After more than two seasons in the relative wilderness, Yamaha bosses can go into the offseason knowing that no great overhaul of its MotoGP project is needed thanks to the recent performances of its rejuvenated M1.

Recent evidence has proved that Yamaha can boast of MotoGP’s most balanced package. Further to that Fabio Quartararo’s sensational emergence as 2019’s best rookie and Maverick Viñales’ newfound calmness and consistency means the future looks bright for the Iwata factory.

And despite a poor season by his own exalted standards, Valentino Rossi remains utterly committed to reversing his fortunes, enacting a major personnel change within his garage for only the second time in his premier class career. sat down with Monster Energy Yamaha team boss Massimo Meregalli on the eve of the Malaysian Grand Prix to discuss Rossi’s struggles, his efforts to end them, Viñales’ turnaround and the factory’s assessment of Quartararo’s first season on the bike...
In general, it’s been a strong second half of 2019. Are you satisfied with the progress you’ve made?

Massimo Meregalli:
Yeah. We could win in Phillip Island. It was another result. We thought if we could win a second race this year it would have been in Phillip Island. Anyway, we’ve improved the bike since the middle of the season. We didn’t make any big change – just adjustments in more than one area. We tried to improve the traction and acceleration, knowing that our top speed was not very good. So we tried to gain in the exit of the corner. I think we succeeded there. Electronics is an area we are always developing, even if sometimes it’s difficult to see. Slowly, step-by-step we have a decent situation now.

The tyre life is an area that we have to still work on, especially with Valentino. In the last two races it was not as bad as it was in Thailand, for example or in Aragon. Anyway it affects him. Now he is trying to change a bit the way he’s riding to be more ‘nicer’ to the tyre.

At Phillip Island, what I liked was the spirit that Maverick had. He really wanted to try. I said to him after the race that we had also pushed him. We said he had to try. Usually he’s a rider that thinks more before he takes an action like this. But this time he tried. He didn’t succeed. But anyway leading part of the race and then you are overtaken on the last lap, you have to try. For me at the end we were disappointed. But in another way we were satisfied because the race he did was really good. Unfortunately he lost some time at the beginning, especially at the first corner. After the start he lost some positions. He could overtake everybody and until the tyre didn’t drop he had really good drive coming out of the last corner. Basically until eight laps until the end he was gaining one tenth per sector on Marquez. OK, [Marquez] was recovering the three tenths of the straight – the second part of the straight. But when the performance of the tyre dropped we couldn’t exploit the drive on the exit of the last corner.
Valentino has said the way Yamaha is working is much improved in recent months. Can you expand on this?

Massimo Meregalli:
For me it’s the result of this new reorganisation that was made at the beginning of the season. I also liked the fact that we tried [new parts] in some races. We also had the new bike, looking at next year. It’s something that never happened in the past. This is a sign. They really couldn’t have the time to fine-tune these new items in Japan but still they tried. This is a sign they have made a switch. They are more, not aggressive, but thinking in a European way. They tried. We had to give them up because we lost some time but we got the data that we were looking for. Maybe we will be repaid in Valencia.
Maverick has been strong everywhere in the second half of the season. But as we saw at Silverstone, Misano and Thailand he struggles in the first third of the race. Why do we see this?

Massimo Meregalli:
For example in Thailand, the condition of the grip between the warm-up and the race was different because of the track temperature. In this specific situation we saw that it took him a couple of laps to understand how he had to ride the bike. When we had a meeting in Japan we could see that he had to adjust himself. Unfortunately this cost him two and a half seconds. But what also impressed me is that now he is really confident on the bike. At Phillip Island with this kind of [weather] situation – wet, windy, dry – he was always fast. On Saturday the situation was not easy and we changed settings. But straight away he was there. Also looking back he has never been really fast in the wet. But on that occasion he really impressed me.
Is Maverick calmer and easier to work with this year?

Massimo Meregalli:

Yes. I think for sure the team he put together – the crew chief [Esteban Garcia], the rider coach Julito [Julian Simon] – means that he has built a good environment. But also himself, he changed. On some occasions when the results weren’t good or when the bike wasn’t working as he wanted, he could maintain the calm. In the past he suffered a lot in these kinds of situations. I don’t know if it’s just experience but he did something to work on himself.
Why is Valentino suffering so much with rear grip? Is this simply because of his height?

