2017 was, to all intents and purposes, a year to forget for Yamaha. Despite the season's surprising start, Vinales and Rossi then lost their way just a few races in, finding themselves swimming against a tide of doubts, with ineffective frames and tyres that would wear out too quickly.
In a long interview with Mat Oxley on motorsportmagazine.com, Silvano Galbusera looks back on the 2017 season, summing it up with just one word: 'terrible'. And to think that they had been on the right track as 2016 drew to an end: “In 2016 Valentino had a good feeling with the bike but we destroyed the rear tyre with five or six laps to go. For 2017 Yamaha modified the bike to save the tyre but Valentino missed the feeling he needed. It didn't take much to see that the 2016 M1 was easier to ride."
Vinales' performance, with back to back wins in Qatar and Argentina, masked the difficulties to some extent, but it didn't take long for the problems to emerge: “At the beginning of 2017 we found that the new bike wasn’t 100 per cent for Valentino. We couldn’t find the right setting." The work completed by technicians in Japan didn't help to resolve the issues either: "Yamaha changed the chassis a little bit, with different geometry and similar stiffness, but Valentino never had the feeling he had in 2016.” Yes, the chassis. The team used four during the last season, starting with the 2017 version from Qatar, then the 2017.1 from June, the 2017.2 from August before they went back to using the 2016 version at the Valencia GP. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
The trickiest aspect was that relating to rear tyre consumption, something that proved to be a real obstacle for Yamaha: “To deal with this, we reduced the power, which saved the tyre but cost us acceleration. This was a critical moment, because we could not use all the power from the engine because the bike wasn’t able to accelerate without spinning and destroying the tyre.”
The Doctor's crew chief looks to the future, mapping out the path to take: “We need to work on the electronics”. An area in which the competition has taken giant steps forward: “Ducati and Honda have grown and you can tell by listening to the sound of their bikes. They can also count on team members who have worked at Magneti Marelli”. He is asked why Yamaha does not take similar action: “I don’t think there’s anyone left there with that kind of experience”.
So Yamaha needs to concentrate on what it's got. The Doctor's weight also impacts on tyre consumption of course: “Maverick is lighter than Valentino, so he’s gentler with the rear tyre. Valentino is taller and heavier, so he needs a slightly stronger setting. Maverick’s settings are more towards those that Lorenzo used.”
One man who stood out in 2017 was Zarco with the satellite Tech3 team's M1: “Johann is a bit lighter than Valentino and he’s very gentle with both the front and rear tyres, so he can use very soft settings". Galbusera's final words relate to Michelin: “I don’t know why Michelin changed the tyre for 2017. For sure it was better for Valentino when they went back to the harder tyre, because it gives him more support.”