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MotoGP

How MotoGP's forgotten big rider switch started off

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
6 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

In an off-season where nearly one third of the riders on the MotoGP grid are changing teams, you could be forgiven for losing track of all the moves.

Especially a move that was settled months ago and was then swiftly overshadowed by the escalating dramas of Johann Zarco relinquishing MotoGP's best bike, Marco Bezzecchi rejecting it, KTM's too many riders dilemma, Marc Marquez's Honda exit and Honda's sometimes surreal scramble to replace him.

And especially a move involving a currently uncompetitive team and a rider who has barely turned a lap since June due to a serious injury.

But Alex Rins joining Yamaha has the potential to be one of the most impactful moves of all. A fallen giant, down to two bikes and desperate for strong technical feedback because of that. Replacing the disappointing Franco Morbidelli with proven development rider and multiple race winner Rins feels like precisely the move Yamaha needed to make, and a godsend for its disgruntled past champion Fabio Quartararo.

So how did Rins' first day at Yamaha go?

Very well. Quietly, in headline terms. But very well in a significant way that suggests Rins will be what Yamaha has lacked.

"Alex adapted so quickly to the bike that he too had the opportunity to test the new fairings."

Yamaha team manager Massimo Meregalli's acknowledgment after Rins' debut with the M1 might not come across as meaningful, but when you think of your customary debut on a new bike, it is imbued with an extra significance.

Often, the process goes as follows: the newcomer is provided with the latest spec of the bike that all the existing data relates to, and is left to throw in tyres and fuel run after run to get to grips with the machine.

Certainly, you could have expected that kind of run plan for Rins, who is still yet to fully recover from a nasty, season-altering injury and had spent the season on a V4 Honda rather than the inline-four Yamaha.

But the 27-year-old, who began the day with one of those cool custom liveries sometimes designed for a rider's test debut, was very soon in possession of development items to try - the new aero and the new engine, if not quite a new chassis (but seemingly only because there was just the one version that went to Fabio Quartararo).

Considering how different the aero fairing Yamaha was running at Valencia is to what it had finished the season with, perhaps it would've made little sense for Rins to do much more with the standard version.

But it also feels quite logical that a rider whose reputation for development acumen is a lofty one - given how good the Suzuki got during his six-year tenure - would be immediately pressed into action by Yamaha in terms of doing some evaluation work. No time, after all, like the present.

"I felt quite comfortable with the bike," said Rins of his first run with the Yamaha. He was 19th to end the day - but just six tenths off Quartararo.

And there really hasn't been much in the way of doubt, even before he hopped onto the M1, that Rins would be up to speed on the Yamaha sooner rather than later. Tuesday wasn't necessarily the day to show it, not only because the season-ruining leg break is still bothering him, but because there was other business to attend to.

"We split the day in two - this morning I just put the set-up of Fabio from the race and it was just laps-laps-laps to understand the bike, to find the position with the handlebars, the foot rest and everything," said Rins.

"And then in the afternoon we focused a lot on making laps, testing the new fairing.

"Yamaha brought two different fairings and as far as I know the bike, one of the two fairings works better than the standard one."

On the throttle, the bike was "not lazy, not aggressive either - normal". Smoother, Rins said, than he had expected.

"I was quite happy overall with the test today."

THE INLINE-FOUR FACTOR

Beyond Rins' accomplishments with Suzuki, there is also of course the clear parallel of the Suzuki, now gone from the grid, having been the M1's sole inline-four peer, with the rest of the grid on V4s.

But the Yamaha "is a very different bike compared to the Suzuki", Rins insisted.

"[With the Yamaha] I can enter the corner with more brake, more front brake, and this is OK, it's good, because we can gain a little bit on the laptime."


Rins has been reunited with his former data engineer at Suzuki, Yuta Shimabukuro, after one year apart.

While Rins spent the 2023 season at LCR Honda (or at least the parts of it he didn't spent doing intensive physio on his poor mangled leg), Shimabukuro was working at Tech3 Gas Gas - which, in traditional MotoGP end-of-season fashion, had him tied up and delivered to the Yamaha garage on Sunday.

Rins saw it happen and got a huge kick out of it - but was also then immediately appreciative of the fact that, on Tuesday, Shimabukuro made a suggestion for the electronics set-up (something that is now Rins' big priority) that brought him closer his Suzuki days.

"Today I realised I made a good decision to take him."


Asked by The Race whether the widespread perception that the M1 would fit him, a rider renowned for being smooth, like a glove had been backed up by first contact, Rins again pointed to the engine factor.

"Right now the difference between V4 engine or inline-four, I think this is not the biggest difference on the bike. Right now the biggest difference in the aero side.

"The aero makes you turn better or not. Honestly. Because, with my experience with other bikes, or for example with the Yamaha, this morning I was riding with the standard fairing, and I had with the wind conditions a lot of wheelie. Going into the corner the bike was turning good but I was just complaining about the wheelie.

"And when we tried the different fairing, I felt less wheelie and more turning. So I think the difference now between engines disappears."

In other words, don't expect a massive reliance on the Suzuki inline-four muscle memory.

THE TESTER

When Rins had first joined Suzuki, it had lost its concession status due to Maverick Vinales' super-strong 2016. But Rins was injured for much of his first season anyway and, when said status was regained for 2018, the Japanese firm was put on a path to making the GSX-RR one of the most highly regarded and envy-generating bikes on the grid.

Now, Rins' Yamaha debut has come a day after its own concession status was rubber-stamped. It means no engine freeze, an extra aero homologation slot and more tyres - but it also means unlimited testing with full-time riders at any grand prix venue of the firm's choice.

Rins gave off every impression that he is only too happy to test. Yamaha will be happy for him to test, too - but going by his swift adaptation, it will also have plenty to smile about about him racing.

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