Mike Scott Column - Jul 2006

GP paddock oracle Mike Scott tells all

Posted: 10 July 2006
by Mike Scott

What on earth has happened at Yamaha? Weeks before the first race they were cock-a-hoop. The new M1 was, said both factory riders, better in every respect. Then Edwards won out at the Catalunya tests; Rossi was the man in the dry. Even Carlos Checa was quick, on Dunlops. As Rossi's revered crew chief Jerry Burgess smilingly told me, this was Phase Three - after winning the title any-old-how in year one, then doing so while refining the bike in year two, here was the M1 that anyone, not only Rossi, could ride fast.

It all changed once racing began. Now, all but overnight, the Phase Three M1 was a bike that nobody could ride fast, not even Rossi. Valentino and the rest had run into fearsome tyre chatter, that hard-to-pin-down harmonic unhappiness that means the rider can't open the throttle when he needs to. Three races later, they were still chasing the demon.

I have no doubt that Rossi is rider enough to come through this patch. He did win at Qatar, in spite of it. In the same way, the vastly experienced Burgess and his crew will find a way round the problem. Not one for fanciful theorising, Burgess is fond of pointing out that "a motorcycle's nothing but a tool. You just have to make it work."

Rossi, to his credit, has so far found it mostly hilarious, cackling with laughter after his last lap in Turkey was his fastest, as he came through from eleventh on the grid to fourth, including an off-track excursion. "Mine is the first bike in history that goes faster when the tyres are fucked."

The interest lies in how narrow the margin is between dominance and desperation. A couple of months ago I wrote how Honda seemed to have lost direction, but they have regained strength and proved more than ready to profit from any vagaries in Yamaha's performance. That's how it's supposed to be, at the cutting edge.

Ducati has won the first round of the new 800cc class, starting next year, by being the first to break cover. They even showed a (very unrevealing) photo of the 2007 mini-MotoGP bike in the workshop, before shake-down tests at Mugello.

This put them ahead of the rest, at least in being frank and open. Up to a point. It seems the new bike is a 90-degree V4; and it would be very unexpected for it not to have desmo valves. But no further details were forthcoming.

All the others, questioned on this matter, prevaricate furiously. But if Honda aren't already track-testing their prototype (betting is now hedging towards a V4 rather than a V3), then they must be seriously behind schedule.

Rumbles of unease at HRC broke into the open when an internal communication leaked at Qatar. It was an exhortation from above for all in HRC to find ways to reassure Nicky Hayden that he wasn't about to be sidelined.

Nicky is the only rider on the 2006 V5; all the rest are enjoying the well-developed 2005 machine. Including his young superstar team-mate Dani Pedrosa.

Problem is, the new bike seems to be a right handful, and with nobody else able to give a second opinion this leaves Hayden out on a limb. Or, say some, walking the plank. Because if the new bike doesn't come up with the goods, Nicky will take all the blame. And Pedrosa will be standing by to take over the top factory slot.

Superfast rookie Casey Stoner obviously wasn't listening when they told him he'd need a year to learn to ride a MotoGP bike. (Pedrosa also missed that lesson.) And he wasn't about to be over-awed by Rossi off the track.

When the old feller suggested he'd faded at Qatar because of inexperience on worn tyres, Casey wasn't about to take it lying down. Quick and forthright in contradiction, he was fine with sliding tyres, he said. He slowed because he was feeling crook, after two overnighters in airport lounges and a dose of 'flu. It could almost have been feisty old Wayne Gardner talking.

Rossi had no more words on a move to Ferrari next year, beyond: "We must wait one more month." Asked if he had been approached by any other F1 teams, he said: "No. If I go to Formula One it will be with Ferrari."


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