Portimao MotoGP Subscriber Notes Part 2: Yamaha's Two Faces, Badass Bagnaia, And Aprilia's Progress

The 2020 MotoGP season saw a curious debate arise. The valve issues which Yamaha suffered at the first two races at Jerez saw the Japanese factory have points deducted and have to manage the remaining 12 races on just three engines for each rider. Franco Morbidelli, already disadvantaged by having to run the 2019 machine, rather than the supposedly more better 2020 Yamaha M1, had just two engines to last the season.

After winning the first two races, and taking a clean sweep of the podium at Jerez 2, the 2020 Yamahas disappeared. Fans and media wrote the M1 off, declaring the bike to be a disaster. The results seemed to justify that designation. Maverick Viñales finished ninth or worse in 7 of the remaining 12 races, and crashed out disastrously in Austria. Fabio Quartararo finished eight or worse in 7 of 12 races, crashed out of two others, and slipped from championship leader to finish the season in eighth. Valentino Rossi had four DNFs, and missed two more races due to a Covid-19 infection, ending the season fifteenth, the worst season in his very, very long Grand Prix career.

The last three races were particularly bad. In the two Valencia races and at Portimão, Viñales finished thirteenth, tenth, and eleventh. Quartararo finished fourteenth, crashed out, and finished fourteenth again. Rossi ended the season with a mechanical DNF and two twelfth places. It was hard to put a positive spin on Yamaha's 2020 season.

The two faces of Iwata

Except for a couple of minor details, that is. Yamaha riders Viñales, Quartararo, and Franco Morbidelli shared 7 wins between them, taking victory in half the MotoGP races contested in 2020. Morbidelli finished second in the riders championship, and with Viñales in sixth and Quartararo in eighth, there were three Yamahas in the top eight. The Petronas Yamaha team finished second in the team championship, and Yamaha would have won the manufacturers' title if they hadn't had points taken away for the valve shenanigans at the start of the year.

Now, a Yamaha M1 has won the first three races of the 2021 season, Fabio Quartararo leads the championship, Yamaha leads the manufacturers standings with a perfect score, and the Monster Energy Yamaha team has a huge lead in the team standings. Maybe the 2020 Yamaha M1 wasn't so bad at all. And maybe the 2021 bike has taken the last few rough edges off to turn it into a winner. It has, after all, won 5 of the last 7 MotoGP races, 8 of the last 12 MotoGP races, and 10 of the last 14 races. That sounds like a pretty decent strike rate to me.

In part 2 of these subscriber notes, a few more things to think about after the Portuguese round of MotoGP. Including:

  • Yamaha's (im)probable revival
  • The Impeccable Pecco
  • A topsy-turvy top five
  • The Aprilia is for real. Probably

But first, what happened to Yamaha? Where did this revival of their fortunes come from? Calling it a revival is almost certainly a misconception. As the stats above make plain, the Yamaha was already a very good bike. The problem was it had a few issues. Issues that have been addressed by some off season work, and the freedom to stress their engines again now that they have a full allocation of engines.

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It doesn't matter whether he saw it, or not.

He could have seen it, waved at the marshals, taken a picture of it on his phone, sent it to his crew chief, and his lap would still have been cancelled.

It's a penalty for doing nothing wrong.

It's not a 'penalty' per se, it's circumstantial. If it's a penalty at all it's for not putting a good lap in the bank earlier in the session. When you leave your time attack until the end of the session you risk a yellow ruining your lap. It happens with some regularity, tho usually with less whining than this time.

The best lap in Q1 or 2 usually comes at the end of 2nd run. The system needs to be improved. What's the use of a flag waving on the right if you're knee down at bastard speed hooking it to the left..

Agree to some extent, the flaggie point is badly placed, but part of being professional motorcycle racer is to know the flag points. And have a decent banker lap in early.

I knew a guy once who reckoned that going fast was safer because you would be ahead of an accident that might occur behind you. Very true, except for the accident that might occur ahead of you if you had gone slower. Strange logic at play.

There's some strange logic at play when it comes to the issue of riding past the site of an accident. The obvious idea being that by going slower you are asking less from the bike/tyres and therefore less likely to also have an accident at or around the same place. How much slower shall you go ? After lapping around a circuit(s) for the best part of your life even a fraction slower can seem like cruising. However, if you are doing something which you haven't done before that weekend maybe there is an unexpected result. Whichever way you wish to imagine it, maybe there's more chance of having an accident by doing something else than what you would normally do at that point on the track. Maybe it is best to slow right down to much lower speeds. Extra super less chance of having your own accident and if somehow you did have an accident everything will be traveling much slower. Less energy, less potential for causing injury to you, the previously crashed rider and the marshals/medics attending to the scene. That is if the bike behind you also reacts in the same way. I mean....it's a complicated issue maaaaan. People are very good at rationalizing bull****.

