Yamaha's Worst Qualifying In Years: How It Happened, And How Yamaha Are Going To Fix It

For the Movistar Yamaha factory team, qualifying for the Austrian MotoGP round at the Red Bull Ring was an unmitigated disaster. Maverick Viñales qualified in eleventh place, while Valentino Rossi failed to make it out of Q1 and will be forced to start from fourteenth. It was the factory Yamaha team's worst dry qualifying result since Valencia 2007.

Comparing times from qualifying at Spielberg in 2017 with times from Saturday illustrate Yamaha's predicament quite clearly. Times for the front row riders between this year and last are pretty much identical, as were the times set by Johann Zarco in 2017 and 2018. But Maverick Viñales was half a second slower this year than he was last year, and Valentino Rossi was four tenths slower.

The problem is a familiar one. The factory version of the Yamaha M1 is difficult to control in acceleration, and uses up the rear tire too much. How badly that affects the bike varies from track to track, but the Red Bull Ring is the Yamaha's kryptonite: at a track where most of the corners are from low gear with hard acceleration, the M1 is losing out very badly.


Yamaha's poor qualifying performance produced a remarkable spectacle. In an act of commendable openness and honesty, Yamaha rearranged their normal media debriefs for Rossi and Viñales, to allow YZR-M1 project leader Kouji Tsuya to make a statement. It was a formal apology to the riders for the poor performance of the bike.

Yamaha's communications manager William Favero explained why Yamaha were taking this step. "We as Yamaha, owe our riders and also you an explanation," Favero said." A technical explanation about the difficulties we have been facing so far."

Tsuya's tone was contrite. "Today was a very difficult day for us," he said. "We are struggling with the acceleration performance, which means the power delivery, to adjust the power delivery more precisely. But this track we know is the most difficult track for us. Because we couldn’t achieve a more precise power delivery for our riders. That's why this is maybe the worst qualifying result for us. But then I have to apologize to the riders for our lack of acceleration performance today."

Additional failures

Maverick Viñales had suffered an extra problem, with a number of sensors failing on one of his bikes during practice. "Also for Maverick, today and on Friday as well, we have some sensor problems on our bike," Tsuya said. "We disturbed Maverick's concentration too much, so now still we are investigating how we can solve this problem for tomorrow."

"I just want to say sorry to our riders, to not [be able to] concentrate to go faster and to get a better result for qualifying. Also we have some technical problems with Maverick and are missing some performance now. So we are struggling and have to say sorry to the riders. Now we are working hard as ever to find the solution, so after this race we have a test in Misano, before Silverstone and also after Silverstone we have a test at Aragon to find a solution for these difficulties. But at the moment we will concentrate first of all for tomorrow to get a better result for our riders."

Close racing magnifies problems

After Rossi and Viñales had spoken to the media, I talked to Yamaha Motor Racing Managing Director Lin Jarvis and Movistar Yamaha Team Director Maio Meregalli about the situation Yamaha find themselves in. Both men agreed that the closeness of the field made the problems with the M1 look much bigger than they are. "If you talk about last weekend, where we didn't make it to the podium, which was a disappointing result, but we were 2 seconds off the lead in the race. And we were leading for half the race," Jarvis pointed out.

The chassis and base setup of the bike is very strong, Jarvis said, as Rossi has repeatedly told the press. "This year with the chassis, the weight distribution, I feel very good, but now in the electronic side [Honda and Ducati] made a huge step, and this is the step that unfortunately with Yamaha we are not able to do," Rossi said. "For me this is the key. They have to understand which way to improve, because for me the rest of the bike is good."

That the bike is capable is clear from Yamaha's position in the championship standings. The two Movistar Yamaha riders are second and fourth in the title race, and Movistar Yamaha leads the team standings.

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I can't help wondering how much of this difference is attributable to "gaming" the IMU vs the 'too light crankshaft'.  We might get some insight next year when everyone is forced to use the spec unit, though its doubtful there will ever be certainty. Rossi however, seems convinced its all in the electronics.

It's also a measure of his clout within Yamaha that upper management is self-flagellating in public.

