It has been an incredible rollercoaster of a year for the Petronas Sepang Racing Team since the announcement 12 months ago that the team would step up to Grand Prix racing’s premier class with Yamaha.
One year on from that day at the British Grand Prix, we sat down with team principal and Sepang International Circuit CEO Razlan Razali to talk about how things have evolved for him and the team.
One year ago, could you foresee the amazing progress made by the team in its first year?
“There’s no way we expected to be in this fantastic position after only twelve rounds of the 2019 season. We were hoping for Franky to deliver top six performances and for Fabio to target rookie of the year. We didn’t expect both of them to do what they’re doing and we’re extremely happy and satisfied with them. To be able to deliver such strong performances for our title sponsor is key, and we’ve achieved even more than what was desired based on the targets we set at the start of the year.”
What was the most memorable part of making the announcement about the move to MotoGP?
“The most memorable moment of that time was sitting in front of the media at Silverstone and announcing the line-up, even before we officially announced PETRONAS would be title sponsor. Seeing our young Minister of Sport, Syed Saddiq, witnessing that alongside Carmelo Ezpeleta from Dorna and the CEO of PETRONAS, Wan Zulkiflee, was the beginning of where we are today.”
What has been the biggest surprise of the move to MotoGP?
“Without a doubt the biggest surprise has come from Fabio. When we announced him as our second rider, a lot of people told us we made the wrong choice - but now everyone agrees we made the right decision! He’s delivered the biggest surprise of the year, with a series of podiums, pole positions, top fives and top tens. He’s been fabulous, and he’s truly talented. Having pole position and second place at only the first European round in Jerez was exceptional.”
What gives you the most pride from the past twelve months?
“In general for the riders to perform, they need support from the team, and my proudest moments are seeing how the team has gelled as a whole across all three categories. The Moto3 team has of course been around since 2015 and the Moto2 team is a year old, and it’s been a challenge for them with a lot of different riders on the bikes over the past two years. So for them to click as a team, to support our riders and to get along with everyone as the team expands to 48 people is impressive. There’s such a good ambiance and chemistry. Of course there’s always room to improve and nothing is ever 100% perfect, but we can be proud of what we’ve done.
“I also couldn’t be more proud as a Malaysian to finally have our own Malaysian MotoGP team. We can tell fans and media from across the globe that we’re Malaysian and we can act as our country’s ambassadors. We’re proud of that role and I’m honoured to be able to represent the country in the paddock.”
What has been the secret of the success of the project so far?
“A lot of people ask me about us as a team and I’m not really sure how to answer them, because we just capitalise and maximise the experience of all of our individual members. Johan Stigefelt, for example, is great at putting together people and logistics - the framework of it all. Wilco Zeelenberg is very experienced in a MotoGP team and his experience with Yamaha helps us out. We capitalise on the talents of the people we hire in a horizontal way, not just vertically. Everyone is very functional in their roles, we try not to overstep the boundaries and we have constant communication. That’s the secret of where we are in terms of perception, presentation and at the end of the day the performance of the riders too.”
What are your goals for 2020?
“For next year we’ve certainly set a benchmark standard for a new team, so there’s more pressure for us in the second year. Of course we want to do even better, and I’m sure both riders will continue to do well. I hope that by the time we arrive at this point in the 2020 season my ambition is to have at least one MotoGP win.
“Once you have a taste of success like a podium, a pole position or even a win, you crave for more. You want to keep going, you want to push the team to deliver even more. But no matter what we achieve, our goals remain the same and it’s important for us to maintain our focus and our objective. I’m really looking for a win and a podium at the Malaysian Grand Prix though!”
When can we expect to see the rider line-ups confirmed?
“For MotoGP, we’re continuing with Franco and Fabio and this should be an amazing combination for the team’s second season. For Moto2, we have some time to confirm our plans, whilst for Moto3 we announced John at his home race so half the line-up is in the public domain. Watch this space, we should have further news soon.”