Bradley Smith, the 26 year old Englishman is set to depart from the Tech 3 Yamaha squad at the end of the 2016 MotoGP season. Smith penned a blog on his website in which he revealed that “it looks like it’s time to move on for both parties”. Smith joined the Moto2 division of Tech 3 team in 2011 before joining the premier class side in 2013. In his blog on MotoGP.com he stated his goal for 2016 was to “finish the top non-factory bike” which he hopes will “place me in the draft for a factory ride next year.” Bradley went on the explain that it was a mutual decision, but that Tech 3 had informed him of the decision and seemed blunt in his assessment that “Tech3 is used by Yamaha to bring on young talent and I’m going to be 26 by the end of this season and much as I’d like to be, I’m no longer considered a fast young talent.”
Alongside Valentino Rossi, Smith was the only rider to score points in every single race last season and was the best satellite rider on the grid based on points finish. He scored his first MotoGP podium at Philips Island in 2014 before getting 2nd at a wet and wild Misano Grand Prix last year where he was joined on the podium by fellow Brit, Scott Redding.
Bradley Smith’s decision to announce his departure so early has set off speculation about the upcoming off season before the first race of 2016 even began. MotoGP contracts rarely run for more than a year or two, even the likes of Marquez, Rossi, and Lorenzo usually sign on for two years at a time. It allows both team and rider the flexibility should one or the other fail to live up to their end of the bargain. The 2017 off-season will see all eight factory riders up for contract renewal. In all honesty Smith himself admitted he is a longshot for either a Yamaha or Honda factory ride. Suzuki seems like the most plausible factory ride for Bradley Smith both in terms of possibility and competitiveness. Aleix Espargaro has had a hard time matching his Suzuki teammate Maverick Vinales’ pace and many suspect he will depart from the team following the 2016 MotoGP season. Having recently introduced a seamless gearbox, Suzuki are looking like a team on the up with Maverick Vinales’ twice topping the timesheets during pre-season testing. With the new ECU regulations and Michelin tires, many in the Suzuki garage believe they can compete for podiums. Bradley may have admitted to not being a young rider anymore, but at the age of 26, he is nearing his point of maturation where it’s either a factory ride or bust. Often times talent alone isn’t enough in motorsport to get a rider to a top team. Sponsorship, branding, and money always seem to be the last hurdle. Smith may have given himself an easier path to a top team by announcing his decision so early. He will have several months now to piece together a solid portfolio of on track results as well as sponsorship opportunities. In the world of MotoGP there is always extreme uncertainty. Riders come and go every year, even riders at the top of the sport seem prone to sudden exits from the sport. With all eight factory rides open, and with Pedrosa, Dovi, and Aleix Espargaro being the obvious weaklinks, Smith finds himself in a relatively good position to break through and get himself one of those factory rides.