It's time for action in MotoGP, and with the launch of the new Yamaha YZR-M1 this week in Jakarta, Indonesia, ahead of the start of winter testing in Sepang, the 2019 season has officially begun. The Japanese marque revealed an aggressive new blue and black look with Monster Energy coming on board as title sponsor. But the main differences are behind the livery. In a company that has adopted the policy of small steps as its mantra, the word evolution is more important than revolution. Despite that, the 2019 season starts under the glare of vital changes in the technical and staff organization.

The urge for victories, wins that used to be habit for the glorious Iwata marque, has pushed the Japanese to find new ways and push the boundaries a bit further. “We have been always working in a certain range,” explained Kouichi Tsuji, president of Yamaha Motor Racing. “2018 was a very tough season but a significant change happened from the Thai GP on. We had the courage to go out of that range and jump over the wall.” Is it a revolution or a change of direction? “Handling has always been Yamaha’s strong point,” Tsuji continued, “we got back to the original bike spirit. This is the direction to follow.”

Yamaha MotoGP team
Left to right: Lin Jarvis, Maverick Viñales, Kouichi Tsuji, Valentino Rossi, Massimo MeregalliYamaha

“If we bring a revolution now, we may lose our base,” echoed Lin Jarvis, Yamaha Racing managing director. “We need a strong evolution, not a revolution. At the end of last year, we were very close, but we were always missing something. We need to be perfect in every area.”

A profound internal reorganization has happened, and Yamaha goes into 2019 with a new project leader (with Takahiro Sumi replacing Kouji Tsuya), a European test team headed by ex-Tech3 rider Jonas Folger, and several organizational changes relating to a new way of interacting between Yamaha’s Japanese and Italian bases. In addition, Maverick Viñales’ side of the garage will see the entry of Esteban Garcia, who’s replacing Maverick’s crew chief Ramon Forcada, and former rider Julian Simon replacing Wilco Zeelenberg as rider performance analyst and coach. On Valentino Rossi’s side, Idalio Gavira will replace the Doctor’s coach, Luca Cadalora.

“The Sepang test will be crucial,” Jarvis continues, “new electronics solutions and new chassis solutions are among the items to be tested this week on top of the latest specs of engine.”

The rider lineup doesn’t change, with Rossi and Viñales under contract till 2020. But both riders are determined to turn the page after a disappointing 2018, which marked Yamaha’s longest-ever drought in the category before Viñales’ win at Phillip Island.

“We spoke a lot at the end of the season,” commented Rossi, who has been pushing the team to increase its resources and try and make a major step instead of incremental improvements. “It’s early to speak, but it looks like something has changed in Yamaha and we have some new Japanese engineers, but also more European and Italian engineers from the Italian headquarter. This is very important because, in the last two years, our opponents, especially Ducati, changed very much the way to work, putting more people in different areas and trying to organize the team more like a Formula 1 team.”

Valentino Rossi
Rossi is turning 40 this year and is still looking for more wins on his YZR-M1.Yamaha

As for the coming tests, he added, “We have several items to test, but we will focus a lot on tire management. This is crucial in MotoGP as we need to find a way to stress less the tires and be fast especially in the final part of the race. Something we were struggling with last year.”

As for the motivation, Rossi won’t disappoint. Even as he is turning 40 on February 16, the Doctor is still looking ahead, making himself an example to follow even for his younger teammate. “The motivation doesn’t come from the past results but from what you still want to achieve in the present time. The adrenaline of the race, the feeling at the end of a hard-fought battle, a podium finish, or a victory animates me. I’m here to be competitive and fast and good results makes everything more light and fun.”

“I would like that Valentino would never stop,” confessed Viñales, “because fighting with him is a positive pressure that pushes you to give the maximum. As for the test, it will be very important to do the long run because tires will be once again the key, especially in the last laps. We need to focus on the engine and the tire management.”

Maverick Viñales
Tire management to is a key testing focus for the Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP team and Viñales.Yamaha

This week’s three-day test at Sepang will tell soon if the followed direction is the right one and if the new aggressive blue and black bike is faster on the track.