Does anyone remember Fabio's pole lap from Jerez 1 2020 ? It was set while the yellow flags were out for the turn 11 Miller crash. By the time Fabio got to turn 11, Rins had joined Jack in the gravel, not sure how many people were also in the gravel trap helping. Fabio said he thought the lap would have been quicker but for a small mistake, also somebody crashed in turn 11 and he had to be a bit more careful than normal. He passed the scene without incident but Rins did not. I guess we could place Fabio's lap somewhere between 'backing off just a fraction' and 'didn't back off at all'. I'm being nice, he didn't back off at all, he retrospectively took more care or vigilantly maintained tyre temps for best grip to ensure safety. I seem to remember Smith and/or Aleix (unsurprisingly) being the riders who spoke up about it asking rhetorically why yellow flags are needed at all. The common consensus is that yellow flags are needed and should not be ignored yet there they were being ignored. The result is as we know and hate.

Lets take the situation as was. Of all the yellow flags being waved some were ignored and some were never seen. Overall, nobody cared except for the marshals.

The situation as is...still nobody cares (except for the marshals) about the flag but now everybody cares if they can/cannot be seen because it's so unfair.

It's impossible to say if Peco saw (therefore ignored) the flag or not, it's comical to imagine that his job as a professional racer is not to go as fast as possible but to adopt a sub optimal position on the bike so that he can see (from inside his helmet) the flags. A small yellow square being waved around which, when viewed from his perspective, would contrast so well with the light grey marshal post, pale blue sky and the fluffy white clouds behind it. Maybe they should stop the bikes to check in those circumstances, get a coffee too, compare lines etc. Presuming he did not see the flag, the question of what he would have done if he had seen the flag remains open. History suggests that when you have a very time limited qually session riders get selective blindness but then again, everybody is blind 100% of the time to things which cannot be seen. Maybe he would have been more careful.

If the flags were more visible, better situated and Peco saw them then his lap would have been gone anyway (hopefully because he would have slowed or been more careful) so the lap is irrelevant but the flag 'system' for bikes in that area of that track is comical and embarrassing. Fixing that particular one and all the others around the world is worthwhile because it serves the raison d'etre for flags - Safety. Today it's a yellow flag and the next it's for oil over the crest.

Thanks Peter. This ones been brewing since last year.

If you accept flags are needed but ignore those flags when you can see them....what difference does it make when you cannot ? Yet they complain. Why are we in this situation ? Because they ignored yellow flags. I'm sympathetic, I can understand why. Depending on track/tyre/weather combinations you've got 2 to 4 laps...maybe 2 laps...it either happens in those 2 laps or it doesn't. Switch the brain off as Fabio says. Massive focus and massive risk in just those 2 laps..hang your ass on the line. All or nothing. Tiny tiny differences in time taking you from 1st row to 4th. 'Oh and by the way my dear rider...no reckless endangerment of others please, make sure you only kill yourself.' It reminds me of that line 'We train young men to drop fire on people, but their commanders won't allow them to write "f***" on their airplanes because it's obscene!'

I can't believe i just censored that quote, that's beyond weird. I've no answers but, 10 minutes and half a second covering 4 rows would seem not to go well together with warning flags.

More than once, during my group's paddock time at a track day, I have been pulled aside and warned about passing under a yellow flag during the previous session. And believe me, I am not fast. But all I can focus on is staying on two wheels, trying to hit my line, and, on a really good lap, thinking about the next corner. I did not see the flag. In fact, I wasn't even looking for it to be honest. To your point, not enough bandwidth.

At Laguna Seca the flag is on your left as you make the transition from turn 7 down to turn 8. Need I say more?

Anyway, I don't pretend to have a solution either. Warning a rider on the track that there is a crash ahead makes perfect sense, it just doesn't work very well, and has unintended consequences. 

Well one thing is for sure. If riders are supposed to respond to flags then at the very minimum they should be a distraction. Worth mentioning that when a serious incident occurs the flags are out proud and waved violently...enough to grab the attention. Whispered warnings do not suffice but what counts as a whisper to a helmeted rider on an angry machine during a banzai lap ? If they are going to take away the laps then they need to make sure the message is clear but let me be clear...the most important beneficiary of the successful delivery of that message is the marshals/medics.

Very interesting topic.
In my opinion a lot of options are left to explore in order to bring across critical messages that have the potential to maximise the safety of everyone involved in a given situation (riders, marshals,...).

Dorna has been experimenting with 'voice' communication between pittwall and rider.
Although I would hate to see riders getting information about their own or other riders' performance (or that of the bikes) as it would ruin the concept of bike racing, I can see the benefits of having certain safety messages being passed on to riders.
For example 'yellow flag corner X', 'debris on the right side of the straight', etc.
Or if not for spoken messages, perhaps a specific sound/tone that swells in volume when approaching the location, just spitballing now.

Flashing lights on the dash, wasn't that already a feature?
But I can fully imagine not being able to see the dash when leaning off the bike in a corner.

Well then, what about a light in some form incorporated in the visor? The technology exists...
I'd wonder what's going on when my vision starts to flash yellow or red...

