Has Yamaha made genuine steps forward in solving last year's issues with the Factory-Spec M1?

Qatar certainly provided a highly-promising start, not just because of a victory for each its factory riders Maverick Vinales and Fabio Quartararo, but the manner in which they won.

Last season, the textbook Yamaha victory involved taking the early race lead and, with V4s ahead to block their apex speed, pulling clear.

But Qatar saw Vinales fight through from sixth place, while Quartararo dropped as low as ninth before carving to the top in race two - despite the ongoing top speed deficit, especially to the Ducatis.

A weakness in battle aside, Yamaha's top priority for 2021 was to deliver consistent grip, both over a race distance and in difficult track and weather conditions.

For the factory Yamaha team, the results have been promising so far, Vinales and Quartararo both having enough grip to stay clear of the field on the final laps.

The Frenchman did suffer rear tyre issues the week before, which left him in fifth place, but said they were down to; "riding like a rookie, not playing with the engine maps and not controlling the rear tyre. I was three days in the hotel thinking why I didn’t use my brain while I was riding."

The baking hot afternoon sessions, cooler nights plus frequent strong winds and dust also provided a range of different grip conditions, but Quartararo - who won both races at last year's Jerez season-opener - is reserving judgement on the 2021 M1 until next weekend's Portimao round.

Although Quartararo's then Petronas Yamaha team-mate Franco Morbidelli was on podium at the 2020 season finale, riding the A-Spec bike, the Factory-Spec trio all struggled badly around the undulating track.

Vinales finished as the top Factory M1 in 11th place and 18.7s behind KTM race winner Miguel Oliveira. Valentino Rossi was one place behind him while Quartararo, who had qualified fifth, dropped all the way to 14th (+24.376s).

"We will see in two weeks at Portimao, which was one of the most difficult tracks for us," Quartararo said of the 2021 Factory-Spec Yamaha. "Apart from Franco, who has the ’19 spec and finished in third place, we finished 11th, 12th, 14th.

"That will be a moment where we will see the potential of our bike.

"At the moment, overtaking is much better than last year because I feel the limit and know where is the limit. I felt so good in overtakes. I could brake so hard and keep the brake on the edge of the bike.

"But let’s see in the other races.

"Last year I won the first two races in Jerez, the second one with 8 seconds of advantage at one stage of the race. So, step by step. We've raced twice in the same track [Qatar] so I feel confident with the bike. I feel like we can be fast [everywhere], but I don't want to tell you yes and then is no.

"So this is a moment where I believe in our bike, but I can’t say if it’s going to work [everywhere]."

But as of Sunday night in Qatar, Quartararo felt the new bike had only one urgent technical weakness. 

While celebrating his first factory win in the Monster Yamaha garage, Quartararo was filmed telling Yamaha's project leader Takahiro Sumi, "Thank you so much! Only one thing missing, the front [holeshot] device!"

"Ah yes, yes!" replied Sumi, with the body language of an engineer who hears the request on a daily basis.

Quartararo and Vinales are currently tied for second place in the world championship standings, four points behind Pramac Ducati's Johann Zarco.

 

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