International press gathered in the Spain and Italy this week to see the official unveiling of the 2017 Movistar Yamaha team and the combined force of the potent M1 factory machine, MotoGP’s most decorated and iconic figure – Valentino Rossi (now in his 22nd year of Grand Prix) and arguably the most exciting young talent in the series: Maverick Viñales. Over near Bologna Ducati were taking the wraps off the sumptuous GP17 that Jorge Lorenzo will throttle hard in his very first campaign with the Italians.
Aesthetically the works Yamaha retains the same soft edges, dynamic presence and lively hue but the injection of 22 year old Viñales aboard and within the Italian based team means fresh blood and a new spark after the crew ended a nine year association with Jorge Lorenzo last summer.
With Rossi (soon to be 38) and the Spaniard (fronting his third season in the premier class) Yamaha have good reason to be optimistic with their exciting and diverse blend of skills and determination for 2017. “You know, it's very important to not stop working and never stop improving,” Rossi, who is gunning for a tenth crown, commented in Madrid. “I have missed riding my bike. The [first] pre-season test in Sepang will be an interesting moment, we will get a good idea of our level and it’s also the first time I’ll get to take the YZR-M1 out on track in its 2017 colours.”
“Today we revealed the bike and it looks beautiful, I wish I could start riding it right now!” Viñales, a former world champion in Moto3 remarked. “When I was a kid, I used to watch Valentino riding his M1 and now I’m here at the team launch, it’s like a dream come true!”
The throaty growl of the M1 will resonate for the first time in a matter of days when the MotoGP grid gathers for the initial test of 2017 in the humidity of Sepang, Malaysia and the first test of three that will also take in the rapid sweeps of Phillip Island in Australia and then the light-shod desert air of Losail in Qatar.
Meanwhile over in Italy more ‘new clothes’ were being revealed. It was the most talked about transfer in 2016; MotoGP spun for weeks on whether reigning world champion Jorge Lorenzo would terminate a spell lasting almost a decade in Yamaha blue and plump for the blood red of Ducati. Contract signed, move made and furore complete. His first outing on the Desmosedici mere hours after the final Grand Prix of 2016 at Valencia in Spain was virtually box-office stuff. Photos and clips of ‘99’ – one of the powerhouses of the sport – on his new steed were fired out from the Ricardo Tormo circuit and beamed and posted around the world.
In Italy on Friday the black shade of the test Ducati finally turned crimson at the 2017 official launch and the 28 year old could speak freely and easily about the challenge ahead and aiming for a fourth MotoGP crown with what will be just his second manufacturer in the premier class.
“I had been working with the same team and the same bike for many years so Valencia [the test] was a bit of a shock but the ability of this bike is incredible and the rideability is unparalleled,” he said. “It is such a powerful bike but it is also easy to keep control. It was an incredible surprise. When you have been lucky to be world champion once then you keep on wanting to repeat it but of course it is difficult. If we are strong in general then we’ll be there for the podium.”
‘JL’ will have the experience of Andrea Dovizioso in the Ducati camp next to him, as well as the backing of one of the most passionate groups of fans that follow the series. The technical skills of Gigi Dall’Inga will be important for making the GP17 curve to his mojo but signs are encouraging after those first runs at Valencia and ahead of the laps in Sepang and Phillip Island in the coming weeks.
“This is a very great day for me and yesterday also [he toured the Ducati factory at Borgo Panigale] I did not expect all that passion and love that the people there showed me. Some even said ‘welcome to the family’ and you could really feel that.”
Lorenzo will carry the hopes of the small but intensely motivated company to rule MotoGP again for the first time in exactly a decade. MotoGP kicks off under the Losail lights in Qatar on March 25-26.