However, if the tyre gives Rossi more edge grip and longevity it gives everyone more edge grip and longevity, so he’s back where he started. On Sunday at Jerez he was running just inside the top ten until he parked his YZR-M1, most likely due to an electronics failure. Last year four of his last five results were eighth-places finishes, so he’s certainly made no improvement going into 2020.
However, his garage is confident that his results will improve. Rossi has only just started a new rider/crew chief relationship with former VR46 Moto2 engineer David Munoz, who hadn’t worked in MotoGP until last November’s Valencia GP, so Munoz is very much still building his MotoGP know-how. He is young, keen to learn and working well with Rossi’s crew.
During the first dozen laps on Sunday Rossi lost around four-tenths per lap to winner Fabio Quartararo and two or three tenths to the group that ended up battling for the podium. This isn’t an insurmountable disadvantage, especially since he may know what he needs to do.
“When we look at the data of Maverick [Viñales] and Fabio [Quartararo] we are very, very similar,” he said. “Maverick is very strong on braking – it looks like he’s able to stop the bike a bit better than me.”
Rossi isn’t stupid. He knows he won’t challenge for the title like he did all those years ago
This, therefore, is where Rossi needs to work. If a rider cannot get the bike stopped as he wants it sets in motion a chain of events that ruins not only his lap times but also his tyres.
If he gets into the corner too hot, he will have to work the bike and the tyres harder to make the corner. And most likely he will be slow through the corner, so he will instinctively compensate by using more throttle on the exit, which burns the tyre. One small problem can lead to many more problems.
Braking at MotoGP levels isn’t a simple process. Michelin’s front slick isn’t good enough to do all the work alone, so riders use the rear tyre during braking more than they did with the Bridgestones. Getting the bike balance just right so the rider can play with the front and rear brakes into corners is a tricky balancing act.
Then there is the issue of Rossi’s size. The 41-year-old is the second biggest rider in MotoGP, standing at 181cm and 69 kilos. By comparison, the average height and weight of the top-five finishers at Jerez was 172cm and 65 kilos. In combined bike/rider weight terms this is a difference of around two per cent. Surely, that’s nothing. Maybe, maybe not, but in these days of ultra-tight competition, a little can be a lot. For example, a two per cent difference in lap times at Jerez is around 2.5 seconds! His height doesn’t help either, because exiting corners he can’t move his backside as far forward as others can, so he struggles to reduce load on the rear tyre.
Rossi in 2001, when lean angles and rider position were less extreme
Rossi isn’t stupid. He knows he won’t challenge for the title like he did all those years ago, but he believes he can still fight for podiums, if he can get the bike to do what he wants it to do. And that’s enough to keep him motivated, with the dream that one day circumstances may conspire to put him on the top step of the podium again.
Michelin’s 2020 tyre doesn’t seem to have changed much for Rossi, or for other riders of inline-four MotoGP bikes, the Suzuki and Yamaha, but it has changed things for some V4 riders.
While GSX-RR and M1 riders use classic, arcing lines through corners to exploit the easy-riding nature of an inline-four MotoGP bike, riders of Ducati’s Desmosedici and Honda’s RC213V V4s have to use more acute cornering lines to get the best out of their bikes, so they play more with rear grip. The problem is that the new rear’s improved grip can overpower the front tyre
“The new Michelin has better grip, so its exit grip is good, but in corner entry it pushes the front more,” said Honda’s Marc Márquez. “Normally more grip at the rear is better for Yamaha and Suzuki because they ride more with the rear tyre.”
Ducati seems to have the biggest concerns with the tyre, although it’s more of an issue for Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci than for Jack Miller.
“The tyre is really different,” said Dovizioso. “It doesn’t seem to affect some bikes that much – it looks like Suzuki and Yamaha aren’t struggling, but we are struggling. The tyre works in a different way, so the way you brake, how you enter, the way you release the brake, how you open the throttle and how you slide, everything is a bit different. We have to adapt and it’s not easy.”