It has been a long, long time since Valentino Rossi found himself outside of a factory team in grand prix racing, but the 2021 season sees The Doctor in the Petronas Sepang Racing Team, alongside Franco Morbidelli.
Rossi’s long racing career has bore championship fruit nine times, and while no one expects the Italian to add to that tally in the coming season, the 42-year-old can certainly surprise on race day, and certainly has some race wins still in his future.
Yamaha has withdrawn its request to unseal the engines to replace internal components which they believe caused issues for Maverick Viñales, Valentino Rossi, and Franco Morbidelli at Jerez.
Yamaha had made a formal request to the MSMA, the MotoGP manufacturers’ association, to open the engines and swap out defective parts.
What is one more press launch for today’s news cycle, am I right? A bit of a shakeup to the lineup, the Monster Energy Yamaha team debuted in Jakarta today, and as you would expect from the name, the energy drink company takes over as title sponsor from Movistar.
The names and faces are the same though, with Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales at the helm of the 2019 Yamaha YZR-M1 MotoGP race bike, which has a new livery on its side.
While the MotoGP boys are in Sepang right now, working properly on their 2018 machines (including revised aerodynamic packages), back home the teams are busy debuting their liveries for next season.
We have already seen Ducati’s new colors for 2018, and now it is Movistar Yamaha’s turn to show us the livery that Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales will wear for the coming season. No surprises here, it’s very blue.
While not too much has changed visually (these launches are becoming more a PR event, rather than a glimpse into next year’s racing machines) though Yamaha Racing have news for us that it has tied up Viñales with a two-year contract extension.
Of course, we can expect similar news from Valentino Rossi in the coming months, as the Italian is set to finish his career with Team Blue, before likely transitioning into a team owner rule inside the paddock.
All of that will come at a later day, however, and right now the 2018 MotoGP Championship season is rapidly approaching. Until the green flag waves at Qatar, we have some high-res photos of the 2018 Yamaha livery and for you to drool over.
What looked like a wasted day quickly turned around at Sepang. Tuesday started wet, the streets and circuit taking a while to dry after Monday evening’s torrential rain.
Sepang’s weakness was once again exposed: the track took a long time to dry, wet patches remaining on the track for several hours. It was not until 1pm that a few riders started to venture out, and by 2pm, the track was full with riders trying to make up for valuable lost time.
Some riders made use of the conditions, as far from ideal as they were. Jorge Lorenzo put in ten laps in the wet, and Johann Zarco put in eight laps. The reason? To help build confidence, for Lorenzo in the wet, for Zarco, to try to figure out what a MotoGP bike is capable of.
Zarco rode a pair of wet tires to destruction, feeling how the soft, moving rubber exaggerated every movement of the bike. It served as a sort of magnifying glass for how a MotoGP bike behaves, amplifying the feedback and making it much clearer to fully understand, Zarco explained. By the end of the run, he had learned a lot, and made a massive step forward.
How much difference had it made? When the red lights came on for the end of the session, Zarco’s name was still fifth on the timesheets, the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Yamaha rider less than a tenth behind Valentino Rossi, and half a second behind Maverick Viñales in second.
The Frenchman had found a way of understanding where the limits lay, without pushing himself over the edge.
On a normal day, the fastest rider at the end of a day of testing is paraded proudly in front of the press, and given his chance to explain what a good job the team and manufacturer was doing, how they were not really pushing for a lap time, and feign a certain modesty while privately gloating at how they crushed their rivals.
But this was not a normal day. The fastest man in Sepang on Monday slipped out of the circuit in virtual anonymity. After all, he is merely a test rider, and test riders don’t usually talk to the media. We journalists, snobs that we are, don’t waste our precious time on test riders.
In this case, however, it was not the media not wanting to talk to the test rider, it was the test rider not wanting to speak to the media.
One of the reasons Casey Stoner retired from racing was because he was sick of the media circus, of spending his life living out of a suitcase and answering stupid and prying questions from idiots like me.
But he still loves challenging himself on a MotoGP bike, and trying to see just how fast he can go. And Ducati are happy to pay him handsomely for the privilege. After Monday, who can blame them?
In a few hours time, the grandstands at the Sepang International Circuit will echo with the booming assault of MotoGP machines being pushed to their limits. The entire MotoGP grid has assembled for the first test of the preseason, meaning that the 2017 MotoGP season is about to get underway, at last.
That, at least, is the plan. The reality is that the grandstands may echo only to the sporadic rasp of a MotoGP bike being warmed up, and the occasional intrepid test rider being sent out to test conditions.
