Valentino Rossi is still not 100% comfortable and confident on Yamaha’s factory YZR-M1 after an up and down return to the Japanese factory in 2013.
The Italian made a fairytale return to Yamaha in Qatar last month when he produced a rousing recovery from seventh to second.
But the 34-year-old struggled to a disappointing sixth in the inaugural Circuit of the Americas clash in Texas and he was never a serious podium threat on his way to fourth place last time out in Jerez.
After a disastrous two-year spell with Ducati, Rossi appears to still be looking for the same comfortable and confident feeling with the YZR-M1 he had when he left Yamaha at the end of 2010.
That’s certainly the view of his former factory Yamaha boss Davide Brivio, who still works closely with the nine-times champion.
Brivio, who is red-hot favourite to lead Suzuki’s full-time return to MotoGP in 2014, told MCN: “I think he is still struggling to find a good set-up on the bike. He has not yet been comfortable on the bike apart from maybe Qatar, but even there he was struggling in the first half of the race and only started to feel really comfortable at the end and then he was able to recover. But the main problem is he is not yet comfortable on the bike for the whole race.
The winter tests are fine but it is only when you go racing that you start to understand your true level. For example at Jerez in the test Yamaha seemed to be very good and Honda in difficulty but in the race it was a completely difference scenario. In a race is when you really understand and learn everything and this is what happened. These three races have shown he is not comfortable for the whole race, so it means there is still some work to do on the bike.”
Rossi is either pushing the front early in races or losing rear grip in the second half of races and he has frequently spoken so far this season of not being able to find the right balance yet with the YZR-M1.
But he has yet to beat Lorenzo on his Yamaha return and Brivio added: “In Qatar he was struggling with the front at the beginning of the race and he has had some issues with the rear too. So the balance of the bike is not yet comfortable for him. In my opinion in this moment the Honda is better than Yamaha but Valentino should be with Lorenzo and at least and fighting with him. That should be the first target and then I think Yamaha has to work a little bit more to recover the gap and then hopefully Valentino is able to be more comfortable.”
While Rossi toiled unsuccessfully to turn Ducati’s Desmosedici into a consistent podium threat, development of the YZR-M1 centred around Lorenzo’s feedback and requests.
So does Rossi need something more tailor-made for his own riding style to help him get more comfortable?
Brivio added: “This could be a little bit the case but the DNA of Yamaha is pretty much the same. Now will start some development time because you learn a lot during the racing and after the first three races Yamaha has to think about what to do. With two good riders it will be easier to find a solution and it will be interesting to see Yamaha’s reaction.”
Assessing Rossi’s performances in the first three races, Brivio said it was clear that there was room for improvement, even if the time he was chasing was only one or two tenths per lap.
He added: “Qatar was very good and it was in his dreams to be on the podium and he reached this. Austin was more of a Honda track and more difficult for Yamaha. Lorenzo finished third and this was the best he could have done with his machine but Valentino was not at that level and in Jerez it was more or less the same. In Jerez I would say he was missing 0.2s a lap, which is not so much. When he doesn’t feel too comfortable it shows there is room to improve and if he gets more comfortable those missing tenths will come.”
Rossi though has already slipped 18-points behind series leader Marc Marquez and while there are still 15 races remaining, some are concerned that he will surrender too many points to be a serious title contender in the latter stages of the campaign.
Brivio said: “He needs to find a good solution quickly in order to not lose too many points. Eighteen points is not so bad but there are many races to go. Now there are three riders very fast and if he can get in that group then they will all be stealing points off each other. If he is able to be comfortable then Valentino should be in the fight. He should have been behind Marquez and Lorenzo in the fight at the last corner in Jerez. It is fine to finish fourth but he wants to be in the fight and he should be there.”