Why is Yamaha Struggling in MotoGP?
Written by Owen Bradley, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri
Japanese manufacturer Yamaha has endured an extremely tough couple of years in MotoGP, and with the 2023 Portuguese Grand Prix having just taken place last Sunday, the top finishing Yamaha machine was Fabio Quartararo in P8.
Yamaha have been on a downward trajectory for some time now, particularly since the introduction of Michelin tyres in 2016. Yamaha had just come off the back of a championship victory by Jorge Lorenzo in 2015, with Rossi finishing runners-up, after being “robbed” by the FIM and Marc Marquez in the eyes of the Italian legend.
However, when 2016 rolled around, it was Marc Marquez and Honda who rose to the fore in MotoGP, taking the championship and leaving Yamaha with a lot of work to do. Unfortunately for Yamaha and for fans of multiple time champions Rossi and Lorenzo, these problems would not be fixed for long, as Yamaha lost the championship to Marc Marquez and Repsol Honda in 2017,2018, and 2019. Jorge Lorenzo would even switch to Ducati in 2017 following Yamaha’s poor performance the year prior.
Yahama’s struggles became particularly evident, with 2019 absolutely dominated by Repsol Honda and Marc Marquez, the “Ant of Cervera '' winning 12 of the 19 Races that season. Meanwhile, Yamaha managed only 2 Victories, both coming from Maverick Viñales.
2020 Was a strange season for everyone, and MotoGP was no exception - but it was especially strange for Yamaha, their rival Marc Marquez out of the 2020 season due to a broken arm at the first round of the year. Yamaha were therefore among the favourites to win the championship, as now everything was unpredictable.
Fabio Quartararo was racing for a customer team using Yamaha machinery, and managed to win three Grands-Prix. The Frenchman was on a great run after winning the first two races back-to-back, but somehow - perhaps it was the pressure, as Quartararo and Yamaha actually managed to lose the World Championship to Suzuki’s Joan Mir, who won only a single race in 2020. In fact, it was Franco Morbidelli who was Yamaha’s leading rider that year, and he missed out on the championship by just 13 Points.
Fabio Quartararo, after winning the first two races, would end up finishing the last five races of 2020, outside of the Top 5, with a DNF, two 14th place finishes, an 18th and a P8. Fabio would eventually finish the championship in 8th position in the standings.
However, Yamaha and Fabio Quartararo would go on to take Championship Victory in 2021, a remarkable achievement for the team, who seemed that they were back on top, despite main MotoGP star, Marc Marquez, being injured for 2021 as well. Quartararo won five of the 18 races. However, Francesco Bagnaia was playing a major catch up towards the end of the season, winning four of the final six races. It became evident that, despite their triumph, the second half of the 2021 season was quite a disappointment for the team, with only four podiums from the last nine races - compared to Ducati’s Bagnaia, a worrying sign for Yamaha at the time.
In 2022, Yamaha’s 2021 fears came true. Yamaha kicked off the season with Fabio Quartararo taking the championship lead, and winning three races, whilst Francesco Bagnaia and Aleix Espargaro were forced to play catch-up throughout most of the 20-race season.
However, Francesco Bagnaia would eventually go on to take victory, seven times throughout the season, compared to Quartararo’s three. Bagnaia also managed to maintain complete consistency after stumbling early on in the season. The Italian overturned Quartararo’s 91-Point lead, and won the championship by 17 points, meaning he outscored Fabio Quartararo by 108 points at about the middle of the season, all the way to the end of the season.
This was a major blow for Yamaha and Fabio Quartararo, it was the largest deficit overturned in MotoGP history, and to have lead the season for so long, only to lose it within the final two grands prix, clearly took a lot of momentum out of the team, and Quartararo.
In 2023, the season has already gotten underway with disappointment for Yamaha, as they have lost all of their customer teams. At the Portuguese Grand Prix, the season opener - Quartararo finished in 8th position, whilst championship rival, Francesco Bagnaia, took victory. Franco Morbidelli, championship contender and runner-up in 2020, began 2023 aboard the Yamaha, finishing last place among the finishers, and P14.
Clearly, something at Yamaha is very, very wrong - A dominant force in MotoGP, but ever since Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi’s departure, Yamaha suffered immensely. Despite a riders’ championship win in 2021, they didn’t actually win the teams or the constructors championship,
So, how can Yamaha improve? Well, with recent headlines such as “I expected much more from Yamaha - Quartararo” it seems that these issues are really starting to grate on the Frenchman, as a World Champion never wants to struggle to this extent against their rivals. Many people forget to talk about Morbidelli as well, who nearly took the championship in 2020, and now is finishing last place on pace, at the 2023 opener in Portugal.
Yamaha clearly are struggling with straight-line speed, something which Ducati and Aprilia seem to have mastered. Furthermore, Yamaha are struggling with inconsistent riders, such as Morbidelli and a few years ago, Maverick Vinales - whose frustration in 2021 led him to completely rev out his engine in frustration at the Austrian Grand Prix, leading to him getting suspended by Yamaha. Clearly, Yamaha has both mechanical problems, and rider problems, not to mention managerial problems too. Perhaps it’s time for Lin Jarvis to step aside as Team Principal?
But what do you think? Can Yamaha and Quartararo recover their relationship? Is this just the beginning of a further downward spiral for Yamaha, or is there light just around the corner? Let us know in the comments below!
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