The defense of Jorge Lorenzo's MotoGP championship faces a further obstacle. In addition to having to fend off an unleashed Dani Pedrosa and the rookie sensation that is Marc Marquez, the Yamaha Factory Racing rider now has to deal with a looming engine shortage as well. Just six race weekends into the 2013 MotoGP season, and the factory Yamaha riders are already using the fourth of the five engines which they have for the entire season. With two thirds of the season left to go, the Yamaha men will face a serious challenge in making their engines last until the end of the season.
The issue affects both Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo in the factory teams, as well as Cal Crutchlow in the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team, all of whom have taken a fourth engine. Crutchlow's teammate Bradley Smith is still only on his third of five engines, though even that is not an ideal situation. Making things worse for the factory men is the fact that both Rossi and Lorenzo have had one engine withdrawn, meaning that they will not be able to use those engines for the rest of the season.
Reports of a problem first emerged after Jerez, with the Spanish website Motocuatro flagging Lorenzo's use of a third engine after that race. Lorenzo reported a problem with his engine #1 during the warm up, and that engine has now been withdrawn from the allocation. Valentino Rossi has also had his engine #2 withdrawn after Mugello, though this was an engine with 28 sessions on it. Rossi's engine is rumored to have also suffered a problem, which caused it to be withdrawn.
There are more signs of issues with Yamaha engines from the pattern of usage they are displaying. Though still in use, Rossi's engine #1 has never been used in a race, and has not been used in qualifying since Jerez. Cal Crutchlow's engines appear to be normal, though his #1 and #2 engines have not seen action at Barcelona. The issues Yamaha are suffering has prompted them to impose stricter limits on engine use, with extra care being taken not to stress the engines too much.
Illustrative of the plight of Yamaha is the engine usage of Honda. All four Honda riders are still using engines #1 and #2 of the five in their allocation, with no sign of them being needed. That Honda has always been good at this kind of engineering was demonstrated in 2011, when Casey Stoner won the championship using just five of the six engines allowed, in the first full year of the engine allocation.
Yamaha's engine problems could pose an insurmountable obstacle to Lorenzo's title defense. As the situation stands, Yamaha could probably just about manage until the end of the season by juggling engines to the end of the year. This will place a greater strain Rossi's and Lorenzo's mechanics, as they will have to spend more time swapping engines around during race weekends, using older engines with more miles on them for free practice, and saving fresher engines for qualifying and the race. But the loss of an engine this early in the season effectively leaves Rossi with four engines to manage thirteen races, and Lorenzo with four engines to last fifteen races. Any other mishaps, and they will almost certainly be forced to start from pit lane at one weekend this year. That is a penalty which the Yamaha men cannot afford to risk.