Rise of the Satellites

In recent rounds of this year’s MotoGP World Championship, the trend for factory-powered domination has been firmly bucked. Jack Miller’s maiden victory at the TT Assen circuit on board a privateer bike, supported by podium finishes for Scott Redding and Cal Crutchlow – the latter at the recent German Grand-Prix – serve to prove that the Premier Class is a true openly competitive field.

Whilst Miller’s victory isn’t the first success of an independent team in the sport’s history, this season has borne witness to a more concentrated and consistent flow of success for these ‘satellite’ teams who race with a fraction of the budget than that of any of the factory powerhouses.

For those who are either new to the sport, ‘Satellite’ is the term given to a team who does not manufacture their own motorbikes, instead they purchase their race machines from one of the factory constructor teams. This is done mainly for cost saving reasons, and also due to a clause in MotoGP regulations which allow these smaller, privateer teams to remain competitive relative to the factory teams with an unlimited budget in comparison. This is different from the more commonly found ‘customer teams’ from other sporting categories – eg. Formula 1, where the buying team (such as Sauber, Force India etc) can only purchase engines or gearboxes, but must still build their own chassis at a considerable cost. For those, this drains resources to the extent that they are unable to match the pace of machine development of the full constructors (Ferrari, Mercedes etc), and as such are almost indefinitely confined to midfield anonymity.

So, a ‘Satellite’ bike should be as good as a factory built bike? Yes…relatively speaking. The bikes which are bought or loaned from the constructors are most often the previous year’s model, or two/three years old depending on the team’s budget. Fortunately the fundamental difference in performance is relatively small, predominantly because of few technical changes in the regulations since 2010. This presents a very attractive option for team bosses making an entry into the top tier, as it guarantees them a base level of competitiveness from the start.

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Jack Miller’s maiden victory at Assen underlines just how competitive a Satellite bike can be, given the right conditions.

Of course, as with all racing series at the highest level, development is key and obviously it is a given that for the majority of the time, those teams with the deepest pockets will be at the front of the pack. Satellite teams are free to upgrade their machines as and when they can, however in recent years factory teams have been known to provide assistance to these teams – especially when they have a contracted rider on-board. To clarify, three of the satellite teams (Tech3, Marc-VDS and Octo-Pramac) have arrangements with their respective constructing partner whereby one of the riders in the team is contracted to the factory team, with the aim being that after serving the duration of his satellite contract, he will be promoted to the factory team. This ensures a highly rated rider for the privateer team, which further increases the chances of being competitive. Additionally, should circumstances allow due to the rider’s success, the factory team will often supply the satellite outfit with development parts for the rider.

As such, due to this highly inclusive way of racing at the highest level, with many incentives for the privateers, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are a considerable number of these teams lining up each season on the grid. Below is a list of all the registered Satellites for the 2016 season.

Tech3: Yamaha (2)

LCR: Honda (1*)

Octo-Pramac: Ducati (2)

Marc-VDS: Honda (2)

Avintia Racing: Ducati (2)

Pull and Bear-Aspar Team: Ducati (2)

Total No/Satellite Bikes: 11

*LCR are just fielding one machine in the 2016 season, but have the option to increase to two at anytime.

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