Yamaha’s six MotoGP race victories this season matches the total of all other manufacturers combined (two each for Suzuki, Ducati and KTM).
But the hero-to-zero form, often from one weekend to the next, and sometimes at the same circuit, means Yamaha are now facing defeat in the riders’, teams’ and constructors’ world championships (even without the recent engine penalties, Suzuki would be equal with Yamaha for the constructors’ lead heading into the last two races).
The top Yamaha in the 12 rounds so far this season has not only swung between first and eleventh places, but shifted between all four of its riders: 1st (Quartararo), 1st (Quartararo), 2nd (Morbidelli), 5th (Rossi), 9th (Rossi), 1st (Morbidelli), 1st (Vinales) 1st (Quartararo), 9th (Quartararo), 4th (Vinales), 1st (Morbidelli) and 11th (Morbidelli).
Fabio Quartararo‘s race results have varied between 1st and 18th places, Maverick Vinales 1st and 14th, Franco Morbidelli 1st and 15th. Valentino Rossi has the most consistent finishes, between 3rd and 9th.
Yamaha’s worst event of the season came at just about the worst possible moment, with all three of the factory’s title contenders losing big ground to Suzuki’s Joan Mir at Valencia on Sunday.
Maverick Vinales was forced to start from pit lane due to an extra engine change, then Fabio Quartararo fell on lap 1 of the race and Valentino Rossi‘s bike broke down on lap 5, leaving Franco Morbidelli as best of the M1s in a lowly eleventh.
“The situation is not easy because it looks like we don’t understand something about the tyres,” said Rossi. “It’s incredible because last week a Yamaha won, with Franco, but here in Valencia we’re struggling very much with the grip.
“It’s a difficult situation, also for the engine because we have reliability problems. So it’s not a great weekend. They have to try to understand the way to improve.”
Rossi emphasised that it’s not simply the usual case of Yamaha’s rivals getting stronger as the season goes on.
“It’s true that like a lot of times happened, we are fast at the beginning of the season and afterwards looks like the other manufacturers bring a lot of new things, so they need some races to fix, and by the end of the championship they are very strong.
“But this year it depends also race-by-race because last week Franco won but here in Valencia it was difficult for all the Yamahas.
“I think and always said to them that the engine is a big problem for us because we are always slowest in the straight, but at the same time we have reliability problems. We have a lot of problems to finish the season with five engines.
“So we don’t have performance and also we don’t have enough reliability.
“Also the engine character that was for a lot of time a strong point for the Yamaha, now it looks like the other engines are more smooth in acceleration than us.
“So if you put all these problems together this is the place where we [need to improve].”
While there is an engine development freeze until the end of next season., Rossi is confident improvements to Yamaha’s engine performance can still be made for 2021 by working in areas like the electronics, exhaust and cooling.
Turning to his own brief Valencia race appearance, his first since contracting Covid and withdrawing from Aragon rounds, Rossi said:
“For me personally it’s a great shame because today I needed to ride for 27 laps to make a race and also understand also how to be stronger next week.
“But unfortunately the bike stopped and we have an electronic problem, so the engine doesn’t work but isn’t broken. Anyway I have to stop so it’s a great shame.”
Rossi had missed Friday practice while awaiting a second negative PCR test.
The Italian’s second technical DNF of the season (Yamaha’s third), added to his three consecutive falls and the Aragon withdraw, leaves him just 15th in the world championship standings.
“Valentino had an issue with his bike. We had really hoped that his return to MotoGP would have ended on a higher note. But the data collected by him and Maverick today helps the team for next week‘s Valencia GP,” said team director Massimo Meregalli, currently one of five Monster Yamaha team members in self-isolation after a positive PCR test for one of Vinales’ crew.
“We don’t always like racing at the same place twice, but in this case we want to make the most of the upcoming second round in Valencia to have a do-over.
“Despite the difficulties that we are facing, we are going to keep giving it our all. The challenge of winning the rider and constructor championship titles is really tough right now, but we‘re not going down without a fight.”
Petronas Yamaha’s Quartararo is now 37 points behind Mir with Vinales 41 adrift and Morbidelli 45 from the top with 50 points remaining.
Suzuki now has a 7-point lead over Ducati and 25-point advantage over Yamaha in the constructors’ championship.