Yamaha detail ‘third phase’ of comeback led by game-changing ex-Ducati engineers

Massimo Bartolini has moved from Ducati to Yamaha to take on the new role of ‘Technical Director, MotoGP operations’ for the struggling M1 project.

Fabio Quartararo, 2024 Monster Yamaha
Fabio Quartararo, 2024 Monster Yamaha

The arrival of ex-Ducati engineers Marco Nicotra, last October, and Max Bartolini, in January, marks the ‘third phase’ in Yamaha’s new MotoGP approach.

Although Yamaha clinched the world championship with Fabio Quartararo in 2021, momentum had swung firmly in Ducati’s favour by the second half of the season.

The rise of the Europeans - Ducati, KTM and Aprilia - has since overwhelmed the Japanese manufacturers. Honda was winless in 2022 and Yamaha in 2023, when the once mighty brands were just 11 points apart at the tail of the constructors' standings.

Both Japanese factories are implementing major changes, which in Yamaha’s case kicked off with the hiring of ex-F1 engine designer Luca Marmorini in 2022.

Jorge Martin, Fabio Quartararo, Tissot Sprint race, MotoGP, Indonesian MotoGP, 14 October
Jorge Martin, Fabio Quartararo, Tissot Sprint race, MotoGP, Indonesian…

“We know we need to change, be less conservative”

Lin Jarvis, managing director of Yamaha Racing Lin Jarvis, explained: “Max [Bartolini’s] arrival is part of a whole process that started, in force, probably in 2022 when we took the contract with Marmotors. With Luca Marmorini and his team of engineers, to help us to develop the engine.

“To look outside of Japan, look outside of our box, take in new knowledge and take in additional manpower. That's the first phase.

“Then the second phase was probably much more recent, last August, when we started the contract of collaboration with Dallara. Which is a quite famous automotive, aerodynamic specialist. And they started to assist us with aerodynamics because honestly, we are pretty behind with aerodynamics.

“Then the third part of the process was probably when we took Marco Nicotra from Ducati and he is now head of our new aerodynamics department based in Italy. So he joined us in October. And now we were able to get Max Bartolini, who joined us in January this year.

“So it’s very recent, but he went to Japan almost straight after joining us, to have the first discussions, to introduce himself to all of the people.

“It's a process because you don't change overnight your whole method of working. But we know we need to change. We know we need to speed up. We know we need to be less conservative.

“We need to open our minds and especially the efficiency that we work at a test or a race weekend.

“We can do much better and Max will bring us that knowledge and experience from outside and working to create, not the Ducati system, but to create a new generation Yamaha system.”

Yamaha mechanics, Sepang MotoGP test, 8 February
Yamaha mechanics, Sepang MotoGP test, 8 February

Jarvis emphasised that Bartolini, previously Vehicle Performance Engineer at the factory Ducati team, has been given an unprecedented level of technical authority within a Japanese MotoGP team.

The Italian’s official title is ‘Technical Director, MotoGP Operations’ putting him level with Kazuhiro Masuda, Yamaha’s MotoGP group leader and M1 project leader.

The only people above Bartolini, Masuda and team director Massimo Meregalli in the Monster Yamaha hierarchy are Jarvis and Takahiro Sumi, General Manager of the Motorsports Development Division.

“[Bartolini] will be on an equal level as Masuda. So this is quite unusual. This has never happened, in my experience in Yamaha at least, in any Japanese [MotoGP manufacturer] probably, to have a European on an equal level with the project leader.”

But how exactly will the roles be split between Masuda and Bartolini?

“You might say having two bosses is maybe never good,” acknowledged Jarvis. “So there is a difference in the roles.

“Clearly in a sporting environment [at the track], if a decision needs to be taken, it will be a discussion [but] finally, it's Max's call.

“And Masuda-san will be very important, however, to take back that knowledge [from the track] and make sure it's integrated with Yamaha Japan. With the many, many, many engineers we have working there.

“So [Masuda’s] role will be to improve the process, the collaboration between box and Europe and Japan. And Max will be mainly improving performance in race weekends.”

Quartararo, Bartolini, Rins, Monster Yamaha 2024
Quartararo, Bartolini, Rins, Monster Yamaha 2024

Quartararo said he had already been impressed by Bartolini.

[We have a] really good connection. I talk a lot with him. I think he's great. The first meeting I had with him was like 3 hours, and I was asking questions, questions, questions.

“First of all for myself, I want to be back winning. But it’s also a big challenge for him, moving from a factory winning like they are for the last two years. I want to be part of this challenge for him to be at the top also.”