I would have to add I have never ridden a bike at high speed, let alone (racing) on a track.
So perhaps experienced riders can judge wether any of the above mentioned ideas are simply too ludicrous...

(keep up the good work David and other contributors, much appreciated)

I knew a bloke once who reckoned going faster meant he spent less time on the road, therefore reducing his exposure to the possibility of something going wrong.

A college friend of mine had the philosophy that an accident would happen at a certain location so the less time you were in any given location the less chance of the accident happening while you were there. Last I knew he hadn't had any accidents.

Thirty years ago, a co-worker had to deliver and install an entire McMansion's oak doors from a millworks in remote SW Colorado to southern Cal. Found himself on a six lane highway during morning rush hour traffic. Everyone's doing 75mph. Driving a fully loaded F-250 pulling a fully loaded trailer, he left some space in front just in case. Two cars in lanes on either side go for the gap in front of his vehicle at the same time. The drivers see each other at the last moment and try to reverse course, but cars had already started filling the spaces they had vacated. Everyone tries to avoid each other, but it all goes awry. Cars begin to collide and the co-worker said that he decided in that moment if he was going to hit them he was going to hit them hard. So he floored it. The spinning cars parted ways just as the Ford entered the demolition zone. He saw the car on his side pointing the wrong way as they passed by unscathed. His 12 year old son witnessed the same mirror image out the passenger side and turned to him speechless with saucer eyes. The coworker glanced in the side mirror at complete chaos in the rear as they continued on their journey. Sometimes it's safer if a guy goes with his gut and whacks the gas wide open.

It had technological explanations and riders commentary on those issues. Plus it had the riders commentary on their own performance. I am not one for the more granular technology discussions. This article addressed the differences in results and why. It also included the riders differences and their thoughts on why. Looking forward!


Yamaha had two constants to fall back on while developing the 2021 M1 last year. The engine and tires. The volumn of data gathered during the 2020 season from three factory bikes allowed them to focus on chassis, electronics and aerodynamics. Less variables creates less possibilities of going down the wrong path. And the current Michelin tires, which seem to favor inline fours over V4s, are a big variable. Tires may be the greatest variable in moto racing. Since the inception of the four-stroke Motogp, Yamaha has won almost as many races at Jerez (9-11) than all other manufacturers combined. Capirossi won Ducati's only race in 2006 after the Turn 1 debacle.

Would be incredible were Bagnaia to win the next race...   

Neither am I one for tech talk, usually, but noted the Yamaha brake covers doubling as drag-reducing wheel covers. So, are we headed towards full wheel covers, leaving only the bottom few inches visible? That would be more ugly, in fact it might be enough to make this viewer switch off. I imagine there's a trade off between over-heating the tyre and drag reduction?

There have been brake covers at least since carbon discs have been used. That they are now a bit more aerodynamically shaped seems a small difference. I hope you don't have to give up on the sport because of it. There are some good points that overshadow the shape of brake disc covers. At least for me there are. Enjoy!

Oh, I don't particularly mind the brake covers, it's more that if they take aero to a logical extreme the bikes will just look like two-wheeled concept cars that lean into corners and, somehow, not bikes any more.

Certainly if it gets anything like F1 it will ruin the sport. As it is the more aero the uglier, imo, but I've kinda been hooked on the sport since Kenny went over so I doubt I'll be chased away. I do take your point about aero, tho. All in good humor. Cheers!

Yeah, same here, not that keen on all the wings and stuff, spoils the aesthetics for me, but having watched just about every race for around 30 years I suppose it would take more than just ugly aero to kill my interest. Especially as the racing itself has never been better (apart from wsbk in its' heyday).

I don't care so much about the form that the motorcycles take to serve the function of going around a given racetrack at the maximum average speed ridden by a rider's maximum potential. I am in awe of the creativity that humans tap into to make this possible. Somewhere out there is a line that the physical laws of this world will say: "That's it. You have reached perfection on two wheels. You cannot go any faster." And the steps the factories and riders are taking to reach that line are getting smaller and smaller. That's one reason why the racing is getting closer.

Wings or no wings. Wheel covers or no wheel covers. It doesn't make much difference to me which way the governing body of Motogp rules on these matters of form. It's the two-wheeled pursuit of perfection that impresses me.

For articles like this! I can't say I'm an expert on MotoGP at all, but I can definitely say that I've become tonnes more knowledgeable than I used to be by reading and subscribing to MotoMatters. It's helped me to enjoy watching the racing more than I ever thought I could. Of course, it is a bit of a rabbit hole!

They are something I'd like to more about. When watching the video from Q2, I find it hard to see where MV's bike went "off track". Best I can figure is that the angle of his front wheel as it lifted off the ground was the one responsible for triggering the sensors. His rear, while stepped out, has the meat within the curb.

I don't know anything about these sensors - where they are (bike, track?), what they measure or how they do it. But I'd love to know more if only to clear up what seemed like Vinales getting robbed a stonker of a lap.