From the Blog

Whither Yamaha?

The problems besetting the Yamaha grand prix team of late have been well documented elsewhere so there is no need for me to dissect them in detail here. From Vinales winning the first three races of season 2017, it has been pretty much all downhill since then. As is usual with most Japanese manufacturers, Yamaha’s engineers have contrived to take a winning bike and turn it into an also-ran. Honda’s ability to do this in recent years is also well documented. However, the inscrutable Orientals always seem to have the ability to time their ups and downs so that not all of them are either up or down at the same time.

Right now, Honda is up, having what most people now regard as being the best bike in the paddock. After several seasons of their riders having to fight the bike for results, the bike now appears to be helping them. Ducati, who, in the last few years, has had the FASTEST bike, now find themselves being equalled in power and edged out in handling. The extraordinary efforts of Dovizioso notwithstanding, Ducati are in danger of slipping down the order just a little right at the time that they are facing a resurgent Honda brigade.

Yamaha, from being universally regarded as the best overall package in the the game for years, are struggling. Now you can blame it on tyres, but everyone’s tyres are the same. You can (as some do) blame it on the “spec” ECU, but everyone’s ECU is the same, too. The latest target is that, while everyone else’s ECU IS the same, it is how the various engineers USE that ECU that makes the difference and it seems that Yamaha’s tech people are lagging severely in this area.

And, while the riders of the competing marques fall over themselves (literally) to hand the title points to Marquez, the promises of a  better performance next meeting are being made and then regularly broken. Paradoxically, the best Yamaha man is Zarco who is on a satellite bike that is substantially 2017 spec. Of course, on the red side of the garage, Petrucci on a satellite Ducati, is making the two factory riders look a bit silly as well.

I have made the point here and elsewhere that, in my opinion, the Yamaha team needs a clean-out. They have gotten stale and unimaginative and they seem unable to either know what is wrong OR how to fix it. I address these concerns primarily to their technical staff which is where the change should come first. As far as the riders are concerned I believe that Yamaha is in the unfortunate position where their riding roster is made up of two extremely talented riders who, when the bike is going great, are capable of beating everyone. However, it is clear from the present situation and from past history, that Rossi, for all his talent and experience, is not a good development rider. Vinales hasn’t really had the chance to show us yet, but he gives all the appearance at the moment of not only not knowing what is really wrong but having no idea how to fix it. His body language is depressing in the extreme.

However, intriguing and important as this scenario is, it is not the most pressing issue that is facing the men in tuning fork overalls. Let me explain. I have to say that I am finding Simon Crafar’s performance as the pit lane reporter to be underwhelming at this stage. His voice is boring, he doesn’t appear to be in any ways excited about what is happening and seem to be just “going through the motions.” Of course it’s a tough gig, but he’s being paid big money and he should be producing the goods. His questions appear to be lagging behind what has already happened and simplistic in the extreme. I sincerely hope that he improves, he is the weak link in the commentary team right now.

Having said that, however, he did ask the $64 question last Sunday night and I was stunned when the boys in the box didn’t pick up on it and on Lin Jarvis’s answer. I am further stunned that the interview has drawn zero feedback on social media when it was, by far and away, the most important thing that was said all weekend.

Asking about Yamaha, Crafar asked what was Yamaha going to do next year once their partnership with Tech III was over. Well, doesn’t EVERYONE want to know? I sure as hell do. Lin’s answer was illuminating and revealed in all of its simplicity just what Yamaha’s position is. In a word, it is desperate. In precis, Jarvis said that Yamaha would LIKE to have four bikes on the grid in 2019 but, unless they could secure a partnership with an already top-rated team then it was likely that the factory team would be flying solo in 2019 so to speak! He admitted that this was far from ideal but was looking more and more likely. Having lost Tech III to KTM through Tech III’s choice, Yamaha have been looking for a replacement and the behind-the-scenes work has been aimed at securing a partnership with Marc VDS. However, as Jarvis pointed out, that team has descended into turmoil in the last week with open bickering between the team owner and the racing team manager, a bitter dispute over money, the worst kind of dispute. Some are already suggesting that, unless the impasse can be resolved, Marc VDS may disappear off the grid even before Mugello in a week’s time.

Even if it doesn’t, Yamaha will be extremely reluctant to enter any sort of partnership with Marc VDS with the spectre of scandal, likely court cases and long, drawn-out litigation sure to be the result of the present dispute. The old fashioned Japanese concept of “losing face” will be looming large in Yamaha’s board room right now.

AND, given that situation, to whom DOES Yamaha turn to make up a satellite team? The only possible prospect is LCR racing, presently running Hondas for Crutchlow and Nakagami. For any one of a dozens reasons this looks extremely unlikely. Lucio Cecchinello’s loyalty to Honda runs very deep indeed and, even if Yamaha could prise him away from Honda, his team’s riding roster doesn’t make them a prize catch. Crutchlow, for all his legendary toughness and dedication, is crashing himself into oblivion right now and Nakkers is only there because Honda wanted to have a Japanese rider on the grid. He will never be a world champion or even a contender. Given that the other teams have pretty much all made up their riding roster for 2019 already, where else could they look for some better riders?

Whither Yamaha, indeed?