Reigning MotoGP champion Marc Marquez says this weekend’s French Grand Prix is a critical moment for rival team Yamaha, as a sub-par result would indicate the manufacturer is in “bad shape”.
The works Yamaha team has had a mixed start to the season, and struggled last time out at Jerez as Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales laboured to fifth and seventh respectively in an attrition-heavy race that belied its lack of performance.
However, Yamaha as a strong record at Le Mans, where it won 2015 and 2016 and locked out the front row last year with the aid of Tech 3 privateer Johann Zarco – and would’ve claimed a 1-2-3 in the race if Rossi hadn’t crashed chasing Vinales on the final lap.
While Jerez winner and points leader Marquez agreed the Le Mans race will be an important indicator for how much Honda has improved, he argued the weekend will carry more significance for Yamaha.
“In terms of results it hasn’t been very good [for Honda], but I think it’s a bigger test for Yamaha, because if they don’t do well here it means they are in bad shape,” Marquez said.
“Things change a lot from one circuit to the other. Yamaha may have struggled at Jerez, but in theory this is a Yamaha circuit.
“They have always been very fast and I don’t think this year will be different. They will be very fast.”
Vinales, whose 2017 French GP triumph currently stands as his most recent MotoGP win, believes Yamaha is on course for a tougher time at Le Mans this year.
He said: “I think going to be difficult, also the opponents did a great step, especially the Honda.
“Last year [Honda rider Dani Pedrosa’s] rhythm was really good at the end of the race, this year they improve so for sure it’s going to be difficult to beat them but we’re going to try.”
Vinales added: “I don’t know if we can be as good as last year here because the bike was totally different.”
The Spaniard reckoned his showing at Jerez last time out was “much worse” than the challenging weekend he and the team endured at the same venue in 2017, and felt a strong showing at Le Mans was necessary to recover confidence.
“I hope this weekend we can recover a little bit the feeling, [that] it’s going to be good for me, for the team a little bit also, to have more self-confidence I think,” he said.
“It’s important to have the good result and increase the self-confidence of Yamaha and also improve.”
Asked whether a Marquez victory at Le Mans would mean the end of the championship battle, he said: “It’s difficult to say. For sure we’re never going to give up.
“We have to make something happen, start to win races, start to feel good. We are fighting with all we have, and I never lose the focus, we will never give up.
“Last year also, we have many bad races, but when I needed to push, I push, when I needed to save the result, I save. I never give up. So I don’t even want to think on that.”
Additional reporting by Oriol Puigdemont