MotoGP: Rollercoaster of a year so far for Movistar Yamaha

In the first of a series of mid-season reviews in the MotoGP class, we look back at the 20117 season so far starting with Movistar Yamaha who enter the summer break with both riders within 10 points of the championship lead.

MotoGP: Rollercoaster of a year so far for Movistar Yamaha
MotoGP: Rollercoaster of a year so far for Movistar Yamaha

After nine action-packed rounds the MotoGP class have essentially ‘broken-up’ for summer. While we struggle with coming to terms that there will be no MotoGP for four weeks, the riders are getting a chance to take a well-deserved rest, for some it’s a chance to holiday and others a chance to recuperate, and for many a chance to down tools and return home to family and friends.

We will be completing a series of mid-season reviews beginning with Movistar Yamaha. It’s been an exciting few months witnessing both Valentino Rossi and newbie in the team, Maverick Vinales take on 2017, with both having spent time leading the championship.

Fantastic start to the season for Movistar Yamaha

It was a great start to the season in the blue camp, especially for Vinales as he won the two opening rounds. Without ever actually saying it, it seems that Vinales has one clear goal since moving to the championship winning team, and that is to earn that title himself.

There was a lot of speculation around Vinales in 2016 surrounding what direction he would choose to take in his career, and although he had wanted to bring Team Suzuki Ecstar back to winning ways, he chose to make the leap rather than miss an opportunity.

Vinales drew attention with performance on new machinery

After the final round in Valencia, it was time for everyone to get their first go of their new machinery. A lot of attention surrounded Jorge Lorenzo whose move to Ducati sparked the whole bout of movement in the paddock. And while everyone expected him to achieve great things with a machine that has championship winning potential (as Casey Stoner was the last man to win it with the Italian manufacturer), they in a way overlooked and as a surprise got a surprise from Vinales.

On his first day of testing with his new bike, he took to it like a fish to water it seems as he topped the timesheets. It wasn’t a one off or a fluke, as he finished the test on top. He then finished the following tests in Sepang and Phillip Island on top too. Maybe it was just because he made sure he completed a time-attack, or was it because he was actually going to be competitive?

 

Vinales proves to be competitive when racing too

It was the latter as he proved on the opening round of the season in Qatar, on his debut with Movistar Yamaha, he won from pole he was awarded it after Free Practice 3 as the rain was to prove too dangerous to ride in at the floodlit track when they were supposed to complete Qualifying. This was after passing initial race leader, Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) who as a rookie in the class shocked everyone with his performance before he unfortunately crashed out.

Rossi after title number ten

For his new teammate, the race that almost didn’t go ahead because rain threatened again, was much harder as he had to start from 13th on the grid. It has been public knowledge for some while that the nine times world champion has been on a quest to get title number 10, and he proved he was still as competitive as the youngsters when he finished the season opener on the podium in third; Dovizioso was the filling in a Movistar Yamaha sandwich in both the race and the championship.

Rossi looked to win again in Argentina

Onto Argentina where Rossi was victorious the previous year for round two of the season which would also be his 350th Grand Prix start, however starting from sixth on the grid, Vinales once again took the win. Was this how it was going to be? Vinales, on his new machinery was going to be unstoppable? When would his reign end? Was it all going to come into jeopardy by a certain French rookie on similar machinery?

The second round was to prove more difficult in the build-up to the race. Free Practice 3 saw Rossi finish 12th and so the Italian had to use Qualifying 1 to progress to Qualifying 2 to start from at least the front four rows in the race. He finished Qualifying 1 second behind Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) but he was to overcome this ‘glitch’.

Zarco flying for Yamaha

Rossi qualified on seventh on the grid, and had a strong race again progressing through the ranks, but when he crossed the finish line his teammate was once again faster! As happy as he must have been, he must have been weary that he was under stiff competition, from his own teammate and Zarco who led

The Italian had done everything he could to prepare for the season. He lost weight that he didn’t have to lose, and looked almost unwell due to the pounds he had lost to help him go quicker on the bike (as he would have been lighter). He was strong, but how was his new teammate going faster? Vinales was leading the championship with 50 points, Rossi was second but 10 points behind already.