The resurfaced Sepang continues to be plagued by drainage problems, water remaining on the track for a long time. In high humidity, relatively low track temperatures and without the burning tropical sun, the water left by unusually heavy rains is not evaporating.
Parts of the track remain wet all day, making it impossible to push the bikes to the limit, and very risky to try.
Suzuki team boss Davide Brivio expressed the concerns shared by most teams.
“You never know how many hours you can test, because the track remains wet for a long time. And if it rains a lot in the evening, maybe you have to wait a long time in the morning. So it’s a little bit of a question mark now, how much you can test.”
Yamaha have kicked off the 2017 MotoGP season. The Movistar Yamaha MotoGP team were the first to present their bike, their riders, their team, and most importantly, their sponsors and color scheme to the world.
Launches being what they are – a show primarily put on for the benefit of their sponsors – there was nothing radical to see.
The bikes on display had been painted in the correct colors – the Yamaha blue a little darker, the Movistar M a lot bigger, Monster’s sponsorship being visually demoted a little further, the green claw M looking a little too much like Movistar’s M – but they were not the actual 2017 bikes, the eagle-eyed MotoGP technical blogger Manziana spotted.
That is unsurprising, if a little disappointing. It makes little sense for Yamaha to fly new bikes halfway around the world from Japan to Spain just to put them on display, then pack them up again to fly them back to Sepang for the tests.
More disappointing is the news broken by GPOne.com, that Ducati are to present what is basically a GP16 in 2017 colors.
It was billed as the launch of Yamaha’s 2017 MotoGP team, though it read more like a poorly choreographed Telefonica advertisement.
Yet, today was our first chance to see Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales dressed up in their new leathers, and our first chance at seeing the Yamaha YZR-M1 in its new livery.
Of course, the bike on display at the media launch is very different from the one that we will see take to tracks for the 2017, with Yamaha still exploring different aerodynamic packages before the start of the new season.
While the technical changes might be fewer than expected, the addition of Viñales to the Movistar Yamaha garage is sure to shake things up quite a bit. The Spaniard has already shown himself to be a quick study of the YZR-M1, which is sure to create some friction on the other side of the garage.
To his credit, Valentino Rossi looks to be in the form of his life, and has a keen on eye on making it 10 Grand Prix victories in the premier class.
All things considered, this formula is looking to be a potent recipe for a stellar 2017 MotoGP season. Note: the images we have of the Yamaha YZR-M1 are really big. The biggest. They’re yuge!
The disadvantage of reporting on your home race is that during the media debriefs, the period when riders speak to the press, they turn to you and ask, “So what’s the weather going to do?”
Living in The Netherlands, Assen is my home race, and so this weekend, it is me they are asking about the weather. There is only one honest answer I can give them. “This is Assen. Anything can happen.”
The weather has been a constant topic of discussion. Weather apps and weather websites have been compared, and each of them says something different. Some say it will only rain heavily on Sunday. Others say Sunday will be dry, and the rain will fall on Saturday.
Check another site, and it says rain overnight, but only heavy clouds during the day, with the risk of rain at a minimum. Which site to believe? This is Assen. Anything can happen.
There was a sense of nervousness in both FP1 and FP2 for the MotoGP class. Riders pushed late to chase a lap good enough to put them into the top ten, and automatic entry into Q2.
Some, like Bradley Smith, got their strategy wrong, went out on a hard rear tire instead of a medium, and ended up languishing down the order. Others, like Dani Pedrosa, were just having a dismal time. “No improvement from FP1 to FP2, no improvement on different tires, and no feeling with the bike.”
One statistic captured the state of play in Argentina after the first day of practice. Of the eighty-three (83!) Grand Prix riders who took to the track on Friday, just a single rider failed to improve their time from FP1 to FP2.
That rider was Tatsuki Suzuki, and the reason he did not manage to improve his time was because he crashed early in the session, leaving himself too little time to go faster.
Why is this remarkable? Normally, there would be somewhere between four and eight riders who do not manage to improve their time between sessions on Friday.
At Mugello in 2015, for example, there were six in MotoGP, five in Moto2, and eleven in Moto3, a grand total of twenty-two, and broadly representative of a normal race weekend. The fact that almost everyone managed to go faster illustrated the problem with the track perfectly.
The problem? The track is filthy, to put it simply. As a result of a lack of use, the dust and dirt which settles on any uncovered surface just settles into the asphalt, and is never swept from the track.
With no bikes or cars circulating regularly, the track remains green, its virgin surface unsullied by the dark rubber of motorized monsters. No vehicles on track means no grip.