Honda and Yamaha evenly matched
“Our machine is not so fast, our riders are very fast!” - Shuhei Nakamoto, HRC.
Honda and Yamaha each claim the other currently has the better 1000cc bike, with just one test session remaining before the start of the 2012 MotoGP season.
Honda's reigning MotoGP champion Casey Stoner may have been fastest in both of the Sepang tests but, speaking midway through the final day of last week's session, HRC executive vice president Shuhei Nakamoto said of the new Yamaha:
"Very, very fast! This is a big problem for us."
On the same level as Honda?
"No, even better!"
Nakamoto had a mischievous twinkle in his eye as he said those words, but further comments about the strength of the Yamaha chassis are sure to touch a nerve with HRC's designers, battling to solve an ongoing chatter (vibration) problem with the new RC213V.
"Yamaha historically has a very good handling machine... and now again!" said Nakamoto. But he agreed that Honda usually has more power and thinks "the situation [now] is the same."
However "the overall package" of the Yamaha is currently better, he insisted.
Asked in detail about Honda's persistent chatter issue, Nakamoto explained: "The change to the new  tyres gave us a very bad chattering problem.
"We tried to fix the chattering problem from the Brno test [in mid-August]. We changed the chassis specification at the Motegi test - when Marco [Simoncelli] tested - then again we changed at Valencia test, and again at Sepang I. We are still investigating to fix this problem."
Highlighting the complexity of the issue is that they are trying to solve three different types of vibration during cornering.
"The chatter only occurs in cornering. Not braking. But we have three different types of chatter: Corner entry, middle and then exit. The frequency [of the vibration] is different for each - for example low frequency, high frequency, then back to low again."
Asked if Honda would need to build another chassis to improve the issue for the start of the year, Nakamoto replied: "I don't know. Unfortunately Honda never make a very good handling chassis historically! I want it, but..."
Nakamoto, who joked "if possible, I want to buy" the Yamaha chassis, also declared: "Our machine is not so fast, our riders are very fast."
Nakamoto's factory line-up of Stoner and Dani Pedrosa went on to finish first and second at the final Sepang test, separated by just 0.175sec.
When told that Nakamoto had claimed Yamaha has the better bike, Masahiko Nakajima - general manager of Yamaha's Motorsport Development Division - smiled: "I don't think so... He always says that!"
Nakajima's M1 riders finished the final Malaysian test in third (Andrea Dovizioso), fourth (Jorge Lorenzo), fifth (Cal Crutchlow) and eighth (Ben Spies).
However the general feeling is that Stoner and former champion Lorenzo are the men to beat in terms of consistently fast laps, although Nakajima insists Yamaha are still a few tenths behind the flying Australian.
"We are not happy with our performance yet. Basically our lap time compared with our main competitor is still not enough," said Nakajima.
"I think on average 0.4-0.5sec slower than Casey Stoner here. This is the truth. So we have to reduce the lap time more, at least 0.2-0.3sec."
But Nakajima did concede that Yamaha made significant progress in curbing their own chatter issue.
"Fortunately this time we don't have a big chatter problem, Jorge has just done a 2m 00.8sec [his best lap of the test]. I asked him about chatter. 'Nothing'," said Nakajima.
"We don't know the exact reason. Sure we put solutions in place for this test, but we can't compare precisely with the first test."
The third and final official pre-season test will take place at Jerez from March 23-25, ahead of the first race at Qatar on the evening of
Honda riders won 13 of the 17 races last season (Stoner 10, Pedrosa 3) during the last year of the 800cc MotoGP era. Yamaha riders claimed the other four victories (Lorenzo 3, Ben Spies 1).