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Decades of division between the factory and satellite teams in MotoGP look to be finally over.

For years it was almost like watching two races.

There didn’t seem to be any change in sight until Dorna (MotoGP commercial rights holder) 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.

Repsol Honda Team 2020

2020 Repsol Honda Team
Image courtesy of Box Repsol on Flickr

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 such as LCR Honda or Tech3 Yamaha.

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, Cal Crutchlow’s bike is the 2020 RCV213v, the same as the Marquez brothers’.

However his teammate Takaaki Nakagami is riding the 2019 version.

If Rossi signs with Petronas Yamaha in 2021 it has already been said Yamaha will provide the same M1 for him to ride as the factory riders (more on this later).

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.

How has the gap closed between the satellite and factory teams?

Before 2016 satellite teams were at a disadvantage due to the available software.

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.

Fabio Quartararo pursuing Marc Marquez at the 2019 Valencian MotoGP

Satellite team rider Fabio Quartararo pursuing Marc Marquez at the 2019 Valencian MotoGP
Image courtesy of Box Repsol on Flickr


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.

motogp electronic control unit (ecu)

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.

The factory teams could afford to have software created and altered by the team technicians to run their bikes’ mapping systems to gain more out the bike itself.

How the bike can be built, what features it can have, weight, fairings and aerodynamics are all tightly regulated.

This meant the only way to gain an advantage in traction control, for example, was to hire top programmers to develop software to provide the rider with ways of creating these advantages through their engine mapping systems.

As satellite teams are often using older technology and do not have the funding available to hire the top technicians in the field to create software capable of keeping up with the factory teams, they found themselves at a significant disadvantage.

The software they used was often the older versions for the older technology they were given by the factory team they contract with.

This was never going to provide an level playing field.

Banning certain kinds of software manipulation would be difficult and time consuming and still leave the factory teams able to pay for better software whether it’s altered or not.

Unified software provided for the entire field has solved all of these issues.

So, who are the 2020 Satellite Teams:

2020 motogp satellite teams

And the 2020 Factory Teams:

2020 motogp factory teams

Big names and big talent

Some may think a satellite team will 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.

For example, the likes of Jack Miller, Cal Crutchlow and Fabio Quartararo who won the Independent Rider Championship and claimed a massive 197 of the Petronas Teams 307 points for the season.

For the rookie Quartararo who not only had some major issues with his bike early in the season he also underwent arm pump surgery mid season.

Fabio Quartararo celebrating 2nd place at the 2019 Catalan MotoGP

Fabio Quartararo celebrating 2nd place at the 2019 Catalan MotoGP
Robertoneoxi / CC BY-SA

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.

I for one really hope his bike performs better this season and he can win more podiums in 2020.

The future of satellite teams

For now, the MotoGP grid is considered full, with the above teams and riders confirmed for 2020, and will remain so until 2021 when contracts are up and we will see changes.

This means despite rumours Rossi will announce not only his retirement this year but his own team in MotoGP are probably not going to be how it plays out.

valentino rossi sachsenring 2018

Valentino Rossi Courtesy of Neuweiser on Flickr

There is just no room on the grid for another team.

For Rossi to retire this year and bring in a team next year would require a current team to leave or give up one of its places on the grid.

Which can be done but it is highly unlikely this will be what fans see.

It is more likely we will see Rossi leave Yamaha as announced in January this year and ride for Petronas Yamaha until space opens on the grid.

Or he may simply retire altogether.

It is pretty much assumed by anyone who follows MotoGP that we will see Rossi announce his own team for MotoGP – its been rumoured since 2017 that he would.

He already has Moto2 and Moto3 teams so it makes sense he would eventually have a MotoGP team also.

Should he choose to ride for Petronas this would be a major win for the independent team.

Having Rossi on your bike even at this late stage of his career will bring attention to the satellite team it has never previously enjoyed.

If rumours of bringing Lorenzo onboard as well turn out to be true then Petronas will have perhaps two of the most talented names in recent MotoGP history working for them.

Add to this Yamaha have already announced if Rossi rides for Petronas he will have the same bike provided to the Factory Team which would be a major win for Petronas whatever the outcome.

For fans only time will tell how this will play out because the reality is at this stage Rossi no longer has a seat at factory Yamaha.

PETRONAS Yamaha Sepang Racing Team’s Fabio Quartararo (left) and Franco Morbidelli (right)

The 2020 PETRONAS Yamaha Sepang Racing Team’s Fabio Quartararo (left) and Franco Morbidelli (right). Photo courtesy of PETRONAS Yamaha SRT.

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 and I know I can’t wait for the 2020 season to get underway.


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