Pre-season testing for the MotoGP field gave us lots of interesting things to talk about. Here is the second in my series of articles discussing all the things we found out. Now it’s the Factory Yamaha boys’ turn, the big question if Maverick Vinales can step up. Vinales has been the king of testing, topping sessions since his debut in the blue team. He’s also Mr Saturday, the man with blistering one-lap pace when it comes to qualifying, and it’s rare to see him off the front two rows come race day. His new teammate also has a liking for pole position and will surely give him a run for his money.
Can Vinales provide a solid title shot in 2021?
Unfortunately for Vinales, it’s been quite the trial for him to translate the positives in pre-season testing to concrete results on race day. So is it going to be the same song and dance again this year? Or will Top Gun come out on top?
So far, all is as it has been before. Vinales posted the second-fastest time in the
combined standings on day 4 of the Qatar Test, a competitive 1’53.244, just 0.061 seconds from Miller’s timesheet topping lap. As I said, this is no surprise for the one-lap wonder that is Maverick Vinales on a Yamaha. So again, the question has to be: how’s your race pace?
There is the surprise, despite Vinales not putting together a full race simulation on a single set of tyres, he did do a few long runs. These have shown some promising results. Vinales was able to keep up a constant rhythm of laps in the 1’54.924 range, placing him second overall in the average race pace standings. Of course, the Losail International Circuit is an anomaly in terms of MotoGP tracks. Its layout is suitable for many different bike manufacturers due to its combination of long straights, tight corners and flat surface.
Yamaha down on top speed, is this an issue?
Whilst a promising sign, it could just be that the Yamaha will perform well in Doha and not anywhere else. A positive is that Yamaha was strong in the overall timesheets, despite being slow on the top speed sheet. A good hint that that Yam can hold it’s own in the corners. It’s not a given that the Yamaha will perform in the first 2 races. Ducati looks strong, and Yamaha is still very low on top speed and horsepower than the rest of the grid. There has to be a real worry about the competitiveness of Miller and Bagnaia.
“It’s pretty hard to say [whether we’ve improved], because we didn’t change the engine andMaverick Vinales
we know we’re on the back foot with the speed. We need to be better on the starts and in the
first laps. Our race needs to be first or second on the first laps and then to push like hell.
That’s our main objective, really – to make an incredible time attack in qualifying, to be first,
and then to go. We don’t have other opportunities. We need to push really hard on Saturday
and then to make a good start on Sunday.”
Yamaha are desperate for results in 2021
I have a hopeful feeling in my heart for Maverick this year. Simply put, he knows that this is a make or break year in his career. He’s the premier rider in the Yamaha team now, and it has come at a time where Yamaha are desperately in need of results. Following their controversial engine ‘drama’ in 2020, it’s been 6 years since a rider of theirs has won the world title.
I will be stunned if Maverick doesn’t manage to put himself firmly on the podium in both of the Qatar races. He has the experience of being a factory team rider, which his closest competitors do not. He has been described by many as a different character – more focused and positive than in recent years. He’s also been more open to criticism than before. Vinales traditionally makes dodgy launches off the line when a full fuel tank hampers the M1’s delicate turning abilities. Before this year, I believe it’s fair to say that the man himself did not want to hear this blame, stating that he has no idea why he struggles at the beginning of races. However, it would seem that the criticism is finally being addressed. Vinales spent 2 solid hours of the test solely practising his starts, and it’s refreshing to see him admitting to his weakness.
“We tried to make a race start similar to the race. We’re trying to work on it, it has to be from the bike because as a rider it’s hard to improve; we’re already close to the maximum. We want to try a different set-up on the clutch and try to improve there, and the guys are working very hard to do it. They know that this is the key for this season.”Maverick Vinales
Will Fabio Quartararo win 2021?
For so long, the blue of Yamaha and Valentino Rossi has been a passionate love affair, and
whilst the GOAT will still be on the grid with an M1 beneath him, the new generation of
racers has arrived and done so in the shape of Fabio Quartararo. I really rate the French man. His rookie year in 2019 was absolutely sensational, second only to that of Marc Marquez, who barnstormed his way into the premier class. To take 7 poles and 6 podiums as a rookie is no easy feat, and many, including myself, were expecting fireworks for his 2020 campaign.
Unfortunately, after a dominant opening two rounds in Jerez and a stunning return to form in Barcelona, Quartararo couldn’t quite deliver the stunning season that was expected. However, it would seem that the unreliability of 2020’s M1 was more at fault for this than Quartararo himself. Despite the disappointing past season, Quartararo is now firmly ensconced in the factory Yamaha team, and I’m sure he will be looking to bounce back. His testing times speak for themselves; Quartararo posted a fastest lap time of 1’53.263 to place him third fastest overall and just 0.080 seconds from the fastest time of Miller, and 0.019 seconds off his team mate’s lap time.
Quartararo Moto Gp champion?
His race pace is supreme. Despite being another rider to not quite manage a full race distance simulation, he has posted the fastest consistent times, with an average lap being 1’54.916. Consistency will be key in this year’s title fight, a lesson Quartararo learned well last year when Joan Mir won the championship despite taking just a single race win all season. Therefore, the consistency displayed by both the factory team in the test will surely be a weight off of both the rider’s minds. Or rather, it should be. Quartararo, however, is still concerned with how his M1 will perform on a track that isn’t Losail, with Portimao a grey area for the French man, especially with it being the third race in the calendar this year and a circuit that did not suit the 2020 M1 in the slightest. He remains optimistic and has apparently fit in well with his new team.
“With Maverick, I hope it will be like Valentino/Lorenzo because they fight 1-2 in theFabio Quartararo
championship until the last race of the year – I hope to be in the place of Lorenzo, to win the
championship! But yes, Maverick: I have a good relationship with him. I think that we can
work really well together and bring Yamaha to the top, that’s the goal. My personal goal is to
fight for the championship.”
Can Yamaha improve?
Team Manager Lin Jarvis has also raised the new line-up of young talent in the factory team, having publicly stated that he believes Yamaha cost Quartararo the chance to fight for the championship properly last year, and he has stood by Vinales, despite his troublesome form book.
“We have these young superstar fast riders who have all the potential to win – so we’reLin Jarvis
excited by that and it’s definitely kind of a generation change, but I’m expecting it to work
well. I’m looking forward to that interaction, that pushing of each other. Honestly in the past
we had that as well when we had two super-strong riders, when we had, let’s say in particular, the era of [Jorge] Lorenzo and Rossi, not always easy to manage but they pushed
each other and they stepped up and we want to be in that zone. So, it’s challenging but I hope
that I have that challenge to face, because they [Vinales and Quartararo] have great
potential. Let’s hope that we’re fortunate to have management problems with our riders, because if we have problems, that means they’re both fighting for victories.”
Fantasy Moto GP 2021 tips
With favourable results from the Qatar test, it seems like a given that the opening two races will have factory blue on the podium. Hopefully, it will be both of them. Of course, worries linger over the engine deficiencies that plagued Yamaha in 2020, as well as the unknown capabilities of the 2021 bike in tracks that aren’t the Losail International Circuit. However, you can bet both Quartararo and Vinales will throw everything at their championship challenges this year – for Maverick to save face and for Quartararo to avenge the misfortunes of last year.
This article was written by the fantastic Rebekah Lee, our resident Motorsport nut and MA Creative writing graduate. She’s been fascinated by all things motorsports since childhood – follow her on Twitter at @bekahjlee
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