KTM MotoGP motorsport director Pit Beirer says dropping Bradley Smith for the 2018 season due to his poor results this year would have been “not fair”.
Smith’s consistent failure to match teammate Pol Espargaro for much of the season had generated speculation that the Briton was to be dropped in favour of KTM tester Mika Kallio for 2018.
These rumours intensified as Kallio beat Smith during a wildcard outing at the Red Bull Ring in July, and then did so again when he was handed an extra race on a third KTM at Aragon.
But shortly before last month’s Motegi round, the Austrian marque issued a statement to confirm it will run an unchanged race line-up next season.
Smith will thus retain his full-time ride over Kallio, who will continue in a test role and is set to make five wildcard appearances next year.
“First of all, he has a contract for next year,” said Beirer when asked why KTM chose to keep Smith on board. “There was never going to be no ride for him next year.
“But from the outside there was a lot of pressure because his results were not so good.
“Also you have to see that both riders took a huge risk coming into a new project, with a new bike, coming from a very competitive bike [Tech 3 Yamaha].
“When they signed for us, there was a blank piece of paper, they couldn’t even look at the bike. It would not be fair to drop a rider halfway through the first season.
“We decided to give him the time to develop. I know he’s better than what he showed and something was wrong for him and not feeling good.
“And since the pressure got bigger and bigger I just took the chance before the riders left [for the flyaways] to confirm that we will stick to the contract, to take this huge load off his back.
“How can you perform if when you come into the paddock, the first question is ‘How many hours do you still have left in this team before they kick you out’?”
"A different rider"
Although he still ended the year well behind Espargaro in the points standings, Smith’s form took a turn for the better at Motegi, where he achieved a season-best grid slot of seventh.
He followed this with top-12 finishes in the final three races of the season, which Beirer believes shows that reiterating KTM’s support for Smith was the right thing to do.
“We have already seen through this little confirmation a different rider, he made three races with really good results,” added Beirer.
“Where we are at the moment, it’s thanks to the riders, so it was a pleasure for me to confirm that he stays with us and he will be part of us next year.”