The Monster Energy Yamaha team has made two fundamental moves. Or three. Firstly, it has rejuvenated its line-up by ‘pushing out’ 42-year old Valentino Rossi, the face of the M1 and winner of four world titles, though not since 2009.
Confirming Maverick Vinales injects confidence into the team, Yamaha Europe (perhaps), and the rider himself. The Spaniard has signed a two-year deal, with a first-rate salary and bike and the knowledge that he is the main voice in terms of bike development.
Knowing that it can still count on having #46 within its orbit, the team has extended an invite to Fabio Quartararo. The Frenchman has effectively swapped placed with the nine-time world champion, taking up the baton and obtaining what he has long desired, a spot on a MotoGP team of reference.
Yamaha MotoGP: will Maverick Vinales’ emotional instability abate?
26-years old and in the world championship since 2011, Maverick won the 2013 Moto3 title with KTM before enjoying some strong seasons in Moto2. He debuted in MotoGP in 2015, with Suzuki. And in his second year with team Ecstar, he won his first race.
It looked as if he would be a worthy successor to Jorge Lorenzo in Yamaha, and when he moved up the factory team alongside Valentino Rossi, Vinales made a strong start, winning two consecutive races in 2017, then another shortly afterwards...
But sometimes Maverick’s mood changes, as we saw in 2020, going from black to white, from negativity to unexpected optimism. Both are disarming because the "switch" is sudden and inexplicable. Just like his comments about the bike, the M1 either an amazing race winning machine or junk. Sometimes from one day to the next, and even from one session to the next.
Yamaha MotoGP: will Fabio Quartararo live up to the promise?
The world championship wanted him even before he turned 16, the minimum age for entry. Fabio Quartararo came from CEV Moto3 as the latest phenomenon, able to shine on any international test bench.
It didn’t exactly go to plan. During his first and second complete seasons, the young Frenchman scored just two podiums with Honda, and nothing with KTM. He rounded out the seasons in tenth and thirteenth position. A question of style some said, and so he moved up to Moto2.
Challenge accepted, and some success with Speed Up, the Frenchman winning at Barcelona and finishing second at Assen. The young talent then stepped up to MotoGP and did very well in 2019, scoring seven podiums with the satellite Petronas M1. The following year brought two wins in the same colours. And then 2020, a season that saw him dominate right from the outset. Just as he looked to have one hand on the title, the fatal errors came, the rider sliding from first down to eighth place. And in his case too, comments about the Yamaha have been as contradictory as his mood: from strong and mature, to weak and bitter.
MotoGP 2021: a decisive year for Yamaha
To win championships you need consistency, serenity and determination. Just look at what Joan Mir did with Suzuki. The Majorcan is very talented, but it’s only right to say that no one would have bet on him for the MotoGP title prior to 2020. He did the hard work of course. But credit also goes to Davide Brivio and Ecstar, the most stable, relaxed and cohesive team in the paddock. The exact opposite of Ducati and Yamaha, to cite just two example. Anyway, to get back to the issue at hand, has the Monster Energy factory team made the right choice?
It’s an arduous path when moods and feelings are brought into the mix. In order to win in the top class, the conviction that you can do it must last all year long. From winter to winter and throughout all the races. They know this in Iwata, but they don’t know whether this is what they’ll get from Vinales and Quartararo. There is always a danger of the seesaw effect - when one does well, might the other fade? - and they cannot allow this in Japan.
Translated by Heather Watson