Valentino Rossi must hope for dry weather on Saturday morning at the Austrian MotoGP if he is to have a chance of going directly into Qualifying 2.

Like Monster Yamaha team-mate Maverick Vinales (11th), the Italian narrowly missed out on the top ten during FP1, which would prove to be the only fully dry Friday track session.

"Today is a half-day because we worked just in the morning and unfortunately we lost FP2 because the conditions were mixed, so it was impossible to improve," said Rossi, who was 13th fastest in FP1, but only 0.686s from KTM pace setter Pol Espargaro.

"The first impression is that this morning was a bit difficult and I was also out of the top ten. For sure we have a lot of work because we need to improve in braking. When you arrive the speed is very high and you have straight braking, so you need to work a bit on the setting.

"It looks like it will be difficult because everybody is very fast. But it's also true that we are very close with a lot of riders. It looks like today Dovi, but also Pol Espargaro and the two Suzukis are very strong. But with the others, we are there."

Rossi's cause wasn't helped by being ranked second-to-last for maximum speed around the power-hungry Red Bull Ring track.

The Doctor, like Vinales and Petronas Yamaha's Franco Morbidelli, lost one engine during the Jerez season openers. Although Brno then passed without issue, adding weight to the theory that the baking Spanish heat was a factor in the failures, Vinales and Morbidelli have already opened all five of their engines allowed for this season. Rossi and Fabio Quartararo have opened four out of five.

If, as rumoured, Yamaha now wishes to change its engine design on 'safety' grounds (defined as 'a proven problem which may have safety implications') it will need to get permission from all of the other MotoGP manufacturers, which means explaining to them exactly what has happened, what they want to change and why it will not affect performance. Such permission has not yet been granted.

While it's unclear if any of the Yamaha engines used during the first Jerez event can eventually return to service, Rossi, Vinales and Morbidelli already need to stretch the mileage of their remaining engines to compensate for the one (each) that has been officially withdrawn from use and cannot return.

Reducing the revs extends engine life, and may also help prevent further breakdowns. Speculation initially centred around a faulty exhaust sensor, but pit lane reporter Simon Crafar then spotted the pneumatic-valve system on the M1s being topped up on the grid, a very unusual move, and valves are now thought to be the real issue.

"A little bit, yes," confirmed Rossi, regarding the lower revs. The Italian was 11.4s km/h slower than Ducati's Andrea Dovizioso on the straight and faster than only the year-old Ducati of Tito Rabat, "but the top speed for us is always a weak point, for a long time. And on paper this track is difficult because all the straights are very long. In all the top speed sheets we are in a very low position! So it looks like our bike has other strong points but we suffer in top speed."

Meanwhile, Rossi is continuing to refine his 'new' set-up for the M1, which has performed promisingly in races at the last two rounds.

"We have a base setting, we continue to work in our way. Here we made some adjustment for sure because this is track is very particular. The braking point, and to be strong in braking, is crucial for the race," he said.

"Tomorrow we need to do a good FP3, because it will be crucial to be in the top 10. At the moment the forecast for tomorrow afternoon predicts rain, not a lot, similar to what we had today. For sure, if that's the case, anything is possible."

 

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