It's hard to remember a GP as problematic as the last for the Movistar Yamaha Factory Team—if there ever was one. From the first moment of the race weekend, the team’s two riders Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales entered into a kind of downward spiral they couldn’t escape all weekend. The result on Sunday, a surprising eighth in Rossi’s case, and an even more disappointing tenth on the part of Viñales, was the final result of what turned out to be a tremendous fiasco of a race weekend.
Asking what happened with Yamaha at Montmeló last weekend is necessary. Well, to be more precise, what happened with the 2017 M1, because in Barcelona, Johann Zarco’s and Jonas Folger’s 2016 M1 did work, and not too badly either. Zarco finished fifth, with Folger right behind in sixth.
Maverick Viñales was the most flustered on Sunday afternoon, obviously growing tired of saying that he didn’t understand what happened. Without mentioning it directly, but clearly and repeatedly between the lines, the still current leader of the World Championship pointed to the Michelins. From him came phrases such as "I don’t know what’s going on, but every time I make some progress in the championship, something happens" or "I won’t continue talking about tires because I feel like I’m repeating myself."
"I felt unbeatable in the first few races; Here I finished tenth and would have finished 15th if the riders in front hadn’t crashed or if some bikes hadn’t broken their engines. Michelin says that this was the price for not taking part in the test here two weeks ago, which is ridiculous, because in Argentina we didn’t test and won, and in Mugello either and we almost won the race. Our bike is perfect.”
"It couldn’t be that in Le Mans the M1 was the best bike and here the worst. I tried both the 2016 bike and the 2017 bike, and the 2017 bike is much better. I don’t know what's going on, I don’t understand, I just know I don’t like it." You can imagine that Viñales left Montmeló, his home circuit, very upset.
Only a few minutes after Viñales spoke, Valentino Rossi sat down in front of the same auditorium. "Yes, we certainly paid for not having been at the test two weeks ago," was the first thing out of his mouth. And he went on to explain what in his opinion had happened over the weekend, and the problems he has with the 2017 M1. It sounded something like: Listen to me, Maverick, and I'll explain. "It's sad that the two races I won last year, Jerez and here in Barcelona, have been our two worst races this year."
“Today we have completely missed traction. I have been forced to slow so much! I suffer too much entering the turns”, he analyzed in general. Then Rossi began to go into detail. “We need to get back the feelings of 2016, to be more competitive with less effort. I have raced with the 2016 M1 and I’m a good test rider: since the very first moment I went out on the 2017, I felt it’s been more difficult to turn. With this bike we have to be leaned over more and longer through the turn, and this stresses the tires more.”
While just a few minutes before Viñales confessed to be confused with what had happened with his bike during the weekend, Rossi explained it very clearly. “This is why we suffer. It’s true that Viñales was very competitive with this bike, and in fact he won everything at the start of the season. He was fast and competitive, and being so, it is normal to think that it was the right direction”, said the Italian, pointing to…whom? To Viñales? To Yamaha for having trusted in “the new kid in town” instead on him?
“I realize that turning back is never nice, but we need to get back the 2016 feeling. Yamaha’s strong point has always been the turn entrance and the corner speed, mine as well. With the 2017 we have lost this strength. After Jerez I asked Yamaha for certain things which we will test in the next days. Let’s hope to get back last year’s feeling.”
Regarding the strange championship so far, Valentino has been clear that, “you have to limit the damage on the bad days and capitalize when you have a good weekend; unfortunately I was not able to do so in Le Mans. With the 2017 M1 I’m having these bad sensations even when I am fast.”