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Randy Mamola gives his impressions of Rossi's Yamaha debut

Randy Mamola gives his impressions of Rossi's Yamaha debut

Randy Mamola gives his impressions of Rossi's Yamaha debut

Well, the moment we were all waiting for finally came around and we weren't disappointed. Valentino Rossi made his debut on the Yamaha M1 and immediately went under 2'03, proving what we all knew already - he is the best rider in the world. Does this mean he can defend the World Championship on the Yamaha? Well, there are still a lot of questions to be answered before we can know that.

It is difficult to gauge exactly what went on out in Malaysia or read deeply into the lap times without knowing specifically how many laps the guys did in what times, how consistent they were and so on, but there are certain things we can pick up and read into.

Firstly, we shouldn't get too carried away with the fact Rossi did a 2'02.7 on his third day on the M1, even though it is clearly an excellent lap time. The Yamaha has always gone well at Sepang, and so has Rossi – so there is no reason to expect anything but a good time from him there on that bike. Carlos Checa qualified second at the same circuit in October and was fifth in the race, only 13 seconds down on Rossi, whilst the previous season Max Biaggi won two races on the M1 and one of them was at Sepang. So we know the M1 is a capable machine at that circuit.

The reality is though, that the Yamaha is only really suited to a handful of circuits, and that has been their problem for many years. The Honda, on the other hand, has won 29 of the last 32 Grands Prix and has been strong at every racetrack. As many of you will know, I tested Rossi's RC211V and Checa's M1 at the end of last season and I said that the Yamaha was not as good a bike as the Honda. People may now start to question me for those comments but I certainly stand by them. You only have to look at the case of Alex Barros, who rode the M1 at the end of the 2002 season after winning two out of four races on the Honda. After his first test, Alex said the bike was just as good. Now, one season and a bunch of big crashes later, we see him wriggling out of his contract to get back on the Honda. I think that tells us something.

One thing I don't know is how much work Yamaha have done since November, because I'm sure they won't have been sat on their hands. Also, Checa had a new chassis at Valencia which I wasn't allowed to try, so I can't really comment on how close the bikes are right now. In any case, we know that Tohru Ukawa was testing the 2004 version of the Honda at Sepang last week and that, without doubt, Honda will be raising the standard again. So the big unknown is how much progress have Yamaha made already and how much can they make in the future? It will be interesting to see at the next tests, when both Honda and Yamaha – and of course Ducati – will be testing their ‘new spec' bikes.

In any case, I think that in Valentino Rossi and Jeremy Burgess, Yamaha now have a combination which can give them the information they need to make the necessary progress. One of their problems last year was the amount of time it took their riders to find a set-up. You would see on a Friday morning that the Yamaha guys would be way down the time sheets, then they would improve and by Saturday afternoon, one of them might break onto the front row. This is one of the things Valentino and Jeremy will look to address by getting a good base setting and Yamaha must respond quickly to what they want. Hopefully, this way they can turn these promising beginnings into a bike which can race consistently at any circuit and come out on top in a one-on-one fight with another machine.

At the moment the Honda is still a stronger weapon than the Yamaha. Can Rossi on the Yamaha equal the strength of the Honda? My answer right now is "at some circuits yes, at some circuits no".

As you know, there is a lot more to racing than machinery, and one thing I am wondering is how will Valentino react psychologically to his new situation. For three years he has been the number one, the man to beat, but now it is wide open. Reading into the pictures I have seen of him at the test, he looks happy and he looks focussed. But, once the season starts, how will he react to being beaten? How will he feel when he sees Max Biaggi and the other Honda or Ducati riders regularly on top of the podium and challenging for the title? It will be interesting to see because, believe me, anything below Max will be a failure as far as Rossi is concerned.

MotoGP, 2003, Valentino Rossi

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