Time to break Hondas reign in Texas?

On to Texas, where the riders met for round three at the Circuit of the Americas; a track that is usually dominated by the 2016 MotoGP champion, Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda).  Despite being quickest in the first three Free Practice sessions, Vinales’ reign was come to an end as first Marquez topped FP4, and then pipped him to pole during Qualifying. Vinales was second on the grid, and Rossi third.

Trouble in the Movistar Yamaha camp…

During Qualifying, there was a slight ruction between the two teammates as Rossi spoiled Vinales lap. Rossi was unaware however as he tends not to look behind himself on track, but Vinales was keen to share his thoughts with the world when he gestured angrily at the Italian.

Initially Pedrosa led, ahead of Marquez, and the Movistar Yamaha riders followed on. A short dual between the two saw Vinales attempt to pass Rossi, before he lost a place to Lorenzo who benefited from spoiled momentum. Things went from bad to worse for the Spaniard, as he crashed out at turn 18 on the second lap… his streak was over.

Rossi continued on at COTA and after dropping off the pace set by the Repsol Honda teammates, he found himself under pressure from Zarco who passed Lorenzo and now had him in his sights. Zarco was not shy in making a move on the MotoGP veteran, and when he attempted to pass on the inside of turn four, Rossi acted to avoid a collision and ran wide.

Rossi overcome penalty to claim second at COTA

Race Control deemed Rossi to having had gained an advantage and so issued him with a 0.3 second penalty to be added on at the end of the race. Unaware possibly of his fate, Rossi continued o ahead of Zarco and eventually caught Pedrosa who lost out on the lead to Marquez. Pedrosa would remain second however if he could stick with the Italian but instead Rossi opened up another gap as he pursued Marquez.

Rossi finished second in COTA, but with Vinales collecting a DNF and Rossi picking up 20 points, he became the championship leader and now had a six point cushion over Vinales.

Off to Europe for the first round in Spain

Next stop was the first of the European rounds, and heading into the Gran Premio Red Bull de Espana, Pedrosa looked like the favourite to win one of his home rounds. Quickest during all but FP4, he was on pole but Vinales was quickest during the morning warm-up session. There was no stopping Pedrosa however, and despite it having been a potential fantastic feeling to win on home turf, Vinales and Rossi were unable to pull it off. Instead both Vinales and Rossi experienced a severe lack of rear grip from the Michelin Power Slicks and where Vinales was able to recover positions later on in the race, Rossi had to settle for a finish.

 

Difficult first European round but Rossi still led championship

Vinales had a strong finish, overtaking Dovizioso and Rossi in one manoeuvre, but then he had a near miss when he almost found ‘the limit’ before settling for points over positions. To add insult to injury, Zarco on the independent team Yamaha was fourth missing out on a podium by around three seconds. Vinales finished up sixth, and Rossi was 10th as the lowest placed Yamaha as rookie, Jonas Folger (Monster Yamaha Tech3) was eighth in Jerez.

Rossi remained the championship leader despite the poor result but the Hondas gained valuable points on him and Vinales. Rossi led after four rounds with 62 points, and Vinales was now two behind with 60. Marquez’s win meant he was a further two behind o 58 points, and Pedrosa’s win in Jerez mean he was on 52 points.

Rain mixed everything up in Le Mans

There was no telling who would win in Le Mans, the fifth round of the season, when looking at the results of the build-up. Jack Miller (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) was quickest during FP1, rain hit and Dovizioso was quickest during FP2, but Miller ended the first day quickest overall. Scott Redding (Octo Pramac Racing) led the way during FP3, but then Vinales took over during FP4. On combined times, the Movistar Yamaha riders were able to progress through to Qualifying 2 automatically, and making up for a poor previous result they resumed the top two positions with Vinales on pole and Rossi second.

