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Randy Mamola on an amazing year for Rossi and Yamaha

Randy Mamola on an amazing year for Rossi and Yamaha

Randy Mamola on an amazing year for Rossi and Yamaha

Today is almost one year to the day that I tested what would become Valentino Rossi's Yamaha M1 alongside the Honda RC211V, the Ducati Desmosedici and the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-RR at Valencia. My impression after just a couple of laps was that the Honda was clearly superior, and that Valentino was on a mission impossible to win the World Championship on the Yamaha.

Whilst I stick by my thoughts that the Honda was a better bike, and in many ways still is, what Yamaha and Valentino have achieved together since then has been phenomenal and as a spectator, fan and former rider all I can do is congratulate them.

Taking Valentino on at the end of last season was potentially one of the riskiest things Yamaha could have done. Everybody knew that they had signed the number one rider – the question was now on them as to whether they could meet his demands in terms of the tool he would need to win the World Championship.

Yamaha have done a great job in responding to whatever Valentino and Jeremy Burgess have asked for this season, and what Rossi has ended up with is HIS bike – virtually from scratch. And that is what has enabled him to achieve ‘the impossible'.

Let me explain. In the past we have seen Valentino winning races on the Honda V5, but also getting beaten by other riders on the same bike – Tohru Ukawa and Alex Barros in 2002, Max Biaggi and Sete Gibernau in 2003. This season he was beaten by Carlos Checa at Le Mans, but has basically blown away his Yamaha colleagues at every other round.

I'm not saying that Yamaha have built a bike exclusively to suit Rossi and disregarded their other riders, but that the Honda is a much more neutral bike – a better all round package which suits virtually any rider – whilst Rossi has taken the Yamaha on and made it into a race-winning and title-winning machine. His performance this year was at a whole new level; above anything we had seen from him before.

I also think that in a strange way Honda have helped this process, which started when Rossi first tested the Yamaha at Sepang back in January. Whilst Valentino was getting a first shakedown on the bike, Checa was already running through a bunch of engines which Rossi would then get to choose from. From that point on, and when Yamaha brought in the big-bang engine, Valentino was working on his '04 bike and making it better in every test.

Over at Honda, things were not as clear cut. With six riders to choose from the factory started dishing out parts here there and everywhere, and there was confusion over who would be getting priority treatment from HRC during the season. By the time the official tests came around at Catalunya and Jerez in March, things got even more complicated when they gave out the '04 chassis… and of course it rained.

As you will all remember, Valentino went out in both of those tests and set the fastest time. Whilst Honda had been going round in circles, Valentino had been racking up the laps on his M1 in rain, hail or shine – showing an unbelievable capacity for work and a determination to get the bike working in any condition and, crucially, testing everything for his '04 bike on Michelin's '04 tyres.

Whilst Yamaha probably didn't expect to beat Honda in those tests, they had quietly been making progress and they knew they had a base package which they could be competitive with in the dry or the wet. And with Rossi being fastest in the dry at Catalunya and in the wet at Jerez, they had Honda on the back foot before the season had even started.

What we saw from Rossi in those tests and for the rest of the season was an incredible level of concentration and determination. I think that for the previous three seasons with Honda he had been in kind of a comfort zone, where he knew what to expect at every circuit and what he had to do. However, this season every test, every circuit, every Grand Prix was a new experience for him and he responded to the challenge.

I'm not saying that Rossi's competitors were not concentrated or determined but, for example, I don't think I saw any other rider complete as many laps in the wet as Rossi this year. Whereas in the past he may have seen the clouds gathering and decided to stay in the box, this season he was out there – gathering as much data as possible and doing everything he could to make that bike better.

The first race of the season in South Africa gave the Honda riders what was basically their first dry sessions with the '04 chassis and it was at this point when virtually all of them started complaining about ‘chatter'. For some, like Colin Edwards, these complaints would go on all season.

That opening round went down to an epic battle between Rossi and his greatest rival Max Biaggi, and we all know what happened next. Rossi shook the ground with that win, drawing all the attention and focus to himself and ensuring it stayed that way for the rest of the season, particularly at times when other riders would have been boosted by a bit of attention themselves. It is a deliberate tactic which Jerry Burgess and his crew used for a long time to great effect with Mick Doohan.

Going back to one year ago, when I tested that Yamaha, its strong points were that it was nimble, stable into the turns and light to handle. Its weaknesses were the power band, which came on abruptly between 10,000 and 15,000rpm, a general horsepower deficit compared to the Hondas and Ducatis and controlability of the power it did have.

I'm looking forward to seeing how much that has changed when I test the bike again next week, but one thing I am sure of is that Valentino Rossi has made the biggest difference to its performance. I said that I didn't think he could win the title this season but he did, so he proved me wrong and I think he even surprised himself this year. He was fun to watch and capped it off in perfect fashion, dicing for victory on the last lap at Phillip Island when he could have settled for second place. But that is not Vale.

It's going to be tough for Honda to turn this situation around in 2005, but one thing they have surely learnt from 2004 is that they are not going to stop Rossi and Yamaha with a deluded bunch of riders. They need to get their priorities sorted out early and get development moving in one direction from the start. Rossi already joked that if Honda want to win their title back they will have to sign him back. I think that goes for any factory out there. If you have handling problems, horsepower deficits or ‘chatter' and want to win the title it seems there is one simple solution – sign Rossi in 2006!

For now we have one race remaining of the season and it should be a lot of fun. Sete Gibernau can't win the title anymore but he is riding for pride in front of his home crowd at the circuit where he scored his first victory in 2001. There will be big support for Sete, but there seem to be Rossi fans wherever you go in the world and I'm sure there'll be that traditional sea of yellow at Valencia this weekend as well.

Whatever happens, I think I speak for everybody when I say that a race like the one in Australia would do just nicely!


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