Yamaha will have a tough job convincing both Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo to spend another season as teammates, according to Tech 3 boss Herve Poncharal.
Both Rossi and Lorenzo are out of contract at the end of the season, and the future plans of both riders are likely to prove key to the 2017 rider market.
While Yamaha has indicated its preference to sign new deals with its existing riders, Poncharal says the tensions that arose between the pair in the closing stages of last season could make keeping both riders together another season a tall order.
“Lorenzo and Rossi both had a two-year contract, so it was out of the question to consider anything else than their coexistence,” the Frenchman told Motorsport.com.
“What happened took a toll, so whatever happens, it seems tricky to consider keeping Lorenzo and Rossi at Yamaha in 2017.
“If Lorenzo stays, I don’t know if Rossi will want to stay, and vice versa.”
Poncharal admitted he was unsure if Rossi, who turns 37 this month, is ready to hang up his helmet, but noted that he looked as fit and motivated as ever during last week’s pre-season test at Sepang.
“Given the way I saw him working at Sepang, the way he strung laps together, the way he pushed in difficult conditions that require top physical shape and motivation, I couldn’t say that I feel like he’s leaving,” he said.
“But I don’t feel like he’s [definitely] staying either. I have no idea, only he knows.
“I think he’ll wait four or five races to see how he’s doing compared to the rest of the field. And if he finds himself in a good position, I’m not sure he’ll throw in the towel.
“He’s a fighter, that’s what is incredible about this rider, this man – it’s his ability to always take pleasure, always be motivated.”
Asked if he felt Rossi’s decision whether to retire after 2016 would play the deciding role in determining the Yamaha line-up, Poncharal said that getting Lorenzo’s signature could be even more crucial.
“At Sepang, Lorenzo said that he wanted to sign as early as possible – if possible before the start of the season – and that his dream was to stay with Yamaha until the end of his career,” said Poncharal.
“Given his performances, if he were to tell Yamaha: ‘If you don’t sign me before Qatar, or before we’re back from Texas, I’m joining another factory,’ I wouldn’t like to be the Yamaha team principal.
“Therefore, if they happen to sign Lorenzo very quickly because they think they have to, maybe Rossi will be wounded in his pride.”
Interview by Lena Buffa