“I’m more concerned about the future than the present,” admitted Valentino Rossi in Japan. “Since we are out of the fight of the championship, these remaining races are important – especially thinking about next year.”
And there it is. Nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi has admitted defeat after Yamaha suffered another wet weather nightmare at Motegi’s MotoGP round and is now thinking about next season. Team-mate Maverick Vinales is of the same mindset.
Their laptimes and results in Japan accurately reflected the difficult situation that Rossi and Vinales had announced already at the end of day one at Motegi with Rossi crashing after a good start and Vinales ninth, behind pole-setter Johann Zarco.
At the end of Friday’s second practice Rossi declared: “No way. We have no rear grip. We tried everything with the bike, but we struggled so much in these mixed and wet conditions.” Vinales concurred: “The whole year we haven’t been confident in the wet – the bike spins a lot. We couldn’t solve the problems during the whole season, how we expect to do it in a race weekend?”
It’s not just one problem, the lack of grid is a fault of both chassis and electronics. “We are struggling a lot when there is not grip on the track. When I’m riding behind other bikes, it’s easy to understand where we lose, but then it’s no to easy to find a solution on our bike.”
Tyres could be the issue but Michelin confirmed that nothing has changed. “It’s very strange,” said Rossi. “Just look at the Yamahas on track. Even Johann Zarco, who is on a 2016 bike, he was fast in the wet, but in the last five laps he had to slow by three to four seconds a lap, from fourth he had to drop eighth position. So it doesn’t work on our bike. We have our ideas and Michelin has their ideas, we need to understand how to make these tyres work, because they work on the other bikes.”
Considering the problems the factory Yamaha riders had during the season, the fact Vinales is mathematically still in the fight for the title seems almost a miracle. “Looking at my results,” continued Rossi, “I said already in Austria or in Silverstone that despite the points, we were not in the fight for the championship because we were not fast enough. We can do good lap times in qualifying, but we suffer a lot in the race. It seems that the other bikes work better. But anyway Maverick did a good job.”
In winter testing and in the first five races, Vinales looked almost unbeatable. “It’s difficult to understand,” answered Rossi. “But the first thing is that the others improved a lot and this made the difference. Plus we are struggling. We suffer a lot on the wet and mixed conditions, while it looks like the other competitors are already fine when they enter on track. We need to solve these problems.
“It’s true that we are struggling a lot. But the target was to have better results. Honda and Ducati have improved, so we need to go ahead with development. We need to keep on working.”
So now the two riders and their respective crews, plus the myriad engineers in Japan have turned their attentions to next season.
“Our job is to give the engineers as many feedbacks and indications as possible as we have always done. The main issue now is the combination of our bike with the Michelin rear tyre,” said Rossi. We have a lot of problems in all conditions, but especially on the wet. We need to understand how to solve the problems and try different solutions. During this weekend it was always cold, but we had all different conditions in the wet with more or less water. But we kept on struggling. We need to understand”.
Will the solution be a new bike for next year? A new frame? “Sincerely I don’t know, because I don’t know the problem. It’s difficult to understand.” Did Michelin change tyres during the season? Did they bring a softer solution? “For me they are different from last year. The feeling when I ride is that the tyre is softer, but this is my sensation. I think that there is something different, Michelin say not. But it doesn’t matter. The fact is that these tyres work for Honda and Ducati. So it’s our problem. And as our competitors improved a lot, this is the reason why we couldn’t have won with the 2016 bike.”
Where does Rossi believe Yamaha engineers should focus for 2018? “I think both electronics and chassis because we need to make the rear tyre work better. Anyway, knowing how Yamaha works, I don’t expect a big revolution. This is not their philosophy. For 2017, we asked for a bike that limited rear tyre consumption. But when we are fast, we still suffer.”
Rossi’s crew chief Silvano Galbusera confirmed: “This year we have struggled a lot and the new bike hasn’t given the results we expected. On some tracks the M1 works better, but we are suffering a lot in the wet, both in terms of tyre consumption and to bring the tyres to temperature. The new chassis didn’t solve the issues we have on the wet. At Motegi on Saturday we used the extra soft for eight laps and we didn’t have an excessive consumption. The extra soft was working well also in the warm up, but then Michelin suggested us the medium tyre in case the track was drying, but it was difficult to bring into temperature the left side of the medium tyre.”
Vinales struggled badly right from the opening run in FP1. “It’s difficult to understand,” he admitted. “I nearly cannot ride the bike. The whole year we haven’t been confident in the wet – the bike spins a lot. We took the start determined to take as many points as possible, but it’s a shame when you are fighting for the title. I don’t think I’m a slow rider in the wet, but we have been struggling all the year.
“I remember we suffered already in the qualifying session in Argentina. I was sixth because I was lucky to go in the Q2 with the result in FP3. Then we suffered in Assen, Sachsenring, and also in Aragon.
“I did a good start and I push a lot since the beginning to recover positions. But I almost crashed several times, I risked a highside in the same point where Valentino crashed. It was difficult to ride. I was quite fast in the middle of the race, when I was behind Aleix Espargaro, but then the tyres dropped a lot and I was three seconds slower. It was impossible to open the throttle fully on the straight. I understood the limit and got the points that were possible.
“We are still in the fight for the title and I will I keep fighting and giving my best till there is a chance. Looking back at the season, we did good things but also two DNFS. So we need to be honest. We are 41 points behind Marc Marquez and that is a lot. The situation is not all in our hands, but I want to look forward. Now we go to Phillip Island, a track that I like.
“It has no meaning to focus if Michelin did a good job or not. It works on Honda and Ducati, the problem is ours and need to improve. The tyres are the same for everyone.”