Having finished in the top two of the championship for the last nine seasons, of which five have been title victories, the Factory Yamaha Team have all the credentials to make it yet another unforgettable season. With the perfect mix of experience in Italian veteran Valentino Rossi and youth and exuberance in Maverick Vinales, we could already be seeing the top two in the 2017 title race.
When Valentino Rossi signed for yet another two seasons with Yamaha at Losail last year, I was stunned. Stunned by how early he had signed but also by the fact that he will be 39 come the end of his renewed contract. He proved last year though that age is just a number, taking two wins on his way to his third consecutive runner-up position in the title. The GOAT has started an incredible 348 races across all classes, of which he has 221 podiums. Will Rossi pursue the title for yet another season and fight off the young blood? Will 2017 go back to Tavulia?
One rider out to stop Rossi in his tracks is new teammate and MotoGP hot-shot Maverick Vinales. The former world champion took a cracking victory at Silverstone last year on his Suzuki meaning that Yamaha have already signed a rider who’s done the business. He has topped all four-pre-season tests (including Valencia) and has been considerably quicker than ‘The Doctor’. Vinales is so far showing no signs of issues regarding his transition to Yamaha, which is a dangerous prospect given the 22-year-old’s pace so far. Could Maverick finish the season as Top Gun?
The Yamaha itself has undergone something of a facelift too. Remaining with Movistar sponsorship means that the bike itself looks the same but as proven in testing, Yamaha had a trick or two up their sleeve. They were the first team to bring out ‘winglets’ within the actual fairing – which is deemed OK after the external winglet ban from 2017 onwards. Over 240HP can be produced from the bike, meaning that although it may not be on-par with the Ducati team, it’s still a pretty nippy bike! Valentino Rossi has played a pivotal part in the development of the bike ever since he joined the team in 2004. Can it be turned into a winner in 2017?
As far as circuits are concerned, there’s only two of which the team have never won at. Circuit of the Americas is Marc Marquez’ Happy Hunting Ground and the Red Bull Ring, which is Ducati city. The Yamaha suits fast direction changes with agility and smoothness through the corners, so Misano, Phillip Island, Mugello and Brno could all be particularly good circuits for them. The team has been on the podium at the opening round of the season every year since 2007, so Losail could be a strong indicator for the team’s season to come.
Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko