU system tells the bike what it is doing.
It collects data and measurements sending the results to the ECU which uses this data to operate functions like braking control from the riders’ input, acceleration, traction and launch control.
In 2016 we saw the software for the ECU be unified across the field. Further to this, as of 2019 unified software for the IMU and the Controller Area Network (CAN) connections leading to the ECU were also provided by Dorna.
Providing unified software for these systems eliminates the ability to manipulate this data to create the effect of increased traction control or braking advantages.
Dorna decided it was easier to unify and supply the software that manages these systems than to try to police the manipulation of them, which is a direct breach of the rules, but almost impossible to monitor.
So, who are the 2021 Satellite Teams:
And the 2021 Factory Teams:
Big names and big talent
Some may think because they are a satellite team, they have less talented riders.
This is not the case.
In fact, many of the big names taking podiums, pole position and giving the front of the pack a good run for their money, are from satellite teams.
The likes of Jack Miller for example, and Fabio Quartararo who won the Independent Rider Championship and claimed a massive 197 of the Petronas Teams 307 points for the season have both now landed seats on a factory team.
Miller has been given the much sought after number one rider of the Factory Ducati team and Fabio Quartararo has moved up to Factory Yamaha.
While his rookie season (2020) had some major issues with his bike early on, Quartararo also underwent arm pump surgery mid-season.
Prior to his surgery he had been riding in intense pain and had to take a DNF on several occasion.
But once he was over the arm pump issue (for more on this issue see our blog article) he proved he was a rider to watch.
The future of satellite teams
We have seen lots of changes to the field for 2021.
For example, Dovizioso has taken a sabbatical; will we see him return in 2022?
Jack Miller and Francesco Bagnaia have taken over the Ducati Factory team and Rossi has stepped over to a satellite team with Petronas Yamaha alongside his protégé Franco Morbidelli.
Alex Marquez also went to a satellite team with LCR Honda following a less than stellar season with Repsol Honda in 2020.
However, while we all thought Rossi moving to a satellite team would be the biggest news, it may well be the arrival of his own team in MotoGP that is the most surprising.
As late as September 2020 it was impossible for Rossi’s VR46 Sky Racing team to have a spot on the 2021 MotoGP Premier Class Grid. But that was all set to change.
Let’s have a look at how it all changed for the satellite teams.
The grid was what is considered full for 2021.
Contracts were not up until 2022 and would require another team to withdraw form the season to make room for the team owned by Rossi.
In an interview in September 2020 Rossi himself stated it was not to be for 2021 but he would be making a move for 2022 to bring his team up to the premier class of racing.
His focus instead was to get his brother Luca Marini the available seat with Avintia Ducati.
It appeared that would be the end of it.
However, come early October Avintia (Esponsorama Racing) had seats to fill with the exit of Tito Rabat from MotoGP and Johan Zarco taking up a vacancy with Pramac Ducati.
Talks began with Avintia Racing to lease their spot within the field to VR46 Sky Racing taking both Luca Marini and Enea Bastianini up from Moto2.
The official announcement was made in early 2021.
This means Rossi will now not only ride against several of his protégé riders he will face off against his very own team.
Furthermore, it is rumoured that in 2022 VR46 Sky Racing will become Suzuki’s Satellite team.
Dorna promised unification would bring better racing and they have delivered.
Fans have been treated to more race lead changes and podium contention from the satellite teams than we saw before software unification was introduced in 2016 and we are loving it!
Now that independent teams have the machines to match their talented riders it is providing fans with more excitement on race day.