In the penultimate edition of the 2020 MotoGP season review, Motorsport Week takes a look back ay what should have been a year of Yamaha domination, one that instead proved to be one of the most inconsistent campaigns of the marque’s long history in the pinnacle of grand prix motorcycle racing.
Arguably the most disappointed organisation heading into the winter break is Yamaha, the Japanese manufacturer that before 2020 remained the last marque to deny Honda and Marc Marquez the manufacturers and riders title sweep, achieved in co ordinance with Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi in ’15.
With Marquez ruled out of the rest of year early through injury-effectively ending Honda’s chances of title glory in ’20-Yamaha looked to be the main beneficiaries of the six-time premier class champion’s side-lining.
It fired to a pair of 1-2 results in the first two rounds of the year at Jerez, ’19 rookie sensation Fabio Quartararo heading factory man Maverick Vinales on both occasions to claim his first ever victories in the series.
Quartararo had looked to become Marquez’s main competition after a stand-out debut MotoGP campaign that saw him rack up six pole positions and seven podium finishes, though despite several thrilling battles with Marquez a win still eluded him ahead of the ’20 season.
The Frenchman was expected to go on a tear having finally broken his victory duck-particularly with three-time runner up Andrea Dovizioso struggling for form as a result of the tweaked ’20 spec Michelin rubber-though his championship aspirations would take a dive from here on in.
Early season reliability troubles that saw Rossi and the second Petronas SRT machine of Franco Morbidelli both suffer engine failures in the Spanish and Andalucian Grand Prix’s respectively would come back to haunt Yamaha later in the year, but more on that later.
In the meantime Quartararo-as well as Vinales- struggled for performance over the next few events, the duo failing to finish higher than sixth before the MotoGP fraternity headed to Misano for a double header on the Italian Riviera.
Morbidelli held up SRT’s honour after Quartararo crashed out early in the San Marino GP to claim an emphatic first win, before Vinales swept the Misano contests for Yamaha with his first victory of the campaign the following weekend.
Feeling rather left out having left Italy with a solitary fourth for his troubles, Quartararo claimed Yamaha’s third straight win in the Catalan GP at the Circuit de Barcelona Catalunya, though by this point his early advantage had been all but eroded by Suzuki’s Joan Mir, while Dovizioso doggedly clung to a title chance with his customary consistency despite lacking outright performance.
This was the real turning point of Yamaha’s championship charge though, as neither Quartararo nor Vinales would stand on the rostrum again all year as they suffered with the ’20-spec M1’s frustratingly small window of operation, with lower temperatures as the season shifted into autumn attributed as one of the main reasons for the shift in performance.
Quartararo lost his slender points lead after finishing a disastrous 18th in the Aragon GP after setting off with incorrect tyre pressures, Mir moving into a title lead he would never relinquish.
Morbidelli’s heavily upgraded ’19-spec M1 example didn’t seem to suffer the same troubles as it newer sibling, allowing the Italian to fire into a late season charge for the title-although remote as Mir opened his advantage to 37 with just two contests remaining following a commanding first win at Valencia.
The ’17 Moto2 world champion won two of the final four races of the year, while a run to third in the season finale in Portugal saw him deny the second GSX-RR of Alex Rins the runners-up position in the riders standings, wrapping up an impressive second campaign with the SRT squad.
Vinales and Quartararo though slumped well out of title contention due to their respective troubles, the former ultimately ending the year sixth overall while the latter fell all the way to eighth after failing to finish higher than eighth in the final six races after his Barcelona success.
Rossi’s final year with the factory Yamaha outfit was unfortunately a forgettable one, the Italian confirmed in a straight swap with Quartararo back in September, though he will remain as a factory contracted rider as part of his move to the Malaysian outift.
The seven-time MotoGP champion’s season highlight was his single rostrum appearance in the Andalucia GP, while six successive non-scores-including two missed races after falling victim to Covid-19 ahead of the Motorland Aragon double header-meant he ended the year only 15th overall.
Salt was well and truly poured into Yamaha’s wound after losing the riders title as it was effectively stripped of the manufacturers prize too, having been docked 50 points after being found guilty of running illegal engine valves in the motors the from the first two rounds of the year at Jerez.
Yamaha would finish second to Ducati overall by just 17 points as a result, bringing the curtain down on a season of what could have been.
The marque has yet to decide which direction to take with the M1 for ’21 due to a ban on new machines being introduced as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, though Morbidelli’s late season push indicates a return to the ’19 chassis as the most likely path to a more sustained attack on the ’21 MotoGP crown.