Massimo Meregalli:
Anyway this is one aspect that they are always trying to understand. Also the way he opens the throttle, how he picks the bike up. For sure with his height he has a different weight transfer [than Viñales and Quartararo]. It’s an aspect that could be easy to understand but it isn’t. Now he’s trying to change the way he used to ride after so many years. He never gives up. Before Japan he went to Misano to start braking differently, and opening the throttle in a different way than before. For sure we have to respect him a lot. He achieved what he achieved but he’s always trying to improve himself.
Are you confident he can still evolve his riding style at 40 years of age?

Massimo Meregalli:
Yes. Already in the last couple of races something’s changed. For sure in practice sometimes it’s easier because you don’t have the pressure of the race. Then in the race everything becomes more normal as you are used to doing it. At Phillip Island already something changed. The problem he faces a lot is that he couldn’t pull away. The lack of top speed was – I should not say. He said anyway, if someone overtook me and I didn’t overtake them back, then another one overtook me on the straight. Maverick could pull away. From the beginning when the tyre didn’t drop it wasn’t that bad. But as soon as the tyre dropped, for us we paid for it a lot because a lack of top speed.
Were you surprised to hear he was changing crew chief with David Muñoz coming in?

Massimo Meregalli:
Basically, it was something that came together. Also on Silvano’s side there was some tiredness. For me it was a consequence. We had different needs. It came automatically. For sure he will also use this change to do another step.
David has a lot of experience working in Moto2. Are you concerned he doesn’t have any experience working on a MotoGP bike?

Massimo Meregalli:
In my opinion that is not a real problem. First of all how we are organised, he has a Japanese ghost, let’s say. The group of people working with him will share a lot of information before taking a decision. That will help him, especially at the beginning, with the fact that he doesn’t have much experience in MotoGP. But I saw this already with Esteban. OK, he had experience in MotoGP, but not with Yamaha. Also in the past with Silvano, when he moved from Superbikes without experience of working in MotoGP. For me the organisation that Yamaha has in this aspect is really good. Then for sure he has his own way to work in the garage. For me it’s not a problem.
Valentino has said he will assess his competitiveness in the first races of 2020 before deciding on whether he renews for the following year. Is Yamaha prepared to wait that long for him to decide?

Massimo Meregalli:
It’s always been like. But for sure if it took a few races or a few tests to decide, we always talk before making the announcement. Sometimes it was more about the announcement than the decision.
So you will continue talking to see what he is thinking.

Massimo Meregalli:
Yeah, [we will do that] together.
Fabio has been the revelation of 2019. Is it one of Yamaha’s priorities to keep hold of him for 2021?

Massimo Meregalli:
Yeah, for sure. This year has been super. No one expected him to be able to do what he has done. Especially how he could keep the consistency without big mistakes – OK, at Phillip Island he crashed. But at the beginning he was very fast in the practices but didn’t make mistakes in the races. How he rides the bike, it is really his style that works very well. If you check, sometimes he isn’t that smooth because he is also aggressive. But the way he brakes, uses the throttle, it’s really good. I really think that it’s just his riding style because his brain is normal to do what he does. Otherwise he couldn’t be so on the point. First of all he’s good with us and Yamaha. For sure he will be considered for the future.
There were a lot of internal changes within Yamaha last winter. Are we likely to see similar reorganisation in the months ahead?

Massimo Meregalli:
No. The biggest changes are done. For me David, Esteban and the test team are a consequence of this reorganisation. They are trying to improve all the areas. Anyway the big things that [were needed] have been done.
Finally, it must be a great relief to see these improvements on track after what were several tough years for Yamaha in MotoGP.

Massimo Meregalli:
Sometimes we have to do two steps backward to go forward. That is what happened. Now we’ve reached that place we used to have that we lost in the last two years. We arrive here but we always start now with a good base. Two years ago and especially the beginning of last year it was difficult. Every time we had to start from zero. All the information that we used in the past was lost, irrelevant. Now we are we back as we were in the past.
And is that because the tyres are now more consistent and you have more experience with them and the electronics?

Massimo Meregalli:
We still haven’t learned completely how the work. It’s better. But for me we still don’t know the tyres 100 percent.