- Yamaha have not won any of the last 19 races in MotoGP
- What’s the problem in the Yamaha garage?
- When will we see Rossi back in winners’ circle?
On June 25th, 2017, Valentino Rossi won the Dutch TT at Assen. The win put him just seven points behind MotoGP championship leader Andrea Dovizioso, and three points behind Maverick Vinales. By all accounts, things were looking great for Yamaha: they had a great chance at the rider’s championship and were in a great position to contend the manufacturer’s championship.
I bring up that race because it was the last race that a Yamaha rider won. Not a Yamaha factory rider, but any rider on a bike manufactured by Yamaha. With the passing of the German Grand Prix at the Saschenring, the streak was extended to 19 races without a tuning fork on the top step of the podium.
Why the streak is so bizarre
The Yamaha is not a bad motorcycle, and its riders are some of the best in the world. Valentino Rossi has been on the podium five times, and Maverick Vinales has made three. This is actually more podiums than the factory Honda team has managed, although Marc Marquez’s five wins in eight races are far more impressive than anything Yamaha has achieved.
It’s also bizarre because Yamaha has long been extremely competitive in the top class. They haven’t suffered a streak of losses this long since the 1990’s, when motorcycles were made of wood and ran on dinosaur food.
What explains Yamaha’s streak
- The bike isn’t great, and the competition is
There are three main factors I want to talk about, and incidentally they all come together to define this era of MotoGP:
- Marc Marquez
The first is easy to understand. Honda have finally made the RC213V a little more rider friendly, and as a result Marc Marquez has been able to dominate the MotoGP season. The bike still isn’t easy to ride, crash numbers would indicate that it’s still the hardest bike on the grid to handle, but it’s good enough for Marquez.
The second is a little more complicated. While the Yamaha is fundamentally a strong bike, it has problems with electronics and specifically acceleration. The throttle response is too brutal for riders to consistently get good drive out of corners, and the changes necessary to keep the rear tire from spinning upsets the Yamaha’s otherwise perfect balance. These might remind you of the problems that Honda had for several years, and they are indeed broadly similar.
The throttle response is too brutal for riders to consistently get good drive out of corners, and the changes necessary to keep the rear tire from spinning upsets the Yamaha’s otherwise perfect balance
The third problem is the emergence of Ducati. Whereas previously the MotoGP schedule was divided into “Honda tracks” and “Yamaha tracks,” the emergence of a third race-winning bike and the improvement of the Honda has muddied the waters considerably. There’s no longer any clear Yamaha tracks, as evidenced by Marquez’s win at Assen, traditionally Valentino Rossi’s favorite circuit.
When Will the Streak End?
- Over/Under Number of Consecutive Races Without a Yamaha Victory: 23.5
Don’t hold your breath! The next three races are Brno, Austria, and Silverstone, three circuits with no Yamaha winners since 2015. Marc Marquez is expected to keep up his form up at Brno, where he won last year, and Austria and Silverstone are both pretty firmly within the Ducati’s wheelhouse.
It all depends when Yamaha delivers their new electronics package. If the experience of Honda is anything to learn from, that could take a long time, as Honda brought update after update to the RC213V with no real improvement for a period approaching two years.
IF they bring an update quickly, and it works, Brno is a decent circuit for the Yamahas. After that, they’ll have to wait for San Marino or Aragon, and this streak could stretch deep into the twenties.
Yamaha came very close to winning at Phillip Island last year, and the flowing, fast track was also a great friend of Honda’s when Big Red had their problems. Hopefully the streak will be over by then, although with Marquez at the top of his game and the premier class more competitive than ever, there are no guarantees.