A new figure on the jet black and green Monster Yamaha Tech3 M1, Hafizh Syahrin, was the ‘dark horse’ of the 2018 MotoGP opener in Qatar. For the 23 year old Malaysian – the first athlete from his country to twist a grip in anger in the premier class of Grand Prix – Losail was a jangle of nerves and excitement. Not only did #55 create a small personal and professional milestone but the absolute rookie also conquered the exhilaration of the occasion to post a respectable 14th place classification.
It is fair to say that Syahrin has been sat on the front of a rollercoaster of emotion in the last two months: one that has been climbing to the peak of the ride. His last-minute recruitment by the Monster Yamaha Tech3 squad in the wake of Jonas Folger’s surprise late withdrawal from the 2018 campaign due to illness was the definition of being ‘in at the deep end’. Syahrin had two official tests (or trials?) in Thailand and Qatar to earn the coveted Yamaha saddle and impressed Team Manager Herve Poncharal sufficiently to be given a dream-shot.
Syahrin had previously posted three podium finishes in the Moto2 class and split over half a decade. His knowledge of Grand Prix was never a doubt; the rigours of MotoGP and the technical nuance needed to master technology like the M1 was another matter. With a compliant and understanding team he went about his business under the Losail glare. “I want to improve every time I go out and understand the situation with the team and also how they work in the race weekend because that is different to a test,” he reasoned. “We have only forty-five minutes in the [practice] session! I still have some pressure to learn but I think I can control this situation: of being the new boy in the category! We go step-by-step and keep calm. I need to understand the tyres and the electronics.”
Hafizh faced the media, a (surprisingly) large group of fans in Qatar and also the requests made of his time and attention on his MotoGP ‘sortie’. From the whole experience the 22 laps of Losail was the most intense and ended up being the most rewarding. “I started to pass [Scott] Redding and some others. In the end I stayed 14th for a long time but in the middle of the race I tried to change my electronics to save my tyre. I need confidence with the tyres especially because MotoGP is above 300km/h and I need to have confidence in the front tyre to brake. The change I made was good but not so fast as the beginning of the race. So three laps from the finish I changed the electronics back. Understanding this area is all part of my learning: it's like I go to school you know!”
The floodgates are now open. On Sunday evening Syahrin was beaming and oozed the kind of confidence and quiet euphoria that only justification of a result can bring. Eighteen more Grands Prix and various circuits and climates now lie in store. The education curve will remain steep. “I just need confidence, motivation, hard work and learn as much as possible because MotoGP is never finished to learn,” he said in his good but quiet and mixed-up English. “In Qatar I didn't want to be the last one! Arriving into the points was my bonus and will give me even more motivation for the next races. I'm so happy. These two points are for my team and I'll try to improve more, I promise to train hard to be better and better every race.”