Back-to-back wins at a track that wasn’t supposed to suit its bike. A controlling lead in the 2020 MotoGP championship.
Now came the switch to a circuit that has always played to the strengths of the Yamaha M1. This weekend’s Czech Grand Prix at Brno was supposed to be a walk in the park for Yamaha given what it had achieved at Jerez… but it all went wrong.
Instead of extending Fabio Quartararo’s championship lead or seeing Maverick Vinales move closer to his satellite stablemate in the title race, Yamaha instead watched Franco Morbideli, riding a 2019-spec machine, emerge as its top runner as the others struggled.
Only Valentino Rossi was able to put on something of a good showing with the 2020 M1 to come home in fifth, while Quartararo was 11s off winner Brad Binder in seventh and Vinales was a very distant 14th at the chequered flag.
So how did it all end so poorly for the 2021 factory pairing of Vinales and Quartararo when on paper it looked set to be their strongest weekend of the season?
Vinales admitted afterwards that Yamaha was somewhat at a loss to explain the lack of performance.
Struggling to find a solution, he admitted that the problem may lie within his garage.
“It’s very difficult to explain,” he said.
“I felt so good in the warm-up this morning and was able to set fast times even on used tyres, but as soon as we started the race the rear tyre was spinning and by the end it was very unsafe.
“It’s not normal that some riders were a second faster than me” :: Fabio Quartararo
“I tried to do my best, and 14th was the best we could do.
“We missed something. We’ve struggled all weekend with the tyres, but it’s hard to say why I could be so fast in warm-up and in the race I was P14.
“It’s a long time since I’ve finished that badly, and all we can do is stay positive and work very hard.
“Nothing is perfect and everyone makes mistakes, so maybe we didn’t do what we had to do and as a result it was difficult to ride the bike.”
Quartararo was no more enlightening afterwards, with similar mystery about his result compounded by the fact SRT believed it had made a breakthrough during Saturday’s final practice session
“From FP1 to FP3 my pace was really bad, but we made a big step in FP4 and everyone was happy because I thought I could fight for the victory,” he said.
“But from the first lap I could see that the potential of the rear tyre was really bad.
“It was much more difficult to manage it and I ended up riding in a totally different way.
“It’s not normal that some riders were a second faster than me on the last lap, and we saw that many riders were struggling.”
However, the woes don’t seem entirely unusual for the Yamaha duo, instead reflecting the sort of issues that have plagued the manufacturer in the past in low grip and high temperature situations.
Though these were supposedly fixed in part by a radically different 2020 machine, it’s been a common sight in the past to see factory-spec machines struggling to find rear grip while satellite bikes – like podium finisher Morbidelli’s – have no issues.
That theory could be further evidenced by a strong day for Rossi.
Fresh off a podium finish last time out at Jerez after finally being able to pursue his own set-up direction away from that used by Quartararo and Vinales, he was upbeat after his fifth place.
“It was a good race today,” said Rossi.
“The second race in Jerez was better because we got a podium, but in general my performance here was better, because I had to start from the fourth row.
“The races have become very complicated now in MotoGP, but I felt good on the bike, and I had a good performance at this racetrack.
“I was able to be strong from the beginning to the end and also in the last part of the race I was good.
“It‘s a shame that yesterday we made some mistakes in qualifying because if I could have started one row to the front maybe I could have fought for the podium.
“But anyway, this remains a good performance and I enjoyed the race.”