Certainly Rossi carries weight, but look how unhappy their star young rider Vinales is. At the start on 2017 he was being lauded by a hyperventilating press as the new wunderkind, and true challenger to MM. He is their future investment and he ain't happy at all, and doesn't care who knows. On a good day for the team I've no doubt he is Rossi's equal and Yamaha know it.

So I wouldn't underestimate that they are equally concerned for both riders, or overestimate the balance Rossi holds.

Presumably the Tech3 bikes have older engines with heavier crankshafts which is why Zarco is doing so much better this weekend? Rossi will be fine in the race, not a winner but possibly a podium or 4th. His Sunday pace is always much better, along with his race craft. 

>Rossi will be fine in the race, not a winner but possibly a podium or 4th.<

You're kidding... right? I appreciate Rossi's Sunday racecraft... but seriously... he's starting from twelvth and he's nearly a half second a lap slower... Marc, Dovi and Jorge will be long gone before Rossi makes turn two... The only way he sniffs a podium is if Marc, Dovi and Jorge take each other out at turn one... Watch for a Lorenzo holeshot... he ain't going to dawdle around like he did last week...

Is this what it's come to with this PR and Social-Media obsessed sport, that the team coming 2nd in the championship sees it necessary to issue a public apology to the riders for not giving them the best bike on the grid? It's a technical sport, where Honda and Ducati got their act together and out-thought Yamaha. It's happened any number of times in the past, and Yamaha's engineers will learn from it. This appology smacks of trying to appease sponsors rather than riders.

yamaha are very lucky that dovi and JL didnt have a better start to the season and maybe also that Zarco been having issues otherwise they would both be two or three places further back.

I can understand why the Yamaha team management would be talking their situation up, claiming "it's not that bad"; but realistically, there's a good chance that Dovizioso and Lorenzo will overtake the Movistar boys in the standings this weekend, dropping them down to 4th & 5th...

That Yamaha apology was painful to watch, if guiltily amusing. Lin Jarvis’s face was a picture, not to mention his contorted body language. Heartfelt apologies accepting culpability may be an accepted part of Japanese business, much less so of British management style. Looked like he’d rather be anywhere in the world but on that stage.

It will be interesting to see how Yamaha contains the Vinales situation during this deeply frustrating time. Can’t say they’re doing a fine job so far. 

The technical regulations (http://www.fim-live.com/en/sport/regulations-and-documents/grand-prix/) state in section the following:

An approved MotoGP engine is one which has all parts included
within the seals (Art. identical in every respect to the
parts included within the seals of a sample engine delivered to the
MotoGP Technical Director no later than close of Technical Control
of the first event (Art., below) or where all the parts
included within the seals are the same for all sealed engines of
the same rider (Art., below). All parts not within the
seals are free to be changed.
Once approved in accordance with
the above, no changes may be made to the design or construction
of the approved parts for the duration of the approval period of
one full season.

The bit I have marked bold would suggest that the clutch basket (outside the seals) cxan be changed.  There is also a bunch of gubbins about what constitutes a sealed section of the engine, and to my eye none of it precludes either swapping the clutch basket for a higher inertia version, nor does it preclude an external crank mounted flywheel ala RC211V.  The latter requires to be designed-in, however I'm really curious why crank inertia issues like Suzuki and Yamaha have both recently been reported to have cannot be adjusted out at the clutch, or why they have not allowed for some tuneability as honda did all those years ago

These bike's are balancing on a fine line between crankshaft mass, speed of the ECU and the griplevel. A light cranckshaft makes good power ( at least on the dyno) but needs fast electronics to control the spin. A tyre that grips well, but who's grip drops of fast when pushed over the limit, combined with a light cranck and slow electronics seems Yamaha's problem right now. Adding a bigger flwywheel on the cranckshaft will quickly limit the max rpm or reliability, a V4 cranck is shorter = stronger. Adding weight to the clutch helps only so much, as the gearbox is rotating on +/- 30% of the crank's speed. And it to increases the load on the gearbox. Not to sure about the posibilities of the current IMU's in use.