As an example of how things have changed, the Frenchman said: “For me I love it. We tried something in the [Sepang] Shakedown. It was supposed to give us the potential to be faster but we had some issues.

“With Max, we said we don’t give up, we have to find a solution to make this item work, and we did. If in the past, and it was only the Japanese engineers, it would have been too risky, and maybe we [put it] away.

“This is the [new] mentality, we have to play always with the limit and really make it happen.”

But Quartararo concedes that progress won't happen overnight. 

"Max only arrived one and a half months ago. I think he has to understand the bike. Already the way we are working is really good, I really love it. And this is why I am really motivated, because I feel like we are working in a good way. 

"In the past we used to change little by little, and now with Max we change some big things. And we can see the difference, but there are negatives, positives. We need quite a lot of time to really find our potential. 

"I have to be patient, because it's never a pleasure to finish more than six-tenths to someone, but I think that he's really calm and when I'm going in the box and really angry, I look at him and he's laughing! Because he knows that we are missing a lot. 

"But he needs time, we all need time, and I think we will arrive. But not right now."

New team-mate Alex Rins said: "[Bartolini] is a really talented guy. He has a lot of experience, coming from the 'reds', and he is so smart. Last year I was not at Yamaha but from what the mechanics and the engineers say it looks like he is changing things and the way to work."

Rossi, Australian MotoGP Race
Rossi, Australian MotoGP Race

‘Best of both worlds’, but not a new era

During the team launch, Jarvis made a comparison between Yamaha’s present situation and its previous winless season, back in 2003, just before the arrival of Valentino Rossi.

“It's not a direct comparison because the phenomenon of Rossi moving to Yamaha in 2004 was a big thing, that was also a big gamble and a big risk, and it came with also us redesigning the motorcycle as well. And that started a new era,” Jarvis clarified.

“But the comparison is really that in 2003 we had a super difficult season. We didn't win a single race and we were not on the map. We were not where we wanted to be and so we had to make a change.

“In that case, we understood the most important change… If I remember, we had these discussions and we said. ‘Whatever we change, if we don't have that guy sitting on our seat we have no chance’. Because Valentino was a phenomenon at that time. He was by far the leader.

“Now it's a very different situation. There are many, many competitive riders and we had a rough season [in 2023] but we're not far away in terms of technical level. But we are missing in many, many, many items and elements and places. From that point of view, we definitely have to change if we want to be competitive again.

“So I don't want to say a new era. It's too much, maybe. But a new approach, a new system, a new collaboration. And this is where we believe that having YMR, the company based in Italy, we have many engineers based in Italy, we're increasing every year the number of engineers.

“So by having new engineers at the top level, we can enhance and use the best of both worlds. The best of the Italian and European aggression with the quality and precision of a Japanese approach.

“So this is what we hope will eventually be an advantage for us.”

While 2004 brought instant title glory with Rossi, Jarvis knows that a 2024 world championship victory is a ‘tall order’, despite new access to technical concessions.

“We know the level in particular of Ducati. Let's be honest, they're at a very high level at this moment. Without doubt, the leader. They have eight super-competitive riders. So it's not easy,” he said.

“But we must come back to frequent podiums. I think we can win some races. Winning the championship, in my opinion, that’s a tall order, but it's the beginning of the process.

“It took us time to slip away and become less competitive, it will take us time to come back but we will give it our maximum best efforts to do so. But it's going to be pretty tough to beat the reds this year, in my opinion."

Lin Jarvis, British MotoGP, 4 August
Lin Jarvis, British MotoGP, 4 August

Jarvis: "At some stage in the future, I will change"

While rider and satellite team contracts are set to be a major talking point in MotoGP this season, Jarvis also addressed his own future.

“This year is my 25th year, both as managing director and team principal of the factory team,” he said. “ So it's been a significant run, but I'm not getting any younger. Hair is greyer, there's less and less of it! So at some stage in the future, I will change. And we need to bring in the new generation.

“As a company or corporation it's always like that. You have to prepare for the transition and for the future continuity of the business. And so I will definitely be here for the entire season, in my current role. Subject to good health and everything else.

“In the future, let us see. But we are in the process of selecting now and deciding what's the management to take us into the next era.”

The Englishman added: “It will be a person within the Yamaha Motor Group. This I can assure you. So we are not looking to take anybody from the outside.

“I think it's not important the nationality of the person. It's important the mindset of the person, the mentality of the person and the experience of the person.

“So it doesn't matter if it's European or non-European. 

"But within the group we need somebody with experience. Most of the people within the group that have the experience to take on that role, would most likely be European.”

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