Is the 2022 Yamaha M1 a good MotoGP bike? It is a simple question with a simple answer: it depends. If Fabio Quartararo is riding it, it is good enough to have won two races, get on the podium in three others, and lead the 2022 MotoGP championship by 22 points.
But if anyone other than Fabio Quartararo is riding it, it is not quite so good. The best result by the trio of Franco Morbidelli, Andrea Dovizioso, and Darryn Binder is a seventh place, by Morbidelli at Mandalika. That seventh place is one of only two top tens for the other Yamahas, Darryn Binder being the other at the same race.
Together, Morbidelli, Dovizioso, and Binder have scored a grand total of 40 points. Fabio Quartararo has 147, over three times as many. And he has never finished behind any of the other Yamahas throughout the season. In fact, the closest any other Yamaha rider has gotten to Quartararo is Franco Morbidelli's eleventh place, two places behind his teammate, at the season opener at Qatar. Since then, Quartararo and the other Yamaha riders have been operating on different planets.
Facing the future
Can this be fixed? And what is Yamaha doing to address this? On the Monday after Barcelona, Yamaha had just a few parts for the riders to test. There was a new swingarm, which offered only marginal benefits, there was another chance to try the new low-downforce aero package used by Franco Morbidelli and Fabio Quartararo at Mugello, which Quartararo subsequently dropped. And there was a chance to try new engine maps in pursuit of more horsepower, though that was limited.
On the face of it, the test was of limited use in finding the power Fabio Quartararo says he needs if he is to successfully defend his 2021 MotoGP crown. But with engine development frozen for 2022, any major advances will only come in 2023, and the first hint of that bike won't appear until the Misano test in September.
More horsepower will come, however. That is the guarantee Yamaha gave to Fabio Quartararo to convince him to sign a new contract for the next two seasons. They are backing this up by bringing in new engineers, some from Formula 1, to help find extra horses from the Yamaha M1.
"For me I always push, and more now, we needed to push to have more power," Quartararo told us after the test. "I'm sure they are working super hard to bring us a new engine for 2023 and have much more power because I always say the same, but because it’s true that if you make everything perfect, you can win. It's not a problem of power or whatever."
"But when you are in a tough situation, power is something that changes your race," Quartararo pointed out. There had been times where he had been stuck behind bikes that were faster on the straight, despite being capable of faster lap times, and that had been frustrating. "I was sixth or seventh and I could not overtake and I was faster. I could fight with Pecco for the win but. But we are behind, so this is why I think it's the most important to have the power and not really think about other things."
All this focus on horsepower comes at the expense of areas which could help the other Yamaha riders. While horsepower is always a good thing, they need help with the rear tire spinning up while the bike is at full lean angle and chewing through the rear quickly. They need help with turning and more feedback. They need help with braking, to carry more speed into the corner.
Should Yamaha be doing more to address the concerns of Franco Morbidelli, Andrea Dovizioso, Darryn Binder, and focus less on what Quartararo wants? "Yamaha is involved to improve what Fabio requests, and this is normal and this is the right thing to do, because he’s leading the championship, they won last year," Andrea Dovizioso replied when asked. "That is the priority and this is normal."
That creates problems, of course. "What he requests is different than most of the riders, because he is able to use the potential of the bike where it’s good, but the others can't," Dovizioso explained. "So we are requesting different things. But what we are requesting is something very difficult to create. It is very difficult to know what you have to change. It takes time, takes money and if I put myself in Yamaha’s place, maybe I make the same decision."
There is perhaps a fear of change as well, Dovizioso acknowledged, when the comparison with Casey Stoner at Ducati and Marc Marquez at Honda was made. Perhaps Yamaha are afraid of killing the goose which is laying them golden eggs if they change the bike to suit the other riders.
"I think one of the reasons they are not investing a lot of attention or money on that is for that they are scared about that," Dovizioso told us. "And I can understand because when you change something, nobody knows the right things to do. You have to try lots of things, so that is dangerous in their situation. So it’s difficult."
The consolation is that Yamaha have a proven path to winning races, which runs via Fabio Quartararo. "It's positive because they have something, it's working, but it’s difficult for sure," Dovizioso said.
Was throwing money at Fabio Quartararo was a simpler and faster route to success?"Ha! That’s for sure," Dovizioso laughed. "But you know you have to choose a strategy, so if this is your target, it's good to do that." In the long term, building a better bike was a more sustainable proposition. "It's always better to have a bike work for more riders because you can play as a manufacturer," Dovizioso explained." But it's not easy to create that situation and is not the situation they are in now."
And so Yamaha find themselves in a quandary. They have a rider who is winning and leading the championship, and understands the bike exactly and precisely, knowing how to extract every drop of performance out of the M1. And they have a bike which, for riders who can't ride the way Fabio Quartararo does, making up time on the brakes and managing acceleration with subtle throttle control, leaves them unable to compete.
If they change the M1 to make it more competitive for Morbidelli, Dovizioso, Binder, they risk defanging the bike for Quartararo, taking away the strengths he is using to be successful. But if they leave the bike as it is, and only listen to Quartararo, they risk being left with a bike that isn't competitive if, for some reason, the Frenchman leaves Yamaha or is unable to race.
In the short term, Yamaha are better off putting all their eggs in one basket, the one marked Fabio Quartararo. After all, Honda did that for Marc Marquez and ended up with six MotoGP titles. Whether it is successful in the long term, only history will reveal. But racing is a very short-term business, so that is a bridge they will cross when they have no other choice.
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