Saturday at Valencia saw Valentino Rossi ride his first MotoGP laps since the French Grand Prix, almost one-month ago.
The Italian star was then diagnosed with Covid-19 forcing him to miss both Aragon events and, after initially continuing to test positive this week, Friday practice at Valencia.
“It was a difficult experience because I had to stay closed at home for 24 days!” Rossi said. “And alone. So was not easy.
“But when I came back on the bike I felt good and my main problem was just because I didn’t ride yesterday. Without Friday it’s more difficult, but for the rest, I feel good with the bike.”
Rossi’s comeback was also on a day of tricky wet-but-drying track conditions, which began with the Monster Yamaha rider eighth fastest in the morning and ended with eighth place in Qualifying 1, meaning an 18th place start.
“Unfortunately in Qualifying 1 the conditions were quite bad because the asphalt was drying and in those conditions we suffer a little bit. But the feeling on the bike is very good. I’m very happy to be here after 24 days closed at home!” he said.
With just three rounds to go until the end of the season, Rossi is the only Yamaha rider not still in firm title contention.
However, Fabio Quartararo (-14 points), Maverick Vinales (-19) and Franco Morbidelli (-25) are all playing catch-up to the Suzuki of Joan Mir, while Morbidelli – on an A-Spec machine, closely based on the 2019 M1 – is currently more competitive than the 2020 Factory-spec Yamahas.
“We had a lot of expectation for the 2020 M1, but in reality we didn’t make a big step,” Rossi said. “Also if you look at the performance of Morbidelli, Morbidelli did a fantastic season and won two races with the old bike. The new one for me is not a big difference, but also not a clear step forward.
“For me, we need to work on the engine [for next year] because the bigger problem is lack of top speed and also we need to have an engine that is more smooth in acceleration. So the engine part for me is our weak point. And after that we need to work on the rear part of the bike to create better grip. These for me are the two main issues.”
Asked about the valve controversy, which saw Yamaha docked constructors’ and teams’ points while leaving all Yamaha riders short on engines, Rossi responded:
“For me, the engine department is our first problem because the performance is not fantastic and also the reliability is critical and also they make this mistake with the valves, that is not fantastic.
“For the rest I don’t know, only that I don’t lose any points because when I used that [Jerez] engine it broke [in the race]!”
Without such reliability problems to date are the world championship leading Suzuki team, whose GSX-RR also uses an inline four-cylinder engine. But Rossi thinks the progress is more down to
“For me, Suzuki work very well. Because I think that [Davide] Brivio made a fantastic job, because he’s able to fuse the work from Japan with very strong work in Italy,” said Rossi. “And especially he is able to convince the Japanese to work together with the Europeans and Italians and they make a very strong team. I think it’s for this.”
Brivio was Rossi’s Yamaha team manager during his title-winning years on the M1, while Rossi’s VR46 team has been linked with a possible supply of satellite Suzuki machines should it move up to MotoGP in 2022.
Rossi starts Sunday’s race looking to score his first MotoGP points since a fourth-place at Misano 1, having then fallen at Misano 2, Barcelona and Le Mans.
Team-mate Vinales will start from pit lane after needing to use an extra engine, his sixth for the season so far.