On paper, it looked like a case of everything is different, but not much has changed for Yamaha during qualifying at Motegi.

Last year in the wet, satellite rider Johann Zarco put his 2016 machine on pole while factory Yamaha riders Valentino Rossi (12th) and Maverick Vinales (14th) struggled with the latest 2017 bike.

A year on and - despite totally different (dry) conditions, plus Zarco now being on a more similar specification of machine to Rossi and Vinales - the Frenchman came within a whisker of beating Andrea Dovizioso to pole, while the Movistar duo managed just seventh (Vinales) and ninth (Rossi).

The result halted the momentum built after a strong performance last time in Thailand and encouraging Friday for Vinales - again using the revised Buriram weight balance and some recent (electronic?) efforts to smooth the power delivery.

The Spaniard explained that he had lost 'braking power' compared to day one.

"After yesterday's FP1 I was expecting more and that a front-row start was possible, but we got worse on the braking areas, so that's what we need to work on tomorrow," Vinales said.

"Tonight we will have a look to see where we are losing in terms of braking power compared to yesterday, and we'll see if we can improve it. I don't know what to expect for tomorrow's race.

"I hope to be at the front, which I should be able to fight for if we improve the braking.

"We have to keep focused tomorrow and try to make another step. I'm actually happy about the traction, I didn't expect to have such good traction here, so that's very positive."

Meanwhile Rossi revealed his second qualifying run was ruined by a 'mistake' with the rear tyre, which is thought to have been the wrong pressure.

"Today was not fantastic, but it was also not so bad - it was a little bit average," Rossi began. "My pace improved from yesterday. It's nothing great, but we're with about five riders who have a similar pace, so the race will be very much open.

"Unfortunately, I could have done better in qualifying, but we made a mistake in the box with the rear tyre and I didn't have any grip, so I didn't try on the second run. If that hadn't happened, I think I could have started from the second row. To me, that's my potential.

"We'll see tomorrow. We have to improve in some areas, because I'm not very happy about the setting. We have to try to do better."

Rossi also faced the same question as one year ago, why is Zarco so much faster here?

"First of all, Zarco here in Motegi is always very strong, it is one of his favourite tracks," he said. "I think that if I try the second time [in qualifying] I can arrive closer to him, but anyway, he will very strong tomorrow because he has a very good pace.

"So I think it will be hard to finish in front of Johann tomorrow, but I will try."

Speaking to Spain's Movistar TV, Vinales said Zarco has a different engine - which Vinales had also preferred in pre-season testing, only for another design to be chosen for the factory team to race...

Vinales and Rossi had at least beaten Zarco in final practice, setting the sixth (0.6s) and ninth (+0.9s) best laps in the main session for race pace, but the gap to the top was worrying over a 24-lap grand prix distance.

Both riders tried the hard-rear tyre at the start of FP4, perhaps hoping to regain the kind of feeling they'd had from the stiffer tyre construction used at Buriram, but soon switched back to the mediums (front and rear).

"We had some solutions to try today, but in the morning practice session we found that not all of them worked, so we had to continue our work in FP4," said team director Massimo Meregalli.

"Though we made progress in terms of getting more power on the ground, and both Maverick and Vale had a good start to Q2, we had expected to be more competitive.

"Unfortunately, Vale's qualifying result was compromised. He actually felt good with the bike earlier, so it's a pity it cost him a row.

"It will be a hard race for both riders, starting from the third row.

"We are preparing a different setting tweak for tomorrow's warm-up with the aim to make a further step. We still have some small doubts about the decision on the race tyre, so we'll see in the morning."

Yamaha hasn't won a MotoGP race since Assen 2017, marking its longest win drought in the premier-class.

 

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