Will the 2014 Tech 3 Yamaha MotoGP machines feature Yamaha's new seamless gearbox at the Sepang test next month?
Yamaha debuted the system--after repeated requests from both Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi--mid-season 2013. While the immediate results were not a dramatic drop of four-tenths of a second per lap, both riders were pleased as it put them on a level playing field with the factory Hondas and the system allowed for more tire life towards the end of most races.
Will the system trickle down to the Tech 3 team in 2014?
Two factors will probably shadow the decision as to whether Smith or Esparago enjoy seamless shifting in their future: cost and security.
While Ducati has had variations of a seamless gearbox for years, Honda's introduction of their version of the technology was the one that set MotoGP on its collective ear. HRC's system was able to help fuel consumption, tire life and made the RC easier to ride. It was also quite expensive. In 2013 only three Hondas had the system--the factory bikes of Marquez and Pedrosa and also the LCR machine ridden by Stefan Bradl. It has been reported that the lease fee for just HRC's seamless gearbox comes with a price tag of $1 million dollars per season; however that price includes a dedicated technician to maintain the system.
Honda's aim has been to keep the proprietary technology that they developed on their "seamless" transmission within the company. It's known they have employed F-1 level practices to do so--meaning the system is "eyes only" even within the teams, and when maintaining the gearbox a small operating theater is rolled out and the transmission technician works alone, and no one is allowed to approach the bike until he has it buttoned back up again.
In terms of a staunch dedication to protecting proprietary information, Yamaha is a much looser entity than Honda. This is after all, the company that through Kenny Roberts loaded up a YZR500 and brought it to Cagiva's race shop in Varese, unloading it and telling them to feel free to learn as much as they could from it, and to call when they were done with it.
That said, it's unknown whether Tech 3's lease agreement with Yamaha includes the seamless transmission or if it comes with a very high price tag from the "options" list.
Tech 3 enters 2014 with the distinct possibility that this season could be a break-out year for them (again). Bradley Smith has a full MotoGP season on his resume and is no longer a rookie. His ultra-cerebral approach to racing impressed many last year. It's not inconceivable to predict that Smith could win races and if not win races become a very consistent podium finisher. Pol Espargaro, meanwhile, has impressed veteran race watchers with his skill and aggressive riding style.
Meaning that, for Tech 3, this isn't a season of Carlos Checa or Ruben Xaus hoping to finish in the top ten in the championship. Seamless gearboxes need to be obtained for Smith and Esparago, by whatever means necessary.