Vinales led into turn one but by the 10th turn lost the lead to that legendary rookie again, before coming under pressure from both Ross who had plucked off Marquez. Soon Vinales reclaimed the lead from Zarco and Rossi was able to also pass him on lap 23 before turning his attention to Vinales. Just a lap later, Rossi made the same amazing move on Vinales at the chicane, which saw him turn in such a small space, and took the lead. Vinales tried to stick with Rossi but ran off on the next lap.

 

Disaster with corners of the Le Mans Grand Prix to go

It looked like Rossi was on for the win, what would be his first in a long time. Vinales continued to put the Italian under pressure and then disaster struck. Rossi accelerated out of turn 11, three corners before the finish line, and spun the rear tyre. He came off his bike and ended up in the gravel.

Marshalls ran to his aid to try and get him restarted but there was nothing they could do, the M1 was having none of it. It was heart-breaking to see the 38 year old as he placed his head on the bike and more than likely cried in his helmet; he was so deflated knowing he had thrown that win and the championship lead away.

Vinales wins, takes championship lead back from teammate and hits anniversary for Yamaha

Not only that, but Vinales went on to win the HJC Helmets Grand Prix de France in Le Mans and celebrated what turned out to be Yamaha’s 500th Grand Prix win! Both riders had contributed, Rossi 114 and Vinales now three, but Rossi would have wanted to reach that milestone more than anyone. Had he crossed the line as winner, and as well set a new Circuit Record Lap.

It would have been an extra special podium as in Le Mans it would have been Yamaha 1, 2, 3 as Zarco scored his first podium on home turf, finishing second because of the crash.

Vinales led the championship after Le Mans, his 25 points from the victory left him on top once again with now 85 points, and Rossi remained on 62 but lost two positions in the championship as Pedrosa who was third in Le Mans gained from the DNF too; the Spaniard was on 68 points.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Injury worries before for Rossi before home round in Mugello

Instead, Rossi had to look to Mugello at the sixth round of the season to claim his victory instead but before he got there things went from bad to worse for the Italian. News emerged that he had been taken to hospital following a Motocross training incident before the following race that saw him suffer abdominal trauma.

Still come Mugello things looked promising as he led the way at the end of FP3. It was a struggle for him however as despite a strong start from second on the grid under a yellow fog and surrounded by 98,000 adorning fans, once again behind Vinales on pole, he was mobbed by the factory Ducati riders down the start-finish straight. He tried to retaliate at turn one, but Dovizioso performed the same move to him leaving him to fend off Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Racing).

An Italian did win in Italy, however it was Dovizioso who won on Italian machinery; breaking a long standing record. Vinales finished in second extending his lead further over his teammate in the championship, and Petrucci collected an emotional podium in third. Rossi had to settle for fourth, which meant that Vinales’ lead (105 points) grew by another seven points over Rossi (75 points) and Dovizioso remained ahead of him on 79 points.

 

Back to Spain for round seven

It was back to Spain for round seven of the season, the Gran Premi Monster Energy de Catalunya at the Circuit de Barcelona; another chance for Vinales to claim a victory on home turf. As they returned shortly after the first anniversary of the death of Luis Salom, they were met with a modified track that was adapted to bypass the corner where he lost his life.

The new layout caused so much confusion (especially for Miller) and proved difficult with the newly laid and bumpy tarmac, that it was decided after a Safety Commission meeting that they would resort to the layout they relied on the year previous after the incident.

It was another weekend that was going to prove difficult for the factory Yamahas as Rossi and Vinales failed to finish in the top 10 during FP3 and so had to again rely on Qualifying 1; Zarco was the only one able to progress. But out of the three Yamaha riders in Q1, it was rookie Folger and Vinales who would finish top two, with Rossi finishing third meaning he started from the front of row five in 13th. Vinales was able to recover positions starting from ninth.

