It was a major struggle in Qatar for the Petronas Yamaha team.
Two rounds into the 2020 MotoGP we saw Petronas Yamaha with two race wins under their belt and the championship lead, two rounds into the 2021 season and the story is quite the opposite. Instead we see Valentino Rossi and Franco Morbidelli in P14 and P15 in the standings respectively after majorly struggling in Qatar.
In Race 1 we saw Valentino Rossi start from an impressive P4 on the grid behind the factory Yamaha duo of Maverick Vinales and Fabio Quartararo but lap by lap we saw the 9 x champion tumble down the order eventually stopping in P16, thankfully he was able to claw some places back in the race finishing in a dismal P12, absolutely not what he expected after lining up on the second row of the grid. After the race he mentioned that he had some issues with his tyres, especially the rear tyre which meant he was unable to fight as he expected to as he did not have the feeling to be able to push which was reflected in his race result.
For Morbidelli it was a tragic tale of awful luck, as the 2020 runner up lined up on the grid he was ordered to step off his bike by a member of his team who had realised there was an issue, the holeshot device had malfunctioned and was stuck on, forcing Morbidelli into a lower riding position for the entire race, effectively riding the bike like a chopper. You could tell it was serious on the grid when you saw the realisation hit Morbidelli and his team as they came to terms with the fact that their race was doomed before it had even started, Morbidelli crawled home to P18, desperately hoping for an improvement.
Both riders and the team were looking forward to the following weekend where we had the DohaGP at the exact same circuit, they could learn from their problems in the QatarGP and pull a solid result out the bag, or so they thought…
The weekend after in the DohaGP we would see Valentino Rossi qualify in a career-worst P21, he again had issues with the rear tyre in his qualifying and worked with his team to no avail doing all they could to change the bike and electronic settings to improve the situation, sadly the work they put in was not enough. He would gain some places during the race but still met the chequered flag in P16, outside of the points.
The rear grip issue he is having is due to how grippy the asphalt is at the Losail International Circuit which was also a source of pain for KTM, the Austrians not enjoying success in the desert. Rossi was able to try a new swingarm which he has said did improve his feeling with the bike and they will continue to work to improve as they move into Europe. Jerez is normally a very good leveller for MotoGP bikes so we will soon find out if he can improve.
Morbidelli lost his left knee slider early into the race.
In a twisted tale of misfortune Morbidelli would once again suffer major issues way outside of his control during the second race in Doha, he had a decent start to his race from P10 and would run around the P12 mark before his knee slider slipped off and he was left with no support on the corners on his left side, at a track with a lot of left corners. A rider not being able to use their knee to stabilise themselves and their bike can be detrimental to their race and we saw this with Morbidelli slipping back to P14 before eventually finishing in P12. He struggled with his tyres in the race and used them up too early but feels his race was fairly positive and was able to put down the same lap times as race winner Fabio Quartararo. MotoGP heads to Portimao for the next race, a track he finished in P3 at in the final race of the 2020 season.
It is a sad start to the 2021 campaign for a team which had so much success in 2020. Qatar is known to be a little bit of an anomaly with the race results and races not painting a full picture of what is to be expected throughout the season, Portimao and Jerez is where we will start to see Petronas’ true race winning colours shine with the team taking podiums at both tracks last year with a double win in Jerez.
Featured images – Petronas SRT