Jorge Lorenzo’s first official day as Yamaha’s European test rider has raised yet more questions about his role with the manufacturer and how seriously it’s taking its 2021 development.
The three-time MotoGP world champion has confirmed that he’ll be riding a year-old 2019 bike in the Algarve session today.
He is set to join fellow factory test riders Michele Pirro (Ducati), Dani Pedrosa (KTM), Sylvain Guintoli (Suzuki), Stefan Bradl (Honda) and Lorenzo Salvadori (Aprilia) for a two-day outing, organised by Michelin, at MotoGP’s newest circuit before it holds the Portuguese Grand Prix for the first time as the season finale next month.
Lorenzo has admitted that while he hoped to be riding the current machine for the first time at the test, he will instead surprisingly be on the same bike he first rode back at Sepang in February in his only other day of Yamaha testing.
“We will go with the same bike as in Sepang, so we will use this test to obtain the best information we can for the official riders and to test all the tyres to understand in these conditions on this asphalt which will be the most suitable,” said Lorenzo.
“A few weeks ago I spoke to [team boss Mario] Meregalli and he told me that I would have the new bike, but I went into the pits a few hours ago and saw that I will have the 2019 bike.
“I think they did their best, but there wasn’t enough time to prepare a new M1.”
It raises serious questions about Yamaha’s commitment not only to MotoGP’s most successful (and likely expensive) test rider ever but also to its development plans as its riders continue to complain about the disadvantages they face with the 2020 M1 machine.
They are considerably down on horsepower against their rivals, and that’s not something that Yamaha is likely to be able to fix ahead of 2021 thanks to the coronavirus-induced development freeze in place until the end of next season.
Yamaha is unable to replace the faulty engine parts thanks to MotoGP’s rules on in-season development, but the Portimao test is free from any such restrictions
However, with the race team working hard to overcome this disadvantages through electronics strategy – something that will be key at the challenging physically-demanding Portuguese track – it’s hard to understand why Yamaha has been unable to prepare a 2020 bike for Lorenzo.
While the COVID pandemic has of course put a strain on all of MotoGP’s manufacturers (especially logistically), it seems unlikely Yamaha would have been unable to prepare a 2020 bike for Lorenzo if it wanted to, even if it meant raiding the factory team’s spares supply.
Yamaha has had serious issues with engine lifespan this year, thanks to what seems to be a faulty batch of valves installed into all of the units supplied to Maverick Vinales, Valentino Rossi, Fabio Quartararo and Franco Morbidelli.
Three engines have failed so far from the 20 supplied to the four riders, with subsequent limitations placed on the remaining ones further exacerbating their horsepower woes.
Yamaha is unable to replace the faulty parts thanks to MotoGP’s rules on in-season development, but the Portimao test is free from any such restrictions and would have allowed Yamaha to ensure that replacement parts for next year were up to spec.
It’s not the first time that questions have been raised about Lorenzo’s role within the team following his retirement from racing at the end of 2019 and subsequent rehiring by Yamaha.
He has still to complete a full day of testing, after only taking to track at Sepang for a few laps on a 2019 machine at the end of the test in an attempt to get his feeling back with the bike.
Since then, he’s gone eight months without riding for Yamaha, in a time when all of his rival test riders have spent day after day on track. A planned race appearance at Barcelona was lost when wildcard entries were banned in the revised 2020 calendar.
“Sometimes things happen in Yamaha that are difficult to explain, and you have to ask them why” :: Valentino Rossi
Frustrations were aired last month by Lorenzo’s former team-mate Rossi ahead of the San Marino Grand Prix, Rossi admitting he didn’t understand why Lorenzo had sat at home while other riders had tested Misano’s new surface.
“I have exactly the same question for Yamaha because I was very happy when I understood that Jorge was our test rider,” said Rossi.
“He’s one of the best riders in history on the M1, and he can help us a lot.
“We’ve seen what Pedrosa did for KTM in one year – he gave them a lot of good advice. Yamaha has to trust in the programme too, and sincerely I don’t know.
“Sometimes things happen in Yamaha that are difficult to explain, and you have to ask them why.”
Rossi will be one of a number of riders joining Lorenzo on track today at Algarve, as most of the MotoGP grid are given the chance to ride the track on production-spec machines ahead of this weekend’s French Grand Prix.
Rossi and team-mate Vinales will be joined by Suzuki duo Joan Mir and Alex Rins, Ducati riders Andrea Dovizioso, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Pecco Bagnaia, Johann Zarco and Tito Rabat, and KTM trio Miguel Oliveira, Brad Binder and Pol Espargaro.
Honda riders Takaaki Nakagami and Alex Marquez will also be on-track, but Cal Crutchlow – an Algarve podium finisher in World Superbikes – will sit out the track familiarisation session as he continues to recover from a multitude of injuries.