It is quite wonderfully ironic that the MotoGP machine which has in the last decade almost transcended the definition of being the most consistent and most user-friendly motorcycle on the MotoGP grid–the factory Yamaha M1–has in one season become the crazy ex-girlfriend/boyfriend of MotoGP.
At some tracks and in some conditions the factory Yamaha M1 MotoGP bike is a caring partner, performing admirably. It’s a machine that Rossi or Vinalez, under the best of circumstances, might describe as their better half. The mentally stable M1 might ask them what it can do to bring a smile to their faces or just call them “babe” in public.
Then, at the next track it is indifferent, like it almost encourages them to go to a club with friends–no I want you to go out with your friends!–but while they’re away it takes a razor to their closet. They return to face a stark raving mad motorcycle that is only sure of one thing: it hates them.
It almost seems like a decade ago but Yamaha’s factory Yamaha MotoGP team started the 2017 season by winning the first three of five races. Yet, they finished it looking like a team that faced bizzaro world each time they walked into the garage. This is no small feat. Yamaha MotoGP has veteran, championship winning technicians and engineers. When a motorcycle pulls the technical rug out from Wilco Zeelenberg, Maio Meregalli, Lin Jarvis, and Ramon Forcada, forcing them to wonder ‘what exactly do we know?’ it’s certainly got to be a humbling experience.
One likely factor is that Yamaha is absolutely the most uptight motorcycle manufacturer in existence. The culture at Yamaha is that Yamaha can do no wrong and opinions that don’t reflect that are, to say the least, not appreciated. So if you apply the tuning fork filter to what the factory Yamaha MotoGP riders have said, one gets the impression that Rossi hasn’t been happy with the 2017 bike since he first rode it, and was only mildly happy when he won on it at Assen. Maverick, who remains a young rider, started the season winning races and inferring he could not carry his veteran teammate. He finished 2017 looking like a guy who needed to be carried.
At the same time, of course, is the striking phenomena of the Tech 3 Yamaha machines–the satellite or “spare old parts” bikes–ridden by rookies. The Tech 3 bikes threatened to win races that before Qatar basically nobody gave them a shot at doing well. This only speaks to how lost the factory team became in 2017.
Yamaha leaves 2017 hopefully clearly knowing what works and what does not work for them in terms of a MotoGP bike. A veteran and qualified squad like Yamaha factory MotoGP–after some post-season analysis–will figure it out eventually. Or they schedule a excorsism.
Or, they put Zarco on the factory bike.