The Qatar tests provided staff and fans with many answers, some more surprising than others. For example, we already knew that Losail is a track that suits Ducati, as confirmed by Jack Miller. Yamaha performance was more of an unknown, and yet the men in blue were very much present and correct in the desert.
The first encouraging sign came in the form of the lap times themselves. In the overall standings, only Miller was able to do better than the factory Yamaha riders (Fabio Quartararo and Maverick Vinales) and Franco Morbidelli, finishing just a fraction of a second ahead of them. The three aforementioned Iwata riders also demonstrated interesting pace, completing a string of laps in between 1’54 and 1’55”5, the sort of pace that would see them fighting for a podium position.
The second ‘yes’ expressed by the riders during the test had to do with the work the manufacturer has carried out over the winter, everyone apparently pleased with progress. Everyone who tested the new frame was happy, Valentino Rossi included, and the new aerodynamics were similarly well-received. Essentially, as Rossi himself said “It looks like Yamaha is on the right track this year”.
All perfect then, or almost. Looking ahead to the first races at Qatar, there are still two questions. The first regards the start, which appears to be one of the M1 machine’s weak points, if compared to some of their rivals. The start is only the first piece of the puzzle of course, but as we saw last year (especially for Vinales), a poor start can compromise a whole weekend of work.
The second Yamaha issue regards, or might regard, passing. Vinales highlights how it’s all still an unknown, as he hasn’t had chance to carry out any real tests. The first ‘enemy’ to beat is Ducati, its eager engine set to dominate along the long start finish straight, while the M1 will need to respond with smoothness through the mixed sections, particularly sector three, although this may not be enough.
The Yamaha riders might benefit from the grip which, if high enough, could help the men in blue to open the throttle first out of the turns, reducing the gap in terms of top speed. In any case, we won’t find out until 28 March, when the curtain will finally go up on a new and exciting season.
Translated by Heather Watson