Is There Cause For Alarm in the Yamaha MotoGP Garage?

Trying to pinpoint the problem…

valentino rossi catalunya test action
Valentino Rossi, Catalunya Test Session 2017Courtesy of Movistar Yamaha

Valentino Rossi is not called "The Doctor" by chance. Already at the Valencia test last November, he understood some problem areas of the new bike, but the young and fast teammate Maverick Vinales, fresh from his switch from Suzuki to the easier-to-ride Yamaha, was able to top the time sheets. It continued this way through the whole test season, with the Spaniard setting the fastest time as Rossi struggled, wishing for the 2016 chassis.

The result? The M1 looked like the easiest bike to ride, Vinales leads the world championship, and had Rossi not crashed out in Le Mans, the two of them would have been 1-2 in the title race. Then came the cold shower of Barcelona, a race weekend that Valentino called “a nightmare.”

Last year, Rossi and the M1 literally dominated in Spain, winning both Jerez and Barcelona rounds. This year, the situation was opposite with Rossi scoring a 10th place in Jerez and 8th this Sunday in Barcelona, with teammate Maverick Vinales 6th and 10th.

After the race the 22-year-old Vinales seemed both lost and alarmed: “In the first races, I felt invincible, while at Montmelo I couldn’t put two good laps together. I’m the same rider, and I am riding as in Qatar or Argentina. I don’t understand what is happening, and neither does the team. In the other rounds, I could do the same times in the races as in the practices, but here I was riding like I was on a Moto2 bike. I was sliding so much on the straight! My target is to fight for the win or a podium finish, but Sunday it was impossible. It’s not a question of the chassis. The 2017 was much better. The bike is perfect, I don’t know what is happening and I don’t like it.”

maverick vinales catalunya test action
Maverick Vinales, Catalunya Test Session 2017Courtesy of Movistar Yamaha

During the weekend, Vinales had blamed Michelin for the M1’s poor performance, while Rossi was more diplomatic.

Is the problem the asphalt or the tires?

“I think it’s more due to the asphalt because there is no grip,” said Rossi on Saturday. His analysis on Sunday after the race is even more analytical.

“It was a pity because Barcelona is one of my favorite tracks. Last year, I dominated in Jerez and Barcelona but this season these are the two tracks where we’ve struggled most. I was afraid we would suffer here because of the rough pavement and poor grip but we hope to fix the problem.”

Rossi admitted that another factor was Yamaha’s decision not to test in Barcelona but to test instead at Le Mans (because of the unknown factor of its new asphalt). While this gave some advantage to rivals who did test in Barcelona, in Rossi's opinion, the main problem is the 2017 Yamaha’s turning ability.

valentino rossi catalunya gp race action
Valentino Rossi, Grand Prix of Catalunya 2017Courtesy of Movistar Yamaha

“The bike suffers with understeer. It doesn’t turn easily so we must spend more time leaned over. This stresses the edge of the tire a lot, and after 10 laps it drops. It’s an issue that I noticed since the first test in Valencia in November. If the 2016 bikes worked well here, it is because they turn better and stress the tires less.”

“I’m a good test rider. As I rode the 2017 bike, I immediately noticed that it didn’t turn as well as the 2016. Then, of course, the situation changes a lot from track to track.

“I had this feeling since the first time I tested the new M1 at Valencia (at the end of 2016 season), but it’s true that Maverick coming from Suzuki was very fast. He was topping the time sheets and winning so we continued in that direction and then it’s never easy to turn back.

“We need to re-find the feeling entering the corner that we had last year. The bike had other limits but it was easier to ride.

maverick vinales catalunya gp race action
Maverick Vinales, Grand Prix of Catalunya 2017Courtesy of Movistar Yamaha

“The strongest points of our bike have always been the middle of the corner and the entry, which are also two strong points of my riding style. I have been riding Yamaha since ages so I tried to work on this area where our bike has a strong performance. We have lost some of this strength with the 2017 version.”

This makes the post-race test scheduled Monday at Barcelona crucial. The Yamaha riders will test several parts that Rossi requested in Jerez, among them two alternative chassis.

Valentino prefers to work and look ahead: “Maverick is still the leader and this is an important point. If I didn’t crash in Le Mans, I would have had the points of Dovizioso. It’s true that it’s a strange championship; even in the practices, we are all very close. The bad news is that it was a difficult race and I lost two championship positions. We need to find the feeling we had last year because the championship is still open and we are five riders all within 28 points.”

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