In MotoGP, we are seeing more and more satellite teams taking podium finishes and race wins.
From Colin Edwards and Cal Crutchlow to Jack Miller and Fabio Quartararo, the split between factory and satellite often feels non-existent for today’s era of Grand Prix motorcycle racing.
So what’s the difference?
Factory teams such as Repsol Honda and Monster Yamaha are directly managed and funded by their relevant bike manufacturer. This means their riders are guaranteed to have the latest bike model, with the most up-to-date technology and earmarked engineers.
However, satellite teams such as Pramac Ducati and Aprilia Gresini rent or purchase the bike from the factory, which means they usually aren’t managed or funded by the manufacturer. There are some cases where the factory will cover wages or provide technology, technicians and even the same bike as their factory counterpart, but generally satellite teams are much more independent and can’t afford these luxuries.
Prior to 2016, satellite teams were not given the advanced technology that the factory teams enjoyed, or the technicians to utilise it, meaning fans often felt like they were watching two different races. But with conversations around unfair advantages and software manipulation, Dorna unified software across the field.
So what’s changed?
Unifying and supplying the same software to each team meant that there was suddenly an even playing field. Aspects such as build, features, weight, fairings and aerodynamics are now (sometimes controversially) regulated closely to ensure a fairer system for all.
Though there is a historic bias in MotoGP fandom that suggests satellite riders aren’t as good as factory riders, they have stepped up to the mark and proved this is not the case. In 2019 alone, riders backed by satellite teams challenged many of the big names, taking podiums and pole positions.
One of the most notable examples is Rookie of the Year, Fabio Quartararo, who treated fans (time and time again) to lead changes and podium contention in the battle against 8-time World Champion Marc Marquez. And though Quartararo will step up to the factory team in 2021, he has sparked a new conversation around satellite teams.
Alongside the possibility of racing icon Valentino Rossi transferring from factory to satellite in the near future, a new attention is brought to satellite teams that hasn’t been seen before. Seeing independent teams have the machines to match their riders provides fans with that little bit more excitement – something always welcome in the sport.