Pedrosa was on pole and it was intense before the race as crashes were expected; especially as the likes of Marquez had come off five times and tripped up once before it began. Pedrosa had a fantastic start and Marquez was nearly taken out when side-swiped by Petrucci as they left the grid. On the opening lap Rossi once again found himself under attack from Zarco, whereas Vinales was battling with the pilot of his old bike, Andrea Iannone on the Team Suzuki Ecstar GSX-RR.

 

Difficult weekend in Spain

It appears the Movistar Yamaha team didn’t get a look in in Spain, as it was the Ducatis and Hondas that were left to battle it out. It was the independent team riders who were again more competitive as they battled for the title of top Yamaha while Rossi finished eighth and Vinales two places behind in 10th.

The previous win meant that Vinales was hanging on to the championship lead by seven points. Dovizioso’s back-to-back wins (as he won in Barcelona) enabled to close that gap on the Spaniard and extend it over Rossi who dropped another position behind Marquez.

 

Time for Assen where history was made…

Having to draw a line under Catalunya and move on from it, it was onto Assen for the team but as it was the year previous, the TT Circuit Assen in the Netherlands was once again was hindered by rain. It once again divided the riders, and mixed up the results.

Vinales was quickest on the opening day, and Rossi appeared strong in the wet on day two but again, that rookie Zarco managed to secure pole with a his last lap that saw him bump Marquez down to second and Petrucci down to third. Rossi was fourth on the grid, and continuing with his misfortune, Vinales was down in 11th.

Rossi claims first win in 385 days

All the races in Assen were extraordinary, there were 11 fighting for the podium in the Moto3 and  five for the podium in Moto2. But the MotoGP result was to steal the show as it finally happened…the drought was over! A whole 385 days after his last victory, Rossi returned to winning in ways when he beat Petrucci to the line with an incredible and emotional win at the Motul TT Assen.

Yamaha rookie on pole in Assen

Using his pole position to his advantage, Zarco initially took the lead. Seeing this, Rossi plucked off Marquez before turning his attention to the French rookie. He passed him ad led for the majority of the race until Petrucci came along. The Italian had surged through the pack and did not lose confidence when white flags were waved after a rain shower hit, that identified that they were able to return to the pits to change bikes if they wish.

Rossi eased up on track which enable Dovizioso and Petrucci to catch him, but eventually Dovizioso dropped off and ended up I a battle for third, and a run-in with back markers saw Rossi cross the line 0.063 seconds ahead of Petrucci.

 

Huge relief for Rossi after securing win

It was clear to see that Rossi was relived to finally win again in the MotoGP. What became his 115th win meant that he now had 20 years of race winning experience under his leathers on the top level… amazing. He recovered vital championship points and allowed him to take third back from Marquez.

He was still behind Dovizioso, whose third helped him to extend his lead, and now with Vinales having a disaster of a round in Assen as he crashed out with 15 laps remaining in a big way, that fortunately he was uninjured from, the gap between the teammates was now even smaller.

 After a string of poor results for the two, Rossi’s win was a huge relief and a sign that he could still be competitive, but for Vinales it was more motivation to return to his winning ways experienced at the start of the season.

 

Where would Germany leave them?

The final round before the summer break took place at the Sachsenring where they met for round nine, the Go Pro Motorrad Grand Prix Deutschland. A second win for Rossi would have been a dream but the last seven years previously, the German GP had dominated by Marquez who had won from pole the last four times (seven throughout the different classes). Still it wasn't an excuse not to try.

Rain affected the build-up once again and Vinales and Rossi both qualified poorly; in the top 12 but down in ninth for Rossi and 11th for Vinales. Rossi, who was said to be running with the new chassis on the bike broke down twice due to what was suspected to be fuel pump issues.

They would have to try and do their usual Sunday trick and make up for lost positions there. But all eyes were drawn to a different Yamaha rider as rookie Folger passed Marquez, led on home turf, but then unfortunately made a mistake and lost the lead and then essentially the win; but he sure put up one hell of a battle for it.

