The gulf in performance between Franco Morbidelli and the Factory-Spec Yamaha riders during the end of last season prompted the likes of Maverick Vinales and especially Fabio Quartararo to wish they were also on the older A-Spec bike.
It was especially frustrating for Quartararo, Morbidelli’s Petronas team-mate and long-time title leader, who had pushed to get a Factory-Spec machine as part of his future switch to the Monster Yamaha team.
But while the Factory-Spec won four times with Quartararo (three) and Vinales (one) it was too inconsistent over the 14-round season. By contrast, no-one scored more points than Morbidelli (81) over the final six races, propelling the Italian to second behind Joan Mir in the world championship.
Vinales scored 42 points over those same six events, and Quartararo just 19.
The main visible difference for the Factory-Spec is a revised air box to improve top speed, but by the closing stages of last season there was speculation that 2021 Monster Yamaha team-mates Vinales and Quartararo might well request a Morbidelli bike to compare with during pre-season testing.
That remains to be seen, but Yamaha appears to have heard the message from its riders and, after analysing data from the Factory and A-Spec, will try and move the new Factory bike ‘closer to Frankie’s chassis’.
“Last year, we had three bikes with the same Factory-Spec, plus the [A-Spec] bike that Frankie used, and where Frankie was competitive, the Factory was not, or the opposite,” said team director Massimo Meregalli.
“That’s why Yamaha really put a lot of effort into trying to find the better balance [between] these two bikes.
“Mainly it is the chassis, I think,” he added. “[Yamaha] could really see what worked last year and what didn’t by comparing the two bike specifications.
“For sure they could understand the weak point of the Factory bike and the strong point of Frankie’s bike. So this is a match that in Japan they are really working on.
“I remember for example in 2016 we had a really solid base, that the bike was working well in most of the circuits and Frankie’s [A-Spec] bike was more similar to that one.
“So for sure the direction that Yamaha has taken for this year’s [Factory] bike is to go closer to Frankie’s chassis compared to what we had in the Factory team last year.
“We suffered with the lack of grip, it was sometimes very difficult to adapt the set-up of our bike in every circuit.
“The biggest challenge is the consistency that we couldn’t get last year and to find a more adaptable bike, for me that’s really the target.”
Rossi, swapping places with Quartararo, will join Vinales and Quartararo in remaining on a Factory-Spec machine, with Morbidelli likewise keeping the A-Spec.
Fabio Quartararo’s Factory-Spec Yamaha (left) and Franco Morbidelli’s A-Spec (right).
‘Yamaha can’t remember when they prepared so many parts’
Meregalli also assured that, although Yamaha (like Suzuki) hasn’t joined Honda, Ducati, Aprilia and KTM in private testing so far this year, they have plenty of new parts for the official tests in Qatar next month.
“In Qatar, we are going to bring a lot of material,” Meregalli said. “I have been told they don’t remember in Japan the last time they have been able to prepare so many parts.
“We will bring our full testing team [with new factory test rider Cal Crutchlow], plus the four contracted riders. The testing plan for material will be shared by all the riders.
“We will introduce a new aero body in Qatar for the test. This fairing has been designed for two main targets: the first target is to try to improve the speed, but also to improve the cooling, because last year we suffered a lot with the heat. That’s another area where in Japan they are really focused on.
“And then we will work on chassis, on swingarm, to try to improve the handling, and this balance that we mentioned. Also we are developing a new exhaust. We are not able to touch the current engine, but we are really working around it to try to improve the performance of the bike.
“Last year in Valencia, Frankie with an engine with a lot of mileage had extremely good acceleration. That’s an area we are trying to improve again, because with acceleration, we can gain some power that maybe we miss at the end of the straight.
“With our bike, the way the rider has to use the M1, you have to really take the most of the qualifying to start in the front row and then lead the race. Because if you have to fight through from behind, you are forced to ride the bike in a way that is not performing.
“So the first part of the race is where Maverick [especially] has to work more. And we believe that this year, the package he will have, it will give him additional power to be very fast from the beginning,.
“That’s also another area where our engineers in Japan are working.”
Meregalli is confident that the five days of pre-season testing, all at Losail, will be enough for the riders to know if solutions have been found.
“Last year since the moment that both Factory riders chose this [bike] specification, they always complained about the difficulties from the moment that they brake and release the brake, the bike didn’t want to turn,” he explained.
“Probably this characteristic was already there in the Sepang and Qatar [tests] last year. So I think that if they feel the problem has been solved in Qatar [this year], then it will be solved in all the other circuits.”