The rumoured melt-down between double Moto2 champion Johann Zarco and KTM is official.
Following rumours over the weekend of the marque’s home GP in Austria, a statement from the factory confirmed that the two-year contract between rider and team will be dissolved at the end of 2019.
There has been disappointment and discord over the first 11 of 19 races in 2019, with the 29-year-old Frenchman failing to capture even a glimmer of the form that took him to four pole positions and six podiums in two years with the Tech 3 satellite Yamaha team.
German-language web-site Speedweek reported rumours of the split on Sunday, and that Zarco had requested release from his contract. On Monday morning the rumours were officially confirmed, in a statement from KTM describing a mutual agreement.
The statement confirmed the split at the end of the year, saying: “Zarco tried to adapt his riding style to the KTM RC16 and the team tried relentlessly to mould the #5 machine to the Frenchman’s wishes and requirements, while team-mate Pol Espargaro made regular Q2 qualification appearances and persistently vied for top-ten positions,”
It continued: “Ultimately both Johann and the team decided not to proceed with their joint project for 2020 and will now focus on giving the maximum for the final eight rounds and remaining months of MotoGP 2019.”
However, it was not certain that Zarco would be willing to see out the season; with KTM CEO Stefan Pierer having pointed out in the Speedweek interview that while new test rider Dani Pedrosa’s contract specifically excluded race appearances, established test rider Mika Kallio would be available to take over.
Then the question about 2020 arises. It seems that Jack Miller’s deal with Pramac Ducati is to go ahead after a worrying delay, ruling him out of rejoining the squad for whom he came close to winning the Moto3 title in 2014. Oliveira is a strong candidate. Another might be Alex Marquez, after his expected move to join the Petronas Moto2 team next year went sour over the weekend.
Zarco’s brief incumbency at KTM has been difficult to watch, after he was signed up for two years as the new star of the show. However his silk-smooth riding style that brought such success on the Yamaha has been seriously at odds with the V4 KTM, which responds to a much more aggressive approach.
Along with poor results – a single tenth his best – the atmosphere has deteriorated, with pit-box rants captured on camera, and the increasingly gloomy Zarco hiring French former off-road hero Jean-Michel Bayle as rider coach to help him escape the slough of despond.
In the same period, experienced factory-team-mate Pol has achieved KTM’s best ever results, a close 11th overall; and even class rookie Miguel Oliveira has beaten and outpointed him, riding a KTM RC16 for the new satellite team, ironically run by the French Tech 3, his old Yamaha squad.
Words Michael Scott