Valentino Rossi says that a disappointing opening day at the Portuguese Grand Prix isn’t particularly alarming to him, after a series of missteps conspired to see him finish the first-ever day of MotoGP action at Portimao 21st out of 22 riders on the combined times.
The nine-time world champion, having ended Friday nearly two seconds off the pace of fastest man Johann Zarco (and Monster Energy Yamaha teammate Maverick Vinales in second), reckoned that a bad choice in set-up followed by a crash are the main factors in his results, rather than a fundamental lack of speed.
He was one of a number of riders to utilise today’s extended two and a half hours of free practice as something of a test session, experimenting with how to use the balance of the Yamaha M1 to control wheelies over the undulating Portuguese circuit.
Finally realising that he’d gone in the wrong direction with the bike and able to revert one of his two M1s back to a more normal setting, Rossi then made an error, crashing the machine and being forced to set his fastest laps on the other bike.
“The track is great, but it’s also very difficult,” he said afterwards. “We tried something different, to improve the rear grip of the bike, but I lost the balance of the bike and the feeling, so I wasn’t able to enter the corners fast enough. It was a difficult day.
“We went back to a bike that was a bit more standard and I was fast again, but in that moment I crashed. From that moment I tried a time attack with the other bike, but I didn’t have the feeling with the front and was quite slow. Tomorrow we’ll go back to a more normal bike and try again.”
And while the day might have ended disappointingly for Rossi, it’s clear that there’s extra pace to be found thanks to the speed shown by team-mate Vinales.
While Vinales was able to make the most of the additional grip from Portimao’s newly-resurfaced track to his advantage, it also sounds like he and Rossi split the duties of learning a new circuit – and that tonight’s data-crunching may provide some more answers for them both.
“This is an awesome track! It‘s so good! I‘m enjoying it a lot,” he enthused after his first day riding in anger at the track, “and honestly, I didn‘t care about the laptimes, I was just trying to enjoy the experience.
“The grip is not very high, but I have good traction. We have to understand why that is. We worked a lot today with the height of the bike but not the balance – we’ll look at that tomorrow. We need to try and understand how to make the bike wheelie less and be more stable, and then understand what is the best for qualifying and for the race.
“In the end my time attack was quite good, even if the soft tyre is a little too soft on the edges. Tomorrow, we need to figure out how to take the maximum from it so that I can give my best not only in qualifying but in FP3.”
The other two Yamaha riders – Petronas duo Fabio Quartararo and Franco Morbidelli – were fourth and 10th respectively on combined times.