There is not person in the paddock who is not counting the days before we can get back on track. Slowly, the situation seems to be returning to some sort of timid normality and the date of July 19, that of the possible first Grand Prix of the year at Jerez, is marked in red on everyone’s calendar. Also on that of Massimo 'Maio' Meregalli, the Yamaha team manager.
“I am truly the first to want to go out on the track,” he admits with a smile. “Honestly, I had always thought of a restart at Brno in August, but if we are able to start in July, all the better. We have already got our heads around the idea of a double race on the same circuit, we understand what the situation is, and we hope to do at least ten or so races."
Will such a short championship change the values on the track?
"Honestly, no. It will still be important not to make mistakes, but at the same time you will have to take risks to try to win. You will have to start immediately strong and I hope they will give us the opportunity to do a test on the Wednesday of the first GP because it has never happened that a rider has been 5 months without riding his bike. A test would be useful to dial back in before starting."
Would it also be useful for the team?
“For me, yes, also because we will have to get used to working with all the necessary precautions. It will be useful for helping us to acclimatize again."
Another decision taken in recent months has been that of frozen development for engines and aerodynamics, do you think it could disadvantage or benefit someone?
“I think it was a smart decision in this situation, I don't think it brings anyone any benefits. Without what happened, we would have been able to start well and perhaps take advantage of the conditions of Marquez, who was not yet 100% physically, so he suffered in the winter tests. The cards on the table will not change."
"Based on what I think, Valentino will continue to race"
This will be the last season in which you will work with Rossi, what are your feelings about that?
“There is a lot of talk about his future, but Valentino has not yet decided whether to continue or not. As for the technical aspect, Yamaha will make available to him the same factory bike that we will have."
How important would it be for Yamaha to be able to continue to have him on the track, also for development?
"As we saw last year, it is important to have the bikes all the same, because it will allow us to work and improve quicker during the race weekend. We will be able to compare the settings of all the riders, something we did not do before. For sure we can make the most of Valentino's experience."
You have surely spoken to Valentino on the phone, how did you find him?
“Based on how much I know him and on what I think, I certainly think he will continue, but only he knows. He has the same desire as always and, as soon as he was able to do so, he went back to training at the Ranch. We tried to go to Austria, to the Red Bull Ring, because he wanted to start do some laps again. It was an invitation extended to all 4 Yamaha MotoGP riders, but on their return, both in Italy and in Andorra, they would have had to have been put in quarantine, so we gave up this opportunity. Valentino's motivations are driven by his passion ".
"A pity to keep Lorenzo inactive, he can give us a lot"
Lorenzo is also without a contract, he should have raced at Barcelona, but the GP Commission has banned wild cards this year. What are the plans for him?
“I seem to have a wildcard in my hand and not able to play it. The Sepang test had not been minimally prepared, the agreement was reached just before we left, and we tried to find a last-minute solution. We would have liked to have him do some more laps, but the test riders had to finish their work schedule first."
What did you think of him in these tests?
“Well, right from the start, on the bike he was natural, loose, nothing compared to his last races. I am convinced that if it hadn't started raining in the last half hour of the third day, he would have got close to the fastest guys. Physically he was still not perfect, but he would have done a quick lap. I'm really sorry I can't get him to do any wild cards. A race was scheduled in Barcelona, where we should have had new material ready for him to try and then for us to be able to use it. Furthermore, we thought of another wild card, in Misano or Motegi, but it will not be possible. Jorge brings with him two years of experience in Ducati and one in Honda and he could certainly give us something. He is also really sensitive; it is a pity not to be able to use him as we would have liked. The test program was temporarily suspended, and we still have to do the new one. "
Do you think he can remain as a tester in Yamaha or are you afraid that he may decide to go racing with another manufacturer?
"I find it hard to put myself in Jorge's shoes, I saw him very relaxed and happy in his new role. It seems to me that he is enjoying life a little more and at the same time he can still ride on a bike. Maybe making one or two wild cards a year would allow him to have fun and keep up his pace. We have not yet thought of anything different for 2021, even if the contract with him is only one year. "
"Yamaha has changed its approach, we have everything we need to be successful"
Has Yamaha really turned the page after some difficult seasons?
“Things have changed after the reorganization of the structure in Japan, from Barcelona we started to see something different. Nothing was changed radically; we took a few steps back to find the right direction, we understood what was not working and then we didn't stop working. In Brno we had started testing new material by 2020 and that hadn't happened for two years. From there they brought 3 different engine evolutions, at the beginning they seemed imperceptible but the last one, in Valencia, made us improve in power, delivery and traction. It was the result of a new working method, there is much more communication between Japan and Gerno di Lesmo, whereas before it was not like that.”
Was the change more of approach than technical?
"Logically, technical updates have arrived, but the approach is what has changed. There is also another aspect: in recent years, the bikes of the official team were never the same as those used by Tech3 and this has influenced things. Last year the M1s of the 4 riders were 90% the same, this gave us the opportunity to compare the data and to try each other's solutions, in addition to the fact that, as they were all very fast, they pushed each other hard."
How much help does the new Michelin rear tyre give? There are some observers who claim that it helps the motorcycles with the 4-cylinder in-line engine, that is, Yamaha and Suzuki.
"Even in the past it happened with Bridgestone, when they changed the construction of the front tyre not everyone liked it, but in the end, everyone made it work. It is true that we have never had any problems with this new Michelin tyre; since we started using it all the riders have liked it, it allowed us to be faster and more consistent. In the winter tests, we only had the problem of the rear tyre decaying with Valentino in Doha, we hadn't suffered from it before.”
Does Yamaha now have everything it takes to begin a new winning cycle?
“Yes, we are still missing a few kilometres per hour of top speed. The winter test package may not excel anywhere, but it is really good. You can see this from how the riders have been lapping, they have been fast but also consistent, in fact there is a bit of regret that we didn’t start the championship.”
“Vinales and Quartararo two roosters in a henhouse? Everyone would like to have such a problem "
What do you think of the Vinales - Quartararo pairing that you will have in the next two years?
“They will be a good pair! We did a good job, not being able to wait for Valentino's decision and not even wanting to lose a young and promising rider like Fabio. We managed to have everything we wanted: two young riders and making an official package available to Vale.”
Is there a risk of having to manage the two classic roosters in a henhouse?
“I think it's a problem that everyone would like to have (laughs). In the end they will push each other hard and at the same time improve the bike ".
Will Quartararo bring his technicians with him?
"We haven't talked about it yet, usually we talk about this matter between July and August."