Yamaha might just have finally turned a corner.

After a winter of internal reorganisation and development, Maverick Viñales has been the star of the 2019 MotoGP preseason, while Valentino Rossi has never been too far away.

Crash.net spoke to Monster Yamaha Team Manager Massimo Meregalli ahead of the second day of MotoGP testing in Qatar to understand the changes behind the scenes, Viñales’ new-found speed, Rossi’s chances and whether we can trust test results so far...

Crash.net:
How would you assess Yamaha’s preseason?

Massimo Meregalli:
We’ve been pretty satisfied since Valencia in November. Then at Jerez we got some direction. We had a really good test in Sepang. Here was really important because we were really looking for the confirmation of all the points we found in Sepang. Yesterday was only the first day, but both riders were quite satisfied. We are now waiting for today [day two, Qatar test] because also last year here, on day one, we were fast. But then we started struggling. It’s an important day today but we don’t expect something like we had last year.

Crash.net:
In which area have you made the greatest improvement from the end of last year?

Massimo Meregalli:
The job has not been focussed on only one area. We didn’t receive anything new but just updates of a few areas: electronics, but also we tried to improve the acceleration. We also improved the engine braking and that helps us to be very tight in the corner to have the possibility to pick the bike up as soon as possible, where, especially Maverick was struggling last year.

He really exploits now what we brought to Sepang and here. Tyre life is good. He did a really impressive race simulation in Sepang. The first four or five laps could have been even faster. Here the degradation of the tyre seems really good.

We expect the condition of the track will be different for the race because it’s a bit cooler now. We expect higher temperatures for the race weekend. But so far it’s going well. Yesterday we used the soft tyre and Ducati didn’t. Also we can’t compare to Honda because both riders are injured, so we feel there are some question marks. But for sure we have stepped up.

Crash.net:
Last year the engine was identified as a problem area. Do you feel the ’19 motor is much improved?

Massimo Meregalli:
No, the engine configuration is a bit different compared to last year. But with the electronics we could make the power delivery smoother. Even if in this area we have to improve, the direction that we took is the right one.

Crash.net:
At Sepang and here Valentino has commented on his happiness at the motivation within the team. Would it be fair to say there has been a change of atmosphere?

Massimo Meregalli:
Yeah, the atmosphere and also – I was not expecting this so fast – the new project leader changed the way to work in Japan. That is really good. We all had a really good feeling in the way he explains on how to develop the bike. Especially in Valentino’s corner, one Japanese engineer is different. The other one is not, but I think the package is working well.

At Sepang last year Valentino could work with this engineer because his current one had a problem with his passport, so he couldn’t come! He had a good feeling and then they decided to change a bit the organisation. Finally he got this engineer. For me the spirit maybe changed. As you can imagine, when there is something new at the beginning you have the enthusiasm.

Crash.net:
You said Takahiro Sumi, the new Project Leader has changed the way of working in Japan… Can you tell us a little more on that?

Massimo Meregalli:
It’s changed [laughs]!

Crash.net:
There has also been some reorganisation in terms of Yamaha’s European base in Milan (Yamaha Motor Racing) now having more responsibility with regards to electronics. How has that changed?

Massimo Meregalli:
Yes. That’s an area where we can support with more engineers, also speeding up with the solutions and we can also work on the strategies. That is an additional value. We started already last year and the group has become solid.

Crash.net:
Have we already started to see some of fruits of the new European test team and Jonas Folger’s labours?

Massimo Meregalli:
No, it’s too early. Anyway for us, Valencia and Sepang were two good possibilities for us to put him back on the bike. When you don’t ride these bikes for one and a half years you need some time to get back the speed. He tested something but the main purpose was to get back the feeling. At Valencia he basically did a lot of laps. At Sepang he started testing items, but for us the most important thing was to let him to ride the bike. For sure in Europe when we do tests at Misano and Mugello we will expect feedback and we will put him under some pressure.

Crash.net:
Maverick is working with a few new faces this year, including new crew chief Esteban Garcia. And he has remained upbeat throughout preseason. Have you noticed a change in him since last season?

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