º Engine: 999cc inline-four four-stroke º Power: 265bhp (2019) º Weight: 158kg º Number of wins: 10
When, in 2013, Rossi returned to Yamaha after his Ducati disaster the M1 wasn’t much different from the 2010 bike, except Motogp had switched to 1000cc engines.
Honda were now the major threat, largely thanks to new signing Marc Marquez. Also, their RC213V had a full seamless gearbox; a seamless ’box provides quicker and smoother shifts that improve acceleration and reduce fuel consumption. It also reduces suspension upset which allows gear-changing at higher lean angles. Yamaha introduced their seamless gearbox at Misano, but it only worked on upshifts, not downshifts.
In 2014 fuel tank capacity was reduced yet again, this time to 20 litres, and no surprise that Yamaha suffered the most. ‘My bike is very slow, when I arrive on the straight nothing happens,’ said Rossi. Yamaha’s other concern was corner entry. Marquez was proving impossible to beat, especially when attacking corners. Rossi got a new
frame with a more rigid front end, for better braking stability, and less rigid beam sections, for more flex in the corners. That said Yamaha’s biggest step up was their first fully seamless gearbox, so no need for the clutch on downshifts. Result: a more stable bike which meant riders could brake harder and later.
As luck would have it, the following year, Honda went the wrong way with engine spec and Yamaha capitalised thanks to an M1 that in the last year of Bridgestone tyres was as close to perfection as possible. Rossi’s main problem was qualifying, because he struggled to reach maximum speed in the 15-minute qualifying format. Without that issue he might’ve won the title.
As usual his chassis set-up was different to that of team-mate Jorge Lorenzo, who won the title with an amazing seven start-to-finish wins. And then, in 2016, the move to Michelin tyres and spec software changed everything. Thus began Yamaha’s greatest struggle: fixing chassis balance and traction balance. They tried revised geometry and stiffer fork springs to minimise the stress on Michelin’s front, which worked well in hot weather but not in cool weather when Valentino couldn’t get enough heat into the tyre. When he did have good grip from the front he had wheelspin and when he had good rear grip he could not make that grip last the race distance. No wonder his crash rate doubled.
The search for a chassis balance that would get the best out of the Michelins continued into the 2017 season, but Yamaha’s results got worse, not better. ‘In 2016 Valentino’s feeling with the bike was good, but we destroyed the rear tyre with four or five laps to go,’ said Rossi’s crew chief Silvano Galbusera. ‘The chassis was modified for 2017 to save the tyre, but Valentino lost the feeling he had in 2016, so he couldn’t go into corners quickly and keep his line. Then he couldn’t pick up the bike, so he was a bit delayed, so then he had to open the throttle more to recover that time, which destroyed the tyre. It’s a vicious circle.’ From Assen 2017 to Phillip Island 2018 Yamaha endured their longest losing streak since they entered the premier class in 1973. In fact they made the bike worse by reducing crankshaft inertia – to improve acceleration – but they went too far, so when Rossi closed the throttle the engine shut down too quickly, making the rear end snappy, and when he opened the throttle the engine picked up revs too quickly, causing wheelspin. However, the plus side of this equation was at least it helped engineers understand what they needed: a chassis that allowed the bike to spend less time at full lean, thereby asking less from the edge of the tyres, and friendlier power delivery, to help the rear tyre in acceleration.
Yamaha’s fundamental problems remained when 2019 dawned: poor acceleration and tyre life. Rossi had his worst season yet with Yamaha. ‘We suffer everywhere,’ he said at Mugello, where the M1 was the slowest bike on the grid.
Yet, late in the season, things began to turn around. ‘Yamaha are finally starting in the right direction,’ he said. ‘They start to do clever things, so the situation is very much changed compared with the last two years.’
Rossi ended the year third best M1 rider, behind team-mate Maverick Vinales and rookie Fabio Quartararo.
‘Yamaha are finally starting in the right direction. They start to do clever things’