The 2020 MotoGP season saw a curious debate arise. The valve issues which Yamaha suffered at the first two races at Jerez saw the Japanese factory have points deducted and have to manage the remaining 12 races on just three engines for each rider. Franco Morbidelli, already disadvantaged by having to run the 2019 machine, rather than the supposedly more better 2020 Yamaha M1, had just two engines to last the season.
After winning the first two races, and taking a clean sweep of the podium at Jerez 2, the 2020 Yamahas disappeared. Fans and media wrote the M1 off, declaring the bike to be a disaster. The results seemed to justify that designation. Maverick Viñales finished ninth or worse in 7 of the remaining 12 races, and crashed out disastrously in Austria. Fabio Quartararo finished eight or worse in 7 of 12 races, crashed out of two others, and slipped from championship leader to finish the season in eighth. Valentino Rossi had four DNFs, and missed two more races due to a Covid-19 infection, ending the season fifteenth, the worst season in his very, very long Grand Prix career.
The last three races were particularly bad. In the two Valencia races and at Portimão, Viñales finished thirteenth, tenth, and eleventh. Quartararo finished fourteenth, crashed out, and finished fourteenth again. Rossi ended the season with a mechanical DNF and two twelfth places. It was hard to put a positive spin on Yamaha's 2020 season.
The two faces of Iwata
Except for a couple of minor details, that is. Yamaha riders Viñales, Quartararo, and Franco Morbidelli shared 7 wins between them, taking victory in half the MotoGP races contested in 2020. Morbidelli finished second in the riders championship, and with Viñales in sixth and Quartararo in eighth, there were three Yamahas in the top eight. The Petronas Yamaha team finished second in the team championship, and Yamaha would have won the manufacturers' title if they hadn't had points taken away for the valve shenanigans at the start of the year.
Now, a Yamaha M1 has won the first three races of the 2021 season, Fabio Quartararo leads the championship, Yamaha leads the manufacturers standings with a perfect score, and the Monster Energy Yamaha team has a huge lead in the team standings. Maybe the 2020 Yamaha M1 wasn't so bad at all. And maybe the 2021 bike has taken the last few rough edges off to turn it into a winner. It has, after all, won 5 of the last 7 MotoGP races, 8 of the last 12 MotoGP races, and 10 of the last 14 races. That sounds like a pretty decent strike rate to me.
In part 2 of these subscriber notes, a few more things to think about after the Portuguese round of MotoGP. Including:
- Yamaha's (im)probable revival
- The Impeccable Pecco
- A topsy-turvy top five
- The Aprilia is for real. Probably
But first, what happened to Yamaha? Where did this revival of their fortunes come from? Calling it a revival is almost certainly a misconception. As the stats above make plain, the Yamaha was already a very good bike. The problem was it had a few issues. Issues that have been addressed by some off season work, and the freedom to stress their engines again now that they have a full allocation of engines.
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