Insight: Yamaha gets hit by the Rossi boomerang

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Insight: Yamaha gets hit by the Rossi boomerang
Oriol Puigdemont
By: Oriol Puigdemont
Aug 13, 2018, 3:15 PM

Yamaha’s crisis scenario on Saturday – when its MotoGP project leader apologised to his riders – reflects the kind of troubles the team now faces due to choices made after the return of Valentino Rossi.

The first conclusion we can draw from Kouji Tsuya’s extraordinary press conference on Saturday at the Red Bull Ring is that the M1 bike is not at the level it is supposed to be.

During his speech, Tsuya-san apologised several times. But, looking at Yamaha’s results in the 11 grands prix run so far this season, the only obvious outlier is the 14th grid position of Rossi – hence there is some confusion as to why Tsuya chose this weekend to give that kind of public statement.

“I’m not the one who has to assess if apologies were necessary or not – I would like them to improve the bike instead,” said the Italian, after finishing sixth in the Austrian GP.

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Valentino Rossi, Yamaha Factory Racing

Valentino Rossi, Yamaha Factory Racing
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Photo by: Gold and Goose / LAT Images

Valentino Rossi, Yamaha Factory Racing, Tito Rabat, Avintia Racing, Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda Team

Valentino Rossi, Yamaha Factory Racing, Tito Rabat, Avintia Racing, Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda Team
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Photo by: Gold and Goose / LAT Images

Valentino Rossi, Yamaha Factory Racing

Valentino Rossi, Yamaha Factory Racing
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Photo by: Gold and Goose / LAT Images

Valentino Rossi, Yamaha Factory Racing

Valentino Rossi, Yamaha Factory Racing
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Photo by: Gold and Goose / LAT Images

Valentino Rossi, Yamaha Factory Racing

Valentino Rossi, Yamaha Factory Racing
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Photo by: Gold and Goose / LAT Images

Valentino Rossi, Yamaha Factory Racing, Tito Rabat, Avintia Racing, Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda Team

Valentino Rossi, Yamaha Factory Racing, Tito Rabat, Avintia Racing, Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda Team
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Photo by: Gold and Goose / LAT Images

Valentino Rossi, Yamaha Factory Racing

Valentino Rossi, Yamaha Factory Racing
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Photo by: Gold and Goose / LAT Images

Valentino Rossi, Yamaha Factory Racing

Valentino Rossi, Yamaha Factory Racing
8/10

Photo by: Gold and Goose / LAT Images

Valentino Rossi, Yamaha Factory Racing

Valentino Rossi, Yamaha Factory Racing
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Photo by: Gold and Goose / LAT Images

Valentino Rossi, Yamaha Factory Racing

Valentino Rossi, Yamaha Factory Racing
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Photo by: Gold and Goose / LAT Images

There is no doubt about Valentino’s importance inside the Japanese team. However tricky the current situation, you could conclude that the mighty influence of the Italian rider is backfiring on Yamaha in what’s often dubbed the ‘boomerang effect’.

Those who defend this theory hark back to the 2013 season, when Rossi returned to Yamaha after two years of struggle with Ducati. Rossi couldn’t do anything but accept the second rider role, as Jorge Lorenzo had won the last two titles with Yamaha (2010 and 2012).

“Valentino will be given the same treatment as Jorge, but the Spaniard will be the leader of the bike development as he is the one with the most chance of winning future titles,” Lin Jarvis, who is still running the team, said at the time.

But in reality what happened is that 'The Doctor' started to recover some of his importance, both in sporting results and his communicative and political skills. He kept pace with Lorenzo, who was having a bad year in 2014 and who chose a different path to the one that had carried him to success previously.

Valentino Rossi, Yamaha Factory Racing, 2015

Valentino Rossi, Yamaha Factory Racing, 2015

Photo by: Yamaha MotoGP

Yamaha started to commit to Rossi with some unthinkable consequences: the clearest example was in 2015, when Lorenzo clinched his third MotoGP title after beating his teammate in that explosive end-of-season finale and the team decided to cancel the scheduled celebration.

That was when Lorenzo started to have a change of heart, eventually signing with Ducati in 2017.

Lorenzo leaving the team meant that Rossi became the master of the Yamaha universe. The brand started to defer to him in all possible ways – including closer ties with his VR46 Academy.

Rossi’s racing success is not the only thing at stake for the next two years. The thing that really matters is what comes next.

Logically, Yamaha doesn’t want to risk losing its main attraction, the most powerful icon of the motorcycling world. They don’t want him to step away from the racing world after his retirement.

From that point of view, the overreaction of last Saturday in Austria suddenly makes sense, even if it is not a good sign that a global company as big as Yamaha prefers to protect the single image of one of its riders more than its own. Especially if that individual is Valentino Rossi.

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Valentino Rossi, Yamaha Factory Racing

Valentino Rossi, Yamaha Factory Racing

Photo by: Gold and Goose / LAT Images

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About this article

Series MotoGP
Drivers Valentino Rossi Shop Now
Teams Yamaha Factory Racing
Author Oriol Puigdemont
Article type Analysis