Takahiro Sumi Interview: Yamaha's MotoGP Project Leader On The Key Change That Helped Quartararo Win The Title, 2022 Objectives, And Valentino Rossi

In 2021, Yamaha's motorsport efforts can rightly be described as formidable. In MotoGP, Fabio Quartararo became the first ever French premier class champion. In WorldSBK, Toprak Razgatlıoğlu won the championship, becoming the first Turkish rider to do so. Yamaha also clinched the title in All Japan Road Race Championship, BSB, and MotoAmerica. It is literally a clean sweep. Meanwhile, their competitors started preparing for revenge. Ducati will line up eight bikes in 2022. Their invincible armada must be a grave menace to Yamaha and other MotoGP manufacturers.

At 18:00 on the eve of the final race weekend at Valencia Ricardo Tormo Circuit, we visited the Yamaha factory team’s office and interviewed Takahiro Sumi, the project leader of YZR-M1. It was three days before Valentino Rossi would take the grid for the final race in his racing career.

Q: In 2021, Fabio Quartararo won the MotoGP championship, and Toprak will likely win the WorldSBK in Indonesia. Yamaha also won in JSB, BSB, and MotoAmerica. Could you tell us the reason why Yamaha is so strong this season in all road racing categories?

Takahiro Sumi: I’m sorry, but I have no answer, to be honest. In fact, I have been away from Japan these two years. It was only last December and January that I could go to our Iwata office. Right after that, I came back to Europe again so that I didn’t have enough time to analyze the details from these good results. But as far as JSB is concerned, maybe it is easy to answer. We have Nakasuga-san, and his YZF-R1 is already fine-tuned by taking a lot of experience over a long time. So, when everything goes perfectly, these things could happen, I would say.

Q: So, how would you explain Fabio won the championship this season?

TS: I think there are two factors; the hardware and team operation, and the rider himself. In the 2020 season, although we managed to win some races, we were not consistent enough. We contemplated very seriously why we were not so consistent and what the problem was with our bike.

One of the reasons for it was the chassis. We thought our chassis didn’t give sufficient confidence to our riders to deal with various conditions. We built a new chassis during the winter, and when the 2021 season got underway, Fabio said he got back his good feeling from when he could ride fast in 2019. The key was his feeling from the front. Fabio is a rider who wants to push to the limit. When he has a good feeling, he can go to his limit, but he cannot do it when he doesn’t have a good feeling. This year’s bike gives him this feeling. When the rider pushes, the bike can respond correctly, which means this year’s chassis fit his feeling very well.

For another factor, you can find a hint from the end of last season. After spending a decent season until halfway through, he lost the rhythm in the middle of the season and couldn’t ride the bike as he did before. In his second season, he seemed to have found some doubts in his riding, and he couldn’t get back his natural feeling that he could have done without thinking in the previous year. We tried many things by changing setup and so on, but to no avail. However hard we have tried this and that, he couldn’t get back his good feeling, and we thought it was probably because it took a lot of time to get back the trust between the rider and our bike.

By experiencing this difficult period during which he was perplexed, “no matter what I do, nothing changes… Why can't I do now what I could do so easily last year?”, now he learned the importance of patience, so that he can manage and control the situation however hard it is, I suppose. Fabio and his team tried very hard to come through these tough periods, which allowed them to grow their composure and maturity. As a result, now they do not get confused, whatever comes. They managed very well to control the situation, even when they had to face some ups and downs.

So, that’s what I said two factors: the bike that was developed to respond very well to the rider’s feeling, and the rider and his team that developed themselves to gain more experience and maturity.

Q: You just referred to the front confidence and chassis. You have already said in 2019 that Fabio’s braking technique was very unique. Did you find a good balance with your chassis to exploit his braking skills now?

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Akira Nishimura is Japan's leading MotoGP journalist, and a long-time paddock denizen. He is deeply knowledgeable of the sport, and speaks and writes excellent English as well as his native Japanese. This gives him an enviable advantage over other journalists: Akira is able to conduct in-depth interviews with Japanese engineers in their own language, and accurately convey what they said in impeccable English.

