When Massimo Meregalli, Yamaha team manager, answers the phone he is waiting to board his flight to Doha. He has three busy days ahead of him at the Losail track, the final testing days before the start of the championship. It will be important to work out what's not working with the new M1.
At Sepang, aside from the final day, the 2018 Yamaha seemed to have born under a lucky start but Thailand then brought a cold shower for both Valentino and Vinales.
“At Buriram some of those limits that we suffered with last year re-emerged - confirms Meregalli - but this time the two riders complained about different things and so this forced us to work in two different directions”.
Rossi focused on the electronics, Maverick on the chassis.
“Yes, Valentino is very pleased with how the new bike rides but he suffered in terms of the electronics. Vinales, meanwhile, wasn't able to stop the bike or get it to turn as he wanted. Both though are pleased with the new engine and the top speed it guarantees”.
What happened in Thailand?
“In Malaysia we were able to perform well even with used tyres but in Buriram we had a lot of trouble with the tyres. It was a problem that many had, but we seemed to suffer more. We improved though and on the last day we were able to complete race distance on the softer tyre, something that would have been impossible when we started the test”.
Overall though, it wasn't all positive…
“We had some issues we didn't expect. Looking a the Buriram track layout, we thought we'd be going to a track that would suit our bike well”.
What's at the root of the problem?
“The three factors of the M1, the tyres and the asphalt definitely mean we have a more restricted range of tyre compared to our rivals. We know this”.
In addition, you watched Zarco move towards the top of the timesheets with the satellite M1. People ask whether you can't just copy from him?
“It's only normal that people see it like that from the outside. His bike and that of the factory team are very similar right now, the biggest difference is that we have the next evolution of engine”.
So why is he so fast?
“I hope to be able to answer that after the Qatar test (he laughs)”.
Joking aside, what did his performance tell you?
“At this point, I think we need to work on the electronics. Last year I had some doubts, but now that the M1 used by Zarco is 90% the same as ours, it's certain.Valentino told us already after the Argentinian GP that we needed to develop them”.
Zarco uses different electronics to you?
“No, the base is the same but each rider calibrates them according to his needs”.
Rossi is pushing for the electronics, Vinales for the chassis - which way will you go?
“We can go both ways, already last year we took development in two different directions as far as was possible and we can do the same now”.
So Rossi might race with the 2018 frame and Vinales with the 2017 version for example?
“Yes, but in this case strength is dispersed as we'd have to work on two different projects, but if the riders have different requests, we're ready to do that”.
What's the schedule for the Qatar tests?
“I'll only know the work schedule tomorrow, after my usual technical meeting with the Japanese engineers. I don't think we'll have anything completely different though, there hasn't been time and that's not Yamaha's style”.
On Sunday morning the tests will conclude, what needs to happen for you to wake up happy?
“I want to understand what the problem is. I don't just want to complete the quickest lap, I want to know the reason. For example: on day two of testing at Buriram, Maverick was fast, in the top four, but I felt that we didn't really know why he was up there. And then on day three the problems emerged”.
How do you come through this?
“Often it's important to sort the small details, you find that you take a step back and solve it all. I'm heading to Qatar with a few concerns, but it might also be the case that on a different track, with different temperatures and asphalt, the problems disappear”.
Are you optimistic though?
“Three years ago, after the Qatar test, everyone said that the M1 project was done and that a revolution was needed. What happened that year? We won the title”.
Do the two riders share your vision?
“The championship's about to begin and they are pumped, they're giving it their all in order to get out of this situation as quickly as possible. We've talked during these days and they are very willing. They may seem disappointed at the end of a tough day, but the next morning they're always ready to start again”.
Will a three-day test be enough?
“It may be not enough or more than enough, I know the Japanese engineers though and have faith in them, just as I do in the work of our team”.