While little that was revelatory was given away at Movistar Yamaha’s launch in Madrid, assembled media found Valentino Rossi holding his cards close to his chest, and Maverick Viñales possessing an air of quiet authority.
There was much to look forward to in Madrid on Thursday past. Along with the annual unveiling of Movistar Yamaha’s colours for 2017, there came the chance to grill factory bosses, gauge Maverick Viñales, wide eyed and clad in a darker shade of blue, and, just shy of his 38th birthday, contemplate Valentino Rossi’s reaction to it all.
Aside from the usual banal brand promotion involved with these glitzy ‘dos’, it’s a chance for riders to put up a front, show the fruits of their winter’s labour, and state their case for coming season ahead. Here, their approaches diverged, and for differing reasons suggested that managing director Lin Jarvis was genuine when saying the line-up “couldn’t be better.”
“We have the living legend and then the best, hungriest young talent,” said Jarvis of Rossi and Viñales. This is the time of year for profound optimism ringing out, and it was the younger of the two riders that echoed his new boss’ sentiments and talked up a championship challenge. Rossi reserved judgement, and refused to get overly excited by testing improvements, hinting at a more considered approach to his 22nd season in GPs.
There was little sign of the icy tension that engulfed Movistar’s showpiece a year ago, when, at times, the grinding of Jorge Lorenzo’s teeth was almost audible over Rossi’s words. For now the Italian and Viñales smiled for the cameras and traded niceties. For Viñales, “wvery year the limit is the higher and Valentino is always there.” Rossi’s responded, “I have to understand the way to be as fast as him.” Touching, no doubt, but truer tests of this relationship will come.
Both acknowledged the need to work on the YZF-M1’s capabilities in the second half of races, while also comfortably swatting away questions on their working relationship. Marc Marquez and a reportedly much-improved Honda is the target in their sights, they concurred. Working together is the only means of overcoming his might.
While much of this is far from revelatory, there were a several things of note that suggest Yamaha is in fine shape going into the season ahead. As the presentation itself offered only the slightest glimpses into philosophy behind the 2017 YZF-M1 – a “very positive step to get back Yamaha’s traditional ‘character’ of sweet handling, according to MotoGP group leader Kouichi Tsuji – the juicy stuff was reserved for the media debriefs soon after.
It could be argued it was Rossi’s aim to appear completely at ease, to present a figure that was not only free of the strains of age and defeat, but one that was pleased to duck a few big questions and let his younger counterpart take on much of the attention. His words said as much, as Rossi refused to be drawn on predictions. “On paper it’s not more easy or more hard [than before],” he said, giving little away. “It depends on me and the team. We will try to arrive ready in Qatar and stay concentrated for all the season.”
“My preparation for the championship this year is quite similar to the last seasons, but I try to make small details better.” Those small details included eradicating those costly mistakes from a year ago. “From the first test [I will] work on my riding style, my position on the bike and try to make another step.” The most he would give away on the ’17 M1 was a cloaked, “the potential is high,” a dumbed-down version of the optimism expressed earlier by Tsuji-san.
A year ago, his simmering bitterness at how 2015’s closing chapter was penned was all-too-apparent, a factor that crew chief Silvano Galbusera noted in a recent interview with La Gazzetta Dello Sport. “He was preoccupied” and “not as relaxed as normal,” he said of his rider. Could the Italian be aiming to steer clear of headlines and controversy, instead minding his own business and planning an early attack? After all this did serve him well in the opening half of ’15.
And what of Viñales, now able to speak of his experiences with Yamaha publicly for the first time? Any thoughts that his new surroundings may lead to a lapse in his evergreen courteousness were soon dispelled. Mid-way through his debrief in English he was called away due to the wearying demands of TV. Not a problem. He was soon back to field more questions. And he spoke at length too, answering with consideration and confidence. “From the first race we can start to think to fight for the title,” he declared.
He found the M1 immediately to his liking. The electronics were a big step up to what he had used before, and the bike was excellent on corner exit. “In Sepang I was already feeling, ‘Wow, this is my bike.’”
The most interesting observation had already come a little earlier when addressing the Spanish media. Viñales is quickly evolving an eye for the small details, and gave the impression he is already aware of where his main rivals stand. “When you get home and see the times, you see what every rider was focussing on,” he said of the days that followed the Valencia test. “I saw Marc did a lot of laps. He was really fast and consistent. I’ll admit, it surprised me and I don’t want to get caught out [again].”
Rossi and old team-mate Lorenzo cited Yamaha’s inability to improve throughout ’16 as a reason for their respective challenges unravelling. Now, with a common challenger in mind, both of Yamaha’s men appear to be poised once again for a run at motorcycle racing’s highest honour.
Photos by Milagro/Yamaha