Red Bull KTM boss Mike Leitner has issued a stark warning to factory racer Bradley Smith on the eve of the Brit’s first home race with the factory, saying that the Austrian manufacturer is expecting a significant improvement from him in the coming races of the 2017 MotoGP season.
The Brit has struggled so far this season on the RC16, with a lack of results coming to a head last time out at the Austrian Grand Prix. He came home in 19th place, far distant from KTM test rider Mika Kallio inside the top ten – and under severe pressure from the factory.
That prompted a replacement in crew chief for this weekend, with long-time crew chief Tom Jojic replaced by Kallio’s test team boss Esteban Garcia ahead of this weekend’s race – a change that didn’t seem to make significant difference as Smith finished the first day’s action at Silverstone 2.6 seconds behind teammate Pol Espargaró – and prompting Leitner to issue a warning about his future with the team.
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“We started with Esteban in Misano at the test and it was quite positive, but that’s something you can really only say after two or three races. The idea is that we’ll change the style of working in the garage – that is clear. But the big step must come from Bradley - that’s also clear.
“Esteban has been with us since the start of the project on the bike, working on the development and everything, and sometimes he has a different approach to things. This is the way that we can give Bradley a chance to improve his performance. We will see.
“Bradley’s goal is to be closer to Pol. It looks like Pol has adapted a little easier to our bike and Bradley is suffering a little more, so we have to help him as much as possible from a technical side.”
With Smith locked into a two-year contract with KTM and with the manufacturer reportedly unlikely to break that deal, the most realistic option for Smith’s future if he fails to find the improvements that his bosses are expecting could be that he is relegated to the role of test rider and occasional wildcard, swapping roles with Kallio.
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