 

Yamaha remain in touch with new championship leader

The weather threatened to change for the worse again before the race but Marquez was able to maintain and add to his record. The Movistar Yamaha boys ended up in a battle for fourth with Dovizioso after Vinales had surged through the pack making up positions with his quick pace. When Vinales got to the front it seemed he might have been able to bring the small group up to contend with Pedrosa for the final podium spot but they ran out of time.

Marquez won, Folger was second, Pedrosa third and Vinales and Rossi where fifth and sixth. Folger and Pedrosa’s podiums helped to mix things up on the championship standings even further. Marquez’s win left him top, heading into the summer break on 129 points. Vinales’ fourth means he is second on 124 points. Dovizioso lags him by one point and Rossi is fourth on 119 points. There are just 0 points covering the top 10. It is closer than ever, there is no saying who will win, all we know is they have to use this summer break wisely to become more motivated than ever to return strong, remain competitive, and strong willed o earn that 2017 MotoGP title.

 

Rollercoaster of a season so far for Movistar Yamaha

It has been one hell of a rollercoaster of a season so far for the Movistar Yamaha camp, so how has it been such a drastic change in the results? For Vinales to go to winning ways, and to then struggle to remain in the top 10 is unexpected since he dominated so much earlier on. Rossi’s determination, and some luck, helped to get him that win. But how can a team who were doing so well at the start, be struggling so much in comparison as they reach the halfway point?

It seems Vinales was unable to confirm or deny what chassis he was using whilst in Germany. The 2017 chassis is said to be the 2016 chassis but with some modifications but apparently there are limited in terms of availability; only Rossi is meant to have it. Rossi is said to prefer the 2016 one but Vinales prefers the older spec.

After the final round before the summer break Vinales said, “We are quite happy” as he felt that they “did a good job to recover the maximum positions”. However he left knowing that they “still need to improve the bike”.

Moving forward he has a plan to “work a little bit more, especially in qualifying and preparing better for the race” as the grid positions low down mean they have a whole load of work to do before fighting for podium positions, rather than being able to have the comfort of extending and then defending a lead. He feels it is “all in [their] hands to try to make it better” and his aim over the summer break is to “try to improve [his riding style” and also to “come back stronger and fitter”.

Well-deserved rest for the Spaniard

Vinales has had a lot to overcome in his first season so far with the Movistar Yamaha team. His drop in confidence due to mixed results after fantastic wins at the start will possibly play heavy on his mind. He also appears to have quite an intense rivalry with Marquez that has grown since he made the switch to the new machinery.

On occasion the two have been seen getting in each other’s way at vital times during the likes of Qualifying when one or the other has been doing a flying lap, the other appears to have gotten in their way; the latest was during day two in Germany. Is Marquez worried? Vinales is oozing potential after all and is clearly after that crown… surely Vinales will want him to be aware, and he may use that break to make a start as good as he did to the first half, to the second half of the season as well.

 

What can Rossi bring after the summer break?

For Rossi, the win will have given him not only a boost in confidence, but reassurance that he is still more than capable of winning and dominating. He has won one and come close, but remained consistent this year. This will pay off, points are vital but another win will be extra sweet.

In Germany, Rossi felt like he had overcome what was a “difficult weekend” where he felt they had “suffered a lot”; something that he feels has happened “at other tracks this year”. Not blaming the bike or anything, he was happy with his overall pace and salvaging championship points. His aim for the summer was to work on his fitness but not before “two weeks of staying with friends recharging [his] batteries”. For the latter two weeks he said he would “start to train” so that they can “arrive in Brno ready, at a 100% fitness level”.

Not a bad start to the season overall…

I suppose it hasn’t been so bad for the Movistar Yamaha team. Nine rounds in they have scored four wins and eight podium places, and the fact that it is so close just makes the whole thing that much more exciting. Who will benefit from the summer break the most with? And even more importantly, who is going to get that title? They are still very much in the runnings for both the riders and manufacturers.


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