Maverick Viñales

Is 2021 Yamaha's Year? Lessons From 2020

The 2020 MotoGP season was something of a schizophrenic affair for Yamaha. On the one hand, a Yamaha won 7 of the 14 MotoGP races last year, with Franco Morbidelli finishing second in the riders' championship, Yamaha finishing second in the constructors' championship, and the Petronas Yamaha SRT team ending second in the teams' standings.

On the other hand, Yamaha's most successful rider was in a satellite team on a 2019-spec bike. Of the 7 Yamaha victories last year, the factory Monster Energy Yamaha team had just a single one. Morbidelli took 5 podiums on the 2019 M1, while Maverick Viñales, Valentino Rossi, and Fabio Quartararo scored just 7 podiums combined. The first factory Yamaha in the championship – Maverick Viñales – finished in 6th, behind the Suzukis, a Ducati, a KTM, and Morbidelli on the 2019 M1.

There was the valve saga which saw Yamaha have points deducted in the constructors' championship for using non-homologated parts – switching valves between suppliers, and thereby breaking the homologation rules. And there were the brake issues at the Red Bull Ring, where the Yamaha riders insisted on using the older, smaller Brembo calipers which suffered overheating and even brake failure in the case of Viñales.

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News Round Up: Launch Season Coming, 2022 Contracts, Rossi Interview, Honda Updates

Around this time in a normal year, we would be back from the launch of a couple of the MotoGP manufacturers, and looking forward to a couple more as we prepared to travel to Sepang for the first test of the year. But this is not a normal year, of course. Nor was last year, for that matter.

So instead of packing my bags in preparation of the test at Sepang – originally scheduled for the 19th-21st of February – I, like the rest of the media, are checking our microphones and internet connections to get ready to do the MotoGP launch season from home. And not just the launch season: in all probability, the media won't be allowed to physically attend a MotoGP race for the first half of the 2021 season at the very least. But at least we will have a 2021 MotoGP season.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Can Yamaha dig itself out of its hole?

Yamaha’s 2020 YZR-M1 was a disaster, so what chance has the company of fixing its problems after five years out of the title fight? And is Yamaha’s best bet for the 2021 title a two-year-old motorcycle?

Yamaha won its last MotoGP championship in 2015. It’s no coincidence that 2015 was the last year of Bridgestone tyres, because since then Yamaha engineers have been unable to make the YZR-M1 work consistently with MotoGP’s current tyres, made by Michelin.

Yamaha’s problem is as simple as that, although fixing the problem is anything but simple.

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Bikes Back On Track As WorldSBK Testing Resumes At Jerez

Despite the best efforts of the coronavirus, the winter break is nearly over, for the WorldSBK series at least. On Wednesday, half of the WorldSBK grid take to the track at Jerez for the first major test of the 2021 season. They will be working on their preparations for the season opener, not at Phillip Island, due to the travel restrictions still in place for Australia due to the pandemic, but at the Assen circuit in The Netherlands on April 23rd.

The weather does not look like playing ball for the first full test of the season. The forecast is currently for rain on both days of the test, heaviest on Wednesday but easing off on Thursday. Wednesday may see a dry spell in the afternoon, but whether that means the track will dry enough to produce usable data is open to question.

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Portimao MotoGP Subscriber Notes: Local Knowledge vs Fast Riders, Yamaha's Conundrum, And Suzuki Sinking Without A Trace

According to Albert Einstein's Special theory of relativity, time slows down as your speed increases. The faster you go, the slower time appears to pass. That would explain why the Covid-compressed 2020 MotoGP season has simultaneously felt like it was taking forever and is over in the blink of an eye. 14 races in 18 weeks was brutal on everyone involved, an intense schedule which had everyone working at light speed yet struggling to keep up. You would have to go back to the 1960s to find a season that was so short. But back then, they were fitting 8 races into 18 weeks, not nearly double that.

At least we had a fitting stage for the season finale. In a season with highs and lows, holding the last MotoGP round of 2020 at the roller-coaster which is the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve was fitting, a metaphor for the year made physical. But did that location give the winner, Miguel Oliveira, an advantage at what was effectively his home race? Was he, like Nicky Hayden at Laguna Seca in 2005, better able to unlock the secrets of the Portimão track because he had ridden here so often?

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Portimao MotoGP Friday Round Up: Fun, Fear, And Finding Setup At Roller-Coaster Portimao

Whenever a journalist gets a little too excited over a rider's lap times after FP2, and starts asking them what it means for the race, they inevitably get slapped down with an old racing aphorism. "It's only Friday," riders will say, whether they are at the top of the standings, at the bottom, or somewhere in the middle. Being fast is nice on a Friday, but there is still a long way to go until the riders line up on the grid on Sunday. An awful lot can, and usually does change in the meantime.

That old adage is exponentially true on a Friday at a brand new track where nobody has ridden before. Especially an extraordinary track like Portimao, which snakes all over the Algarve countryside like a roller-coaster hewn into the hills. The track is so different, and so difficult, that there is still a huge amount of work to do before anyone can start to draw conclusions. Add in the fact that Michelin has brought four fronts and four rears (with two different hard tires front and rear), and you have a huge and complex puzzle to solve before Sunday. Two 70-minute sessions on Friday helped, but were still nowhere near enough.

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Portimao MotoGP Thursday Round Up: How To Approach The Last Race With Nothing On The Line

And so the voyage into the unknown begins. MotoGP kicks off its final round of this fundamentally weird season at the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve in Portimao. The combination of the final round, a new circuit, and the Moto2 and Moto3 titles still at stake meant that it was a long and grueling day of interviews, media debriefs, and press conferences, with barely a moment to catch your breath or a quick bite to eat in between.

It started off with the Asia Talent Cup graduation ceremony, which finished just before the MotoGP rider debriefs were due to start. At the same time as the first batch of debriefs, there were the press conferences for the Moto3 and Moto3 championships, featuring the three title contenders in each class. More debriefs, and then the MotoGP pre-event press conference, this time with the line up expanded from six to seven riders. A final debrief – Valentino Rossi – and then the last press conference of the day, an hour-long discussion with the six MotoGP factory bosses, looking back at the season.

It was a long day. Growing up, my mother used to warn me of the perils of watching too much TV, telling me I risked developing square eyes. Nearly half a century later, I think I finally understand what she meant. Of all the information that was poured into my brain during this everlasting day, I'm not sure I managed to retain any of it.

New track, but an old friend for some

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Back to the future: the story of second-hand MotoGP bikes

On Sunday Franco Morbidelli proved that an old motorcycle can sometimes be better than a new motorcycle. And he’s not the first to do that

There’s been so much talk about Yamaha’s 2019 and 2020 YZR-M1s in recent weeks that this may be a good time to look into the joys of second-hand MotoGP bikes.

Fabio Quartararo, Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales can’t revert to 2019 M1s due to MotoGP engine regulations but you can be sure they would if they could, because the 2019 M1 chassis seems to be better balanced than the 2020 version.

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