Franco Morbidelli

Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - How Yamaha is digging itself out of the doldrums and reviving Valentino Rossi

After four years of struggle, Yamaha is closing the gap on its rivals. Its new MotoGP project leader Takahiro Sumi tells us how

Yamaha only won two races during 2019 but, inch by inch, the factory began to close the gap on Honda and Ducati.

The reasons were a better engine, improved electronics and less messing around with chassis set-up, especially so that Maverick Viñales could focus more on his riding. The arrival of remarkable rookie Fabio Quartararo also helped, by putting the proverbial rocket under Viñales and Valentino Rossi.

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Jerez November Monday Test Notes: Yamaha, Honda, Ducati, Suzuki, KTM

If Valencia is an important test, the Jerez test is even more significant. At Valencia, the riders are tired, and the teams know that they cannot burden them too much. The Valencia circuit is also not well suited to test duties, too tight and contorted to give the new bikes a proper workout.

At Jerez, after a few days off to relax and absorb the lessons of Valencia, the teams and riders are back on the track again. The test program for most factories looks to be bigger and more comprehensive than at Valencia.

Maverick Viñales finished the day as fastest, quick and comfortable on the new 2020 prototype of the Yamaha M1. That Viñales had a clear advantage over the rest of the field is plain, but the gaps on the timesheet do not represent the real relative strengths between the riders. A mixture of drizzle and red flags caused by crashes meant that anyone going out on fresh soft rubber was likely to have their attempt at chasing a time stymied by conditions, or forced back into the pits due to a red flag. The teams got plenty of work done, but events conspired to prevent the usual battle of egos which ends each day at the test.

Yamaha: Frame and engine

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Valencia MotoGP Test Wednesday Round Up: Judging Success on Limited Data

The point of the post-season test at Valencia is to give the new parts the racing departments have cooked up based on the data collected during the year their first run out. The hope is that the new parts – engines, chassis, electronic packages, etc – will provide improvements, make the bikes faster, and help drop the lap times even further.

There was plenty of good news for the MotoGP factories from the two days of testing at Valencia. Their work has been successful, judging by the initial results at the test. The new engines which have been brought are all quicker, the chassis which have been tested are all an improvement.

The bad news is that all of this applies to just about every manufacturer in MotoGP. Yamaha, Honda, Ducati, Suzuki, KTM, even Aprilia, they have all made steps forward. The trouble is, that if everyone makes a step forward, they all end up still left in the same place.

So who comes out of the Valencia test ahead? It is still way too early to tell. At Valencia, the factories bring their new concepts, in a fairly raw format. Engines need adapting to electronics, chassis need adapting to engines, the setups the factories start the test with are based on data from last year's bikes, and still need tweaking to refine.

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Crunching The Numbers: Silly Season 2021 - An Unprecedented Youth Wave Conquers MotoGP

The current field of MotoGP riders may only be less than a season into the first year of their contracts, but the opening salvos of the 2021 season are already being fired. That is a direct consequence of almost the entire grid being on two-year deals, which run through the 2020 season. Every seat on the grid will currently be up for grabs in 2021. And because of that, teams, factories and riders are already starting to explore their options for the next season but one.

This is not something teams are particularly happy about. Team managers will grumble both on and off the record that it is a big gamble choosing riders basically on the basis of their performance two seasons before they are due to ride for you. Fear of missing out on a top rider forces their hand, however, and so teams are already making preliminary approaches about 2021.

The extreme and unusual situation of every single seat being up for grabs means that Moto2 riders are also delaying their plans. Most have only signed 1-year deals for 2020, knowing that so many options are opening up in 2021. Remy Gardner even turned down a chance to move up to MotoGP with KTM for 2020, preferring to wait for 2021 and hope for many more options then.

Youth tsunami

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Sepang MotoGP Saturday Round Up: When Mind Games Go Wrong, And Why Yamahas Rule In Sepang

Winning championships starts with winning races. But there is more to winning races than just turning up on Sunday, whacking the throttle wide open and holding it there for as long as possible when the lights go out. Winning a race is a long, drawn-out process, involving planning, strategy, assessing your strengths and weaknesses.

Sometimes, after looking at the pace of your rivals, checking it against your own data, balancing expected tire life against performance, and watching where the rest of the grid is stronger and where they are open to attack, you have no choice but to admit someone else is faster. It then becomes a question of trying to see what is possible, and trying to find a different way to succeed. Winning may be hard, but it is never out of the question.

So riders explore other ways to try to beat their rivals. The race doesn't just happen on Sunday, it starts in practice. You can try to win by going faster than everyone else, but sometimes, you can win by making your rivals go slower. You try to get into their head, intimidate them. Sometimes you do that by posting an explosive lap that nobody believed you were capable of, and which they fear to copy. Sometimes you do that by following them around on track, watching them, copying them, making them aware of your presence all the time. After all, every ounce of energy spent worrying about you is one which can't be spent on trying to go faster.

King of the hill

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Sepang MotoGP Friday Round Up: Smashing Records, Saving Crashes, Testing Brakes, And Yamaha Blazing A Trail

The point of motorcycle racing is to go faster than everyone else. And because motorcycle racing is a sport composed of many different parts, there are a lot of different parties wanting to be fastest. Riders want to be fastest to win races and championships. Factories want to be fastest to win championships, but also to have the bike with the highest top speed, and to collect lap records. Even tire suppliers want to collect lap records. That, after all, is how they measure progress.

Since coming into the class, Michelin have shattered a lot of records set by Bridgestone, the previous Official Tire Supplier to MotoGP. But not all of them, and if you speak to people from Michelin, this is something they are far from happy about. But they keep chipping away, circuit by circuit, looking for ways to improve the tires to allow the bikes to go faster. This is the way Michelin creates competition for itself, and sets goals for its R&D department to pursue.

So far, they have done pretty well, taking the race lap record at nine of the tracks which MotoGP raced at prior to 2016, when they took over from Bridgestone. Their record on outright lap records is even better. Up until Friday morning, Michelin still had five circuits where they hadn't beaten the fastest ever lap set during practice or qualifying by Bridgestone.

Moving the bar

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Motegi Race Notes: On Fuel Management, The Rookie Surprise, Ducati's Weakness, Rossi's Future, And Lorenzo's Progress

To win a motorcycle race, team, rider, and machine need to get as close as possible to extracting 100% of performance from both motorcycle and rider. In the Socratic Ideal of a motorcycle race, as the bike crosses the line, it runs out of fuel, explodes into a thousand pieces, the tires destroy themselves, and the rider drops down dead. That, however, would contravene the engine durability regulations, be extraordinarily expensive, and make winning a championship impossible.

Instead, what the riders and teams try to do is maximize the performance of the bike, and allow the rider to manage performance throughout the race. That means finding the right engine mapping to extract as much power as possible without burning through tires and fuel, and setting up suspension and electronics to keep as much edge grip, corner speed, and braking ability as possible for as long as possible.

In 2017 and 2018, tire consumption was often the limiting factor. Riders knew tire performance would drop significantly at some point, so they had to design their race strategy around that: either push hard from the beginning and manage to the end, or slow up the race and hope to keep as much performance as possible to make a dash for the end. Andrea Dovizioso was a master at this, which allowed him to control the races such that he could win them, or at least keep them close.

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