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.