Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP had a memorable couple of weekends at the Losail International Circuit. Two wins from two to start the season, one apiece for Maverick Viñales and Fabio Quartararo, was a very convincing way to kick off a huge year of MotoGP™ competition for the Iwata brand.
Thanks to Quartararo, Yamaha also bagged the first two victories of the season in 2020. They also achieved this feat in 2017 with Viñales. However, the manner of the victories from a sun-baked Jerez in July last year compared to a floodlit Losail couldn’t have been any different. Both Viñales and Quartararo expertly battled their way through the pack, got to the front in the closing stages, and pulled a small, just over a second gap to two rapid Ducatis.
Two victories from two couldn’t have been a better way to start the season for the Yamaha factory team, especially after both Viñales and Quartararo’s title aspirations went astray in 2020. It was a real surprise to most people looking on from the outside to see Viñales claw his way through the field. Last year, none of the four Yamaha riders were able to do that.
Everyone knew that if a Yamaha was to win in 2020, they had to be leading from the front immediately. All seven of Quartararo, Viñales and Franco Morbidelli’s (Petronas Yamaha SRT) wins last year were achieved after launching well and getting into an uncatchable rhythm. These two performances were an eye-opener though. Have Yamaha turned a corner, can they now drop down the order and find a way to claw back? Judging from Losail, absolutely.
But as we know, the start of 2021 has been unique. The riders have only lapped Losail – a lot – and it’s a track that lends itself well to the YZR-M1. A Yamaha has won in Qatar 10 times since we first raced at Losail in 2004, five more than next-best manufacturer Ducati, so it was to be expected that Yamaha could go well here. That, of course, is never a given in motorcycle racing though. Especially when the racing is closer than it ever has been, with just 8.928 seconds splitting the point scorers in Doha – madness.
After his fourth win in MotoGP™, his first in factory colours, Quartararo spoke about how important the Portuguese GP will be in finding just how much potential the 2021 package has got. Last year’s Portimao curtain closer was a disaster for Quartararo, Viñales and now Petronas Yamaha SRT’s Valentino Rossi who were riding 2020-spec machinery. Morbidelli enjoyed a great race on the 19-spec machine, but as the Frenchman explains, it was one of the worst weekends of the year for the other trio.
“We will see in two weeks,” began El Diablo in the post-race Press Conference, talking about how much of a step Yamaha have made with their 2021 machine. “Portimao was one of the most difficult tracks for us. Apart from Franco who finished third with the ’19 spec, we finished 10th, 11th and 14th I think, and that will be a moment where we see the potential of the bike.
“At the moment I can say that overtaking is much better than last year because I have the feeling, I feel the limit and I know where the limit is. I have a great feeling here in Qatar but let’s see in the other races. I feel good.”
For Quartararo, the Doha GP was also a real bounce back from witnessing teammate Viñales steal the headlines in Round 1. Chatting about the opening race, the 21-year-old admitted he rode like a rookie – a stark contract from producing his best pace at the end of the race seven days later.
“Last week I rode like a rookie, not playing with the maps, not controlling the rear tyre. I was in the hotel for three days thinking ‘why didn’t I use my brain’ while I was riding. When I was in P9 I felt like I couldn’t win the race, thinking ‘ok, I will try to do my best’. Then, I was like ‘no, no, no, I will try go for the win.’ And actually, I felt so good overtaking.
“I could brake so hard and keep the brake on the edge of the bike and I feel like this win gives me more confidence than the ones from last year. I came from far, in the test it was difficult to say. The Ducatis were fast in the straight and fast on pace, and it would be difficult to beat them. But you need to look at yourself and be the best you can. That’s what we did and it’s given me a boost for the future.”
Both factory Yamahas seriously impressed everyone across the two weekends at Losail, taking away 36 points each. The huge question mark now surrounds how they’ll get on in Europe, beginning at a circuit that didn’t get on with them well in 2020. The signs are promising in Iwata, but they’ve been here before, as a fascinating weekend awaits on Portugal’s south coast for Round 3.