Yamaha’s problems, equally self-inflicted, are more convoluted. There’s no shortage of riding talent – new satellite-team star Quartararo is alongside the formidable Rossi and strong Spaniard Maverick Vinales on the factory bikes, while ex-Moto2 champion Franco Morbidelli backs them up.
Where they fall short is in horsepower, which not only penalises top speed (some 7mph in Austria) but also punishes corner exit. Rider efforts to overcome this with higher corner speeds can work at some tracks, but for Rossi in particular burning up the tyres seems to spoil end-of-race pace. Conversely Vinales, while qualifying well, suffers puzzling difficulties in the early laps.
In fact, it’s all a bit puzzling, which is normal at these pinnacles of technical performance, where margins are so very small. This is where inspirational engineers can come to the rescue. Or not.
MotoGP rules freeze engine development during the season, for all except so-called “concession teams” – the beginners. So Yamaha are banned from fiddling to release more or better power, then it gets worse. A reliability problem saw three engine failures at the opening two races, and now one-third into the season all but one of the four riders has already taken all five allocated engines out of cold-storage. Should they need another, that dictates a pit-lane start.
The failures were blamed on valves, and Yamaha sought official permission to open their engines to fix the problem “on safety grounds”. The structure of the rules requires that all manufacturers needed to agree and, not surprisingly, their rivals scented a chance to unearth potential secrets, and requested more technical details before granting permission. At that point, Yamaha demurred, with boss Lin Jarvis telling the press they would “adjust some other parameters” to get through the year. This means cutting revs and power, exacerbating their existing performance woes.