With just a handful of rounds remaining in this year's MotoGP World Championship, it's almost certain that the championship will go to either Valentino Rossi or Jorge Lorenzo. The two Movistar Yamaha riders are atop the standings, both with more than a race worth of points in hand over Marc Marquez in third place. It's an enviable position for Yamaha to be in, but at the same time I'm sure it's causing plenty of angst in the team and at company headquarters.
Update after the Aragon round on September 27: It is even more certain the championship will go to Rossi or Lorenzo, as Marquez crashed at Aragon and dropped even further behind in the points but remains in third.
Obviously, sitting 1-2 in the standings with such a lead is good for Yamaha and the team because, almost no matter what happens, a Yamaha rider will win the title. All eyes are on the title chase, there's plenty of drama, and the company and team sponsors get plenty of TV time and exposure out of it. From now to the end of the season, more people will be concerned with where Rossi and Lorenzo finish in each race, rather than who wins or is on the podium.
On the downside, because it's a two-horse race now, it's a safe bet that the two riders are not working together as you would expect from teammates - no sharing of setup notes, data, thoughts on tire selection or the track surface, and so on. This makes it very difficult for Yamaha and the team to move forward with development or testing, as the workload cannot be shared between the two riders: each will be trying to find the best solutions, and keeping the results to himself. At Misano, for example, Lorenzo tested small winglets on the side of his M1 during the first day's practice, whereas Rossi tested them at a private test earlier.
In the last few rounds, it's clear that the focus in the Movistar Yamaha garage has been the riders' personal battle. At Misano, both riders were so concerned with what the other was doing in the tricky dry/wet/dry conditions that both suffered as a result, mistiming their bike changes to match the changing track. At the end of the day, Rossi finished fifth while Lorenzo crashed out. Rossi even confessed after that he was more concerned with beating Lorenzo than anything else: "It’s true that the championship is a lot more important that winning this race, it’s the main target." Yamaha cannot be happy that a potential race win for the brand was forfeit.
None of this is atypical for a race team. It's all wine and roses when there is an obvious No. 1 and No. 2 rider: plenty of information is shared between the riders, the development work carries on at a steady pace, and there is no secrecy. But when the two riders end up battling for the championship title (or position), the walls go up fast. A similar situation came to a head last year in World Superbike, with team orders being issued in both the Kawasaki and Aprilia camps and riders on both teams unhappy.
Hopefully Rossi and Lorenzo will not have any more miscues as they did in Misano, and that the title fight continues on to the finale in Valencia to close out a fantastic season. While their points lead over Marquez is comfortable, it is not unassailable by any means, and they cannot afford many more similar errors as a team.