It’s not exactly breaking news to say that Yamaha’s MotoGP project is in a world of trouble right now – but it’s telling of just how much worse things are at Japanese rivals Honda that even with Yamaha’s own issues, it’s been able to make the most out of its opponents’ current misfortune and poach away a star signing in the form of multiple race winner Alex Rins.
Wednesday’s official statement confirming that Rins would partner Fabio Quartararo on a one-year deal came as no shock to anyone.
And it’s also telling about the state of Honda that the news, announced just ahead of this weekend’s British Grand Prix, will not be something that Rins will be able to talk about this weekend – not because of contractual issues, but rather because he won’t be in attendance at Silverstone as he continues to recover from the badly broken leg he had suffered at Mugello, one of a veritable succession of Honda injuries this season.
In that lies the crux of why Rins (so far this season the only non-Ducati grand prix winner) is so desperate to break contract and walk away from Honda – because while the Yamaha might not be fast, it’s not dangerous to ride: Fabio Quartararo’s worst injury of this season has, after all, come after he tripped over his own feet while running and not on the M1!
The Honda is an aggressive beast to ride, a bike that loves to give its riders no warning before they either tuck the front or lose the rear and highside themselves (the cause of Rins’ broken leg). All in all, it’s clearly not a pleasant experience to push on – which is not something that has been said about Yamaha’s M1.
Rather, the issues with the only inline-four engined machine on the grid are rather more simple: Yamaha simply can’t build an engine that both generates enough power and can properly put that speed down on the track.
The top speed has been edging considerably higher and higher in recent years as Yamaha tried to solve the issue, but its deficit is still on corner exit, where it’s forced to hand big chunks of time away to rivals as the tyre spins and the bike fails to accelerate.
With both top speed and acceleration arguably more important than ever before in modern MotoGP as manufacturers look to compensate for the increasing drag produced by ever-expanding wings and aero devices that have become absolutely mandatory for performance, it’s at the core of Yamaha’s predicament – and exactly why signing Rins is a genius move.
Sure, getting the Spaniard on the bike alongside Quartararo next year means Yamaha has poached a proven race winner away from Honda and found someone to replace the clearly-struggling Franco Morbidelli. But there’s more to it than just that, because Yamaha doesn’t just get Rins’ talent – but also his inline-four MotoGP knowledge.
Very much a product of Suzuki up until 2023, Rins had made his MotoGP debut with the Japanese factory, fought for a title with it, won a host of races (including two of their last three together in 2022 before the team withdrew), and developed the bike from the back of the grid into a title-winning machine with his team-mate Joan Mir in 2020.
He comes to Yamaha absolutely a proponent of competitive inline-four engines, a rider with not just an old-school style accustomed to the bike but also with the ability to help Yamaha sprinkle some of the Suzuki magic onto its current programme and try to return the M1 to winning ways.
It’s no secret that the Iwata factory isn’t exactly asleep at the wheel, with former Ferrari and Toyota Formula 1 head of engine development Luca Marmorini now headlining the mission to fix its engine. With Rins’ experience of Suzuki added into that mix, it might just be what Yamaha needs to get back to the front of MotoGP.