Akira writes for several publications, including Mr Bike Japan. You can find his books on MotoGP in Japanese on Amazon.

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Comments

have always been top of the list for me. The most consistent involvement in racing, from the td2 onwards. always seemed to have more loyalty to their riders than the others, Ben Spies possibly excepted, less arrogant than honda, a bit more heart.

So reading that excellent interview with Takahiro makes me hope that they are playing their cards really close to their chest and will be turning up with MORE POWER and  a little bit more of everything at Sepang, he wasn't giving anything away, for sure.

The fact that they could get such reliability out of the bikes last year with the dearth of fresh engines must mean that there's more power to be  squeezed out of the M1.

Very generous comments about Vinales, great rider but always just too high, plummeting to too low. Flakey, in a word.

Frankie's the one I'm most interested in, a total write off of a year, what'll he be capable of fully fit and with a factory bike?

It surely doesn't get less interesting. Can't wait.

David, and especially - Nishimura-san, great interview. I missed the byline and was reading the interview thinking 'wow, Sumi-san has really become quite Westernized while living in Andorra'; then I saw the note at the bottom. Totally agree that Nishimura-san will be able to contribute excellent pieces, as evidenced by this one. I look forward to the next one.

 

Thanks! Female pronoun inspires engineers--they probably feel the same as Rossi, personification, great insight.

I imagine all Vale's favorite things outside the track are female heh heh heh

I've always loved "Yamaka". The bike obviously corners like its on rails, however the Ducati's have disgusting power and now also seem to turn! To make things worse, there are eight of them on the grid next year. Bastianini, although will be on a GP21, however doesn't seem it will hinder him-kid is FAST! Yamaha MUST come with a bit more power, without spoiling the character of the M1-razor sharp handling and high corner speed. If they can accomplish, then Fabio and Franco have a fighting chance. Lets be honest Pecco is looking SCARY on the Desmo!

Japanese first language interviewers can get such good responses. Appreciated!

People seem to be expecting Yamaha to bring a 2022 bike with little changed. The last Test was such. And people are indicating that, even with The Fabio at his best, they are going to get their assas handed to them on a stick. Quartararo has said he is at risk of leaving because they have not brought more outright power in the new engine. Without him last year, they are in a gutter. 

Yes, Morbidelli was hurt. Vale was stale AND the poor guy got Covid. But now we have quite a question mark over a D.Binder who will need time AND is on an old  customer bike. Dovisioso is having to greatly change his ingrained riding style from so many years on a Duc and it isn't fast or easy. Plus, the whole RNF project has lost people, funds, and a cool color. 

Late in 2021 both the Duc and Suzuki bikes stepped forward. Pecco got struck by the Alien stick. The Suzuki just got more motor for 2022. Expectation is that the Duc is getting a boost, and that the brand new Honda will be good. 

Just re-saw the end of a race early in the season where Steve Day is mid sentence of calling it a win for Maverick when blasted past by TWO Ducatis. No wonder he lost his damn mind  "Take my breath away Maverick Vinales, you...NO, DUCATI! (Engine power braaaap). Pass, pass. End.

With aero AND smooth auto ride height shape shifters the V4's are getting more of their big power down to the rear tire with traction. Plus, Duc has gotten their bike to be easier on the rider. And it turns. And it nurses tires well. 

Blue is in a worse spot than it looks. The Red roster is strong and deep. Silly season starts early these days, and 2022 has a big list of contracts ending. Incl Quarty!

The Yamaha may be right now getting caught on its back foot and becoming the 4th best bike on the grid. Just waiting to see this Honda and what Jinx thinks stinks.

1) Duc, 2) Suzuki, 3) Honda 4) Yamaha, 5) KTM 6) Aprilia next yr? And Quartararo signs with one of the Top 3. 

There has to be at least one surprise game changer in the big 2022 silly season shuffle. Be careful Blue!