After spending his entire premier-class career with Australian Jeremy Burgess at his side, nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi made a surprising crew chief change after the conclusion of the 2013 MotoGP season.
Silvano Galbusera, the former technical boss of Yamaha’s World Superbike team, was an easy choice for the Italian. The two worked together in 2010, when Rossi twice tested the factory YZF-R1 while he was getting back to fitness after breaking his leg at Mugello. According to Rossi, he and Galbusera gelled straight away.
Despite his vast SBK experience with Yamaha and, more recently, BMW, Galbusera was a MotoGP rookie. So he needed time to get his head around the setup for the factory Yamaha YZR-M1. As Galbusera found his way, Rossi upped his race pace, racking up two wins, 13 podiums, and his first pole position in four years.
At the end of the 2014 season, the 35-year-old Italian finished runner-up to the dominant Marc Marquez in what was his best season since 2009. Having signed a new two-year deal with Yamaha, Rossi isn’t giving up on his hope to claim a 10th crown. Galbusera reckons it’s not too tall of an order, as he told me at Yamaha Motor Racing headquarters in Germo di Lesmo, Italy, last December.
How was your first season working full time with Valentino Rossi and in MotoGP?
For me, it was a great and an unbelievable experience to work in MotoGP for the first time and with a top rider like Valentino. It was a dream come true. It was a bit complicated at the beginning because I didn’t have a lot of experience with MotoGP, so during the winter tests, we tried to learn as much as possible. I tried to listen to all of the comments from Valentino and find the right settings for the bike. It wasn’t bad. Step by step, we arrived at a good relationship and good results.
Before the season, there were doubts if Valentino would be able to challenge for the title again, but he made a big step. Did you expect such progress?
Of course, because in our mind, we thought it was a good choice for him to change everything, but nobody knew if it would be enough to make the step to fight with Marc Marquez, Jorge Lorenzo, and Dani Pedrosa. Everybody knows the level of MotoGP is very high. During the last three or four years, we saw many competitors fighting for the victory. After two years with Ducati and the first season with Yamaha, Valentino had some doubts, but after the winter tests, he said, “We can take some satisfaction and in some races fight with Marquez and Jorge.”
What changed? Valentino’s riding style was quite different. Was his mentality different, too?
I think the big step for Valentino was trying to find a good bike. He