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MotoGP, Max Bartolini: "A V4 for Yamaha in 2027? We'll think about it soon."

INTERVIEW - The technical director: "I'm a Ducatista at heart, but the Japanese surprised me with their passion. When will we become competitive again? At the end of 2025. I don't think the new regulations will improve the show. We Italians do 10 things and think about them once, they do one and think about them 10 times."

MotoGP: Max Bartolini:

From Bologna to Iwata is a long road, but Massimo Bartolini seems to like long and difficult roads. He was for many years one of Ducati's key men, in red he experienced old sorrows and recent joys, to accept, at the end of last year, the call from Yamaha. He became the technical director, 'equal rank' to project leader Kazuhiro Masuda, and never before had any European climbed so high in the hierarchy of the technical department. A great satisfaction, but also a great opportunity.

Max, who made you do it? Wasn't it better to be in Ducati counting the victories?
"A lot of people asked me that (laughs). In my career I have worked in World Rallying, Formula 1, SBK and MotoGP, and I had told myself that if I were in a team capable of winning the title in MotoGP, I would stop, but I like this job and I was sorry to leave it. The real problem was that I'm a Ducatista at heart - even in the Valentino era when the wins weren't there - and the difficulty was getting away from that brand. What moved me was the idea of seeing a different reality that I had always observed from afar, I was lucky to have this opportunity and I evaluated it quickly."

What convinced you?
"When I talked to Sumi (General Manager and President of Yamaha Motor Racing, ed.) he seemed really in favor of trying to make a change. I don't think it ever happened that Yamaha put a European in my position, it was a good opportunity. I talked about it with my wife, and I liked the idea of trying, even though I was really sorry to leave Ducati."

Ducati was also sorry to lose you: Dall'Igna, Tardozzi, Bagnaia said it was a good coup by Yamaha.
"I consider these people a piece of my family, I worked with Davide for 20 years and we still talk regularly, he is like my big brother. Of Ducati I knew life, death and miracles, I have been following it since I was a child, while I knew little of Yamaha. In Japan I discovered many things, I also like to be passionate about history."

What image did you have of Yamaha and what did you find?
"I can't go into details, but I thought I was entering a temple and in some respects having more surprises. There is a cultural difference, but they are a lot of enthusiasts, in some ways more than I was used to. Almost everyone has a bike, they take it apart, and it's not a brand thing. So many people tell me about the Ducati road bikes, from which point of view I was pleasantly impressed."

What is life like for an Italian in Iwata?
"The mentality is quite different, but racing unites everyone. We Italians do 10 things and think about them once, they do one thing and think about it 10 times. They work very well, but they have their own timelines and they are used to considering so many things, that's what led them to be a little behind."

Did they need a dash of Latin madness?
"We have to do a mix. Let's say we want to catch up, but if you want to win you have to get ahead of the others. If we can combine the good things of both cultures, we can do a good job."

Many people cannot explain how Yamaha in just a few years found itself in this situation.
"I have an idea. The bike itself does not work badly, in my opinion, at the time when MotoGP evolved in certain aspects, they underestimated their impact. In addition, in 2021, the last year they won the title, there was also Fabio making a difference. All this led them to fall a bit behind. In modern MotoGP, if you take 7 or 8 tenths you have a big gap, but you're actually missing two or three things. Like aerodynamics, lowering devices, precisely those aspects that they underestimated."

How do you react?
"After three or four years, you can't invent something overnight.You can't just make another Ducati. Assuming I was capable of making a Ducati - which I am not - I still couldn't. So you have to figure out what we have and then improve it."

Yamaha is the Japanese manufacturer that is opening up more to Europe, with your arrival and collaborations with Marmorini and Dallara.
"It's an approach they don't just have in racing. As a company they are starting to think that they have to evolve in certain aspects and then expand their connection with the rest of the world."

In Formula 1, they sometimes stop development of the current car to focus on the one for next year. Is this a possible strategy in MotoGP as well?
"No. In our structure there are two riders and a tester, you can't think about doing a championship and not trying to improve the results. Also, races are important to progress, you have to use what you have and try to figure out how fast you want to get closer to the best."

How limiting is it to have only two riders?
"To understand the direction it is quite a lot. In Ducati I had eight, so I was particularly favored, but when you want to follow a macro-line you struggle with two. Let's say you do a test with new components, if 6 out of 8 riders notice an improvement, you can be pretty convinced you're doing well. With two, if they both notice it you are reasonably convinced, but you still know little about it; if only one notices it, then it gets more complicated."

The guidelines of the new regulations have been published, could the development of the 2027 bike slow down the development of the current one?
"It might, but it gives the advantage that it will also force our rivals to start from scratch, or almost. If I had a winning bike right now, I would only work on the details by bringing in only what I'm sure is good, but we have to take risks. Ross Brawn used to say that when you're in front, you have to push harder so you can maintain your lead. In that situation, if you don't make big mistakes, you will always stay in front. So 2027 will give an opportunity to us, to Honda, to everyone who is chasing."

What timeframe have you given yourself to become competitive again?
"If we are good, it will take years because we have to catch up with the current gap and what others will do to improve. We should get close within 2 or 3 years, there are so many things to improve and change. Hoping to get everything in place this season, we should be able to see something by the end of 2025."

Were you surprised that Quartararo gave Yamaha confidence by deciding to stay?
"I didn't know him before I arrived, now I believe that he has put his trust in the company that brought him to MotoGP and won him the title. After getting to know him, I thought he might stay if we showed him a desire for change."

Do you like the regulations for 2027?
"Yes, but I don't know how much it will improve the show. Since I was in SBK first and then MotoGP, I've seen the displacement go up and down several times, it's a cycle. The change from 800 to 1,000 generated more spectacle, now I have a hard time saying that reducing aerodynamics will increase the overtaking. Certainly the bikes will be less on the limit, even with the elimination of the lowerers, but I don't think we will see the battles of yesteryear again."

Would you have liked the hybrid idea?
"The motorcycle world is not ready for that technology. As an idea, from a technical point of view, I like it, but it would be difficult to put into MotoGP. It would not be sustainable, because it would involve another investment and technically it would be very complicated."

Yamaha is the only bike still with an inline-4 engine, will you also abandon it in 2027 or will someone else adopt it instead?
"Right now we haven't thought about it yet, but it would be wrong to say we won't. It will depend on what we manage to do in these two years, because if we have a competitive bike we will think differently about whether or not to change the engine architecture. On the other hand, I have a hard time explaining today the choice to go from a V4 to an inline-4, unless there are marketing reasons. From a technical point of view, the V4 has certain advantageous features, so logically we will think about it."

When will you start working on the new bike?
"We will start talking about the engine in early 2025, so that we can put the bike on the track around March, April 2026. This is the practice."

 

Translated by Julian Thomas

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