Saturday in Argentina saw most MotoGP riders complete their first wet laps of the year.

For Valentino Rossi, the experience offered a further clue regarding the cause of the front-end 'movement' he has been struggling with on corner entry since winter testing.

The Italian believed it was down to the softer construction of the new Michelin front tyre.

But, just as Michelin prepared to test a stiffer front this weekend, Rossi had signalled his troubles could actually be coming from changes made to the 2017 Yamaha.

That theory received a significant boost when Rossi felt the same front-end difficulties in the wet as he had in the dry, despite the obvious tyre differences.

"Also in the wet I don't feel very comfortable and I'm not strong like last year," Rossi said.

"I have the same feeling in corner entry [as the dry]," he confirmed. "Last year I was stronger in the wet. The old bike for me was more natural. With this one I have to force it more. It is something more difficult."

In other words, even if a new stiffer front tyre was to help Rossi in the dry, he would still be facing the present difficulties in the wet.

That suggests a complete solution can only come from the bike.

"It means that we still have to work on the bike, on the balance, and try to make it better," Rossi said. "I think we can improve... and trying the bike in the wet can be interesting to improve in the dry."

A change in riding style might also help, given team-mate Maverick Vinales is proving immune to the corner-entry problems.

Michelin: Not only Rossi wanted new front

The original, stiffer version, of the 2017 front tyre made a successful debut at the 2016 Valencia finale.

"We brought a new profile, which is the profile we have now, at Valencia for the race. We brought the old tyre in two compounds and the new tyre in two compounds," Michelin's Nicolas Goubert explained in Argentina on Saturday. "People made a comparison and 90% chose the [new] big profile so we were certain it was a good direction for 2017."

But Goubert confirmed the rigidity of the 2017 tyre was then reduced following chattering issues. Results with this softer construction at the start-of-year Sepang and Phillip Island tests were "really good", with Rossi one of the few riders who still preferred the earlier version.

"From the beginning [Rossi] was not happy with the direction we took for 2017, but he was not the only one," Goubert said. "Iannone was not happy and Bautista sometimes said he would prefer the old one. We said to them: 'Sorry, you are only a couple of people, okay Valentino Rossi among them, but as everyone else seems to be happy we will continue'.

"That changed after the Qatar race, because we had a lot more comments from different people saying they were not that happy with the new tyres and we should think about doing something."

Michelin first had some doubts of their own during the final test in Qatar, two weeks before the race.

"At the Qatar test as you might remember we had quite a few crashes, too many crashes. Okay Qatar is a bit specific so we didn't change our mind, sometimes you have humidity there... it was not really clear. Then came the race and more people ["six or seven"] said the feeling with the front was not what they expected it to be. But again it was Qatar, difficult conditions for the race. So is it specific to Qatar or something we will see again?"

The end result was a decision to bring a fourth front tyre option to Argentina, featuring the original 2017 stiffer casing, while keeping the same profile.

"The main allocation here is the construction we had in Qatar, but we also decided to bring a tyre with the stronger construction, from Valencia 2016. Just to make sure we took the good decision and if the results show something else, we are ready as always to change our direction."

But the test tyre never appeared on track.

"Unfortunately the tyres were late because of a strike. It took me 72 hours to come here and it took some of our tyres a long time as well, and they were not available for Friday," Goubert said.

"The plan was then to try the tyre on Saturday, but the riders' Safety Commission intervened, deciding - with rain forecast and already having three different fronts and rears to evaluate - yet another tyre would be too much of a distraction.

"Looking at the weather forecast and time they have left, they took the decision not to use that tyre. It was a reasonable decision, especially when you look at what happened today. Because there was not a lot of time, bad conditions... we agreed," Goubert said.

"Without the strike we would have had test results on the Friday and we would more-or-less know by now if we are right, or if we have to change something... As it was, there were hardly any crashes and people were okay with the normal tyre allocation."

The Frenchman added that the plan was never to race the extra tyre, since it would only be offered in a soft compound and "nobody is going to go with the soft compound if it is fully dry."

Rossi, who was not in the Safety Commission meeting, admitted he would have liked to try the tyre to help further understand his front-end problems: "They said to me we cannot use. I think it can be interesting to try it, but we stay with the normal tyre."

It is now not clear when, or even if, the tyre will be seen again.

"Not likely to see it in Texas because Texas is even more demanding than here... we will see, depending on what happens in this race," Goubert said.

Rossi: We improved a bit in the dry

Rossi, who had been just 16th in the dry on Friday, missed out on the chance to break into the top ten when rain arrived during Saturday's FP3. But he went on to finish second in the wet Qualifying 1, then took seventh on the grid in Qualifying 2.

"P7 is not too bad considering my pace. I don't know if in the dry I can do the same," he admitted. "This morning in the dry we modify the bike and improve a bit, but unfortunately it was just once exit. In the wet it was a bit better and I was able to do a good lap at the end of Q1.

"Starting from the third row is quite good. Now we have to wait to see the conditions. We hope it will be full dry or full wet, not half and half, and we will see our pace. Tomorrow we have the warm-up and in case of a dry race, we hope the track can be dry already in the morning.

"And after the tyre choice will be important, front and rear, because it is open between medium and hard and depends very much on the temperature."

Rossi will line-up next to team-mate and Qatar winner Vinales, who dropped from first in the dry to sixth, on what was his wet Yamaha debut.

The pair were 1.7s behind Honda pole sitter and reigning champion Marc Marquez, winner of last year's race.

By Peter McLaren


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