Yamaha MotoGP team's apology shows Valentino Rossi is too important

Yamaha's crisis scenario during MotoGP's Austrian Grand Prix weekend was a reflection of the kind of troubles it now faces due to choices made after the return of Valentino Rossi

Yamaha MotoGP team's apology shows Valentino Rossi is too important
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The first conclusion we can draw from Yamaha technical director Kouji Tsuya's extraordinary press conference on Saturday is that the M1 is not at the level it is supposed to be.

During his speech Tsuya apologised several times. But, looking at Yamaha's results in the 11 grands prix run so far this season, the only obvious outlier is the 14th grid position Valentino Rossi ended up in at the Red Bull Ring - hence there is some confusion over why Tsuya chose this weekend to give that kind of public statement.

"I'm not the one who has to assess if apologies were necessary or not. I would like them to improve the bike instead," said Rossi after finishing sixth on Sunday.

There is no doubt about Rossi's importance inside Yamaha. Yet however tricky the current situation, you could conclude that the mighty influence of the Italian rider is backfiring on the team in what's often dubbed the 'boomerang effect'.

Those who defend this theory hark back to the 2013 season, when Rossi returned to Yamaha after two years of struggle with Ducati. Rossi couldn't do anything but accept the second rider role, as Jorge Lorenzo had won Yamaha's most recent two titles in 2010 and '12.

"Valentino will be given the same treatment as Jorge, but the Spaniard will be the leader of the bike development as he is the one with more chances to win the next and future titles," Lin Jarvis, who is still running the team, said at the time.

But in reality what happened is that the #46 rider started to recover some of his importance, both in sporting results and his communicative and political skills. He kept pace with Lorenzo, who was having a bad year in 2014 and who chose a different path to the one that had carried him to success previously.

Yamaha started to commit to Rossi with some unthinkable consequences: the clearest example was in 2015, when Lorenzo clinched his third MotoGP title after beating his team-mate in that explosive end-of-season finale and the team decided to cancel the scheduled celebration. That was when Lorenzo started to have a change of heart about where he should ride, eventually signing with Ducati in 2017.

Lorenzo leaving the team meant that Rossi became the master of the Yamaha universe. The brand started to defer to him in all possible ways and made closer ties with his VR46 Academy.

'Vale's' racing success is not the only thing at stake for Yamaha for the next two years. The thing that really matters is what comes next.

Logically, Yamaha doesn't want to risk losing its main attraction, the most powerful icon of the motorcycling world. It doesn't want him to step away from the racing world after his retirement.

From that point of view, Saturday's overreaction in Austria suddenly makes sense, even if it is not a good sign that a global company as big as Yamaha prefers to protect the individual image of one of its riders more than its own. Even if that individual is Valentino Rossi.

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Series MotoGP
Drivers Valentino Rossi
Teams AB Motoracing
Author Oriol Puigdemont
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