After pinballing up and down the MotoGP results all year, Maverick Vinales is now in no doubt that “we made a mistake” when selecting the 2020 Factory-spec Yamaha: “Last year’s bike was more competitive in all the tracks, not only a few.”
Yamaha has won six of the 12 races so far this season, but hero-to-zero form for leading riders Vinales and Fabio Quartararo means the factory is now on the verge of losing all three world championships to Suzuki (two race wins).
Compounding the misery for Vinales and Quartararo is that Franco Morbidelli, riding the lower A-Spec bike heavily based on the 2019 machine, has often been more competitive than the Factory riders.
That trend continued during qualifying at Valencia with Morbidelli on pole position, Vinales 6th, Quartararo 11th and Valentino Rossi 16th.
Morbidelli, already a double race winner this season, is now just eight points away from finishing as the top Yamaha rider in the world championship, raising questions about the changes made for this season’s Factory-Spec machine.
“For me the most important thing right now is to try and understand what we need to do for next year, especially about the situation of the rear grip because sometimes we suffer a lot,” Vinales said.
“We always have the same problem, especially on gas, that the tyre slides. But we improved a few other areas that gives me a lot of confidence, so overall I’m happy.
“We improved a lot the braking and the entry into the corner, but we didn’t touch the acceleration after FP1 because the more that we do to the grip area we get worse in the other areas.
“Let’s see if tomorrow I can make an improvement on the rear grip and we can make a better lap time. At the moment, I can ride ’31-mid, low for a few laps. Which is good to be in the top six. So we will try to improve tomorrow morning. If not, we’ll focus on that in the next race in Portimao.
“It’s important to give a direction to Yamaha because right now with the new bike we are a little bit lost. So we need to find a good direction that they can work in over the winter to bring something that really works on the bike.”
2019 and 2020 M1: ‘Everything is different’
Monster Yamaha team-mate Valentino Rossi has played down the difference between the Factory and A-Spec bikes (or 2020 and 2019 machines), saying on Saturday:
“For me the feeling when you ride is very, very similar. So the problem is not that the new bike is worse than the old bike, for me, but the problem is that it’s very similar. So we are not able to make the step to improve.”
But both Quartararo and Vinales have been increasingly vocal about what they feel is a radical difference in behaviour with the 2020, Quartararo spending another day turning his bike upside down but still unable to trigger much of a reaction from it.
“Pretty bad,” Quartararo said of his Saturday. “Because I think the amount of changes that we did this weekend is much more than we did all last year.
“We make big changes, because we really think it is going to work, and every time it’s the same.
“I don’t think we are doing stupid things, we always trying to improve and do smart steps, but nothing is really working
“But right now, apart from Franco, who has a different bike to us, we [Factory-spec Yamahas] are all running in a bad way.
“Normally, qualifying is my strongest point. You put a new tyre on for me and I just go to the limit. And right now, the limit is seven-tenths behind Franco.”
Vinales revealed that the changes made for the 2020 Factory-Spec M1 are so great that he no longer tries to compare Morbidelli’s data.
“It’s a totally different bike,” Vinales said. “That’s why we get lost when we look at Franco [data] because – different engine, different engine brake, different power, different torque, different chassis, different swingarm. Everything is different. So what we do is focus on our 2020 bike and see if we can improve.”
‘It looks like we made a mistake with the bike’
The 2020 Factory-Spec bike has won three races in the hands of Quartararo and one with Vinales. Far from a disaster.
But the problem in terms of winning a world championship is that, while the new bike is “amazing” at high grip tracks, performance plummets when grip is low.
“The area where we need to improve is on banking and the first metres of acceleration,” Vinales said. “I think it’s where we lost completely the grip.
“Because if the track has grip the bike is working fantastic. You don’t need to do anything. Just ride it. But as soon as we lose grip then it’s not turning, or it’s sliding a lot, or we don’t have the initial acceleration.
“At the end you only make the bike better if there is grip on the track. If there is no grip on the track you will struggle. This weekend, we concentrated to work without grip [including using the hard rear tyre in FP1], which is a good way to understand what we need to do for next year.”
Intriguingly, Vinales said he felt the grip problems with the 2020 bike right from the opening test of the year at Sepang. But by then it seems it was already too late to change back to the 2019.
“In the winter, I tested the 2019 and 2020, and the 2020 bike was not better until there was a lot of grip on the track,” Vinales explained.
“When I tried the bike in Sepang I felt this and told immediately to all the staff.
“My information was good and I said in Sepang, straight away, which bike I want for this year.
“But it [Factory-Spec] was the bike we needed to ride for 2020, so I concentrated to make the bike better. If we look back, maybe we would choose another thing…
“At the end it looks like we made a mistake with the bike, for sure. Because last year’s bike for me was more competitive in all the tracks, not only a few tracks.
“I think the decision is about the group. For sure when one makes a mistake, we all make a mistake because we need to ride with this bike.
“So we will need to pay a lot of attention for [next year], but I think and I hope this is the last time, that we learned a lot and we will try to choose the correct decision for the future.
“It’s four years that we are doing mistakes, choosing the wrong things, looking to develop for me wrong ways. I hope next year with the Yamaha we can build up a complete bike for all the season, not just 4-5 races.”
‘This engine is a little bit of a nightmare’
Complicating Yamaha’s 2021 to-do list is a ban on engine development until the end of next season.
An illegal and ultimately fragile mix of valve suppliers in the current engines has already cost Yamaha constructors’ and teams’ points, while its riders have been forced to spend much of the season using just 2-3 out of their 5 engines. Vinales then needed a 6th engine last weekend, resulting in a pit lane start.
But it’s not just poor top speed and reliability, Rossi has spoken of a lack of smoothness from the latest Factory-Spec engine, traditionally one of Yamaha’s strengths.
Vinales said the engine is adding to the inconsistency.
“It’s a shame that next year we cannot change the engine because this engine is a little bit of let’s say a nightmare for us, because one time work, another time not work. So it’s difficult to get a consistency,” Vinales said.
“But anyway now we have two-three months to work on the chassis and see if we can make a big improvement on the chassis, because it seems that the bike from last year turns a little bit more and has more grip and that’s something we miss.
“If we want to do the riding style of Yamaha we need much more grip from the tyres. Sometimes it looks like both tyres slide a lot when you are on banking and you are not able to turn.”
Vinales and Quartararo will then become team-mates at Monster Yamaha next season, with Rossi moving alongside Morbidelli at Petronas. Morbidelli will again have the only A-Spec bike in 2021.
After next weekend’s Portimao finale there will be no official MotoGP testing until Sepang in February 2021, followed by a second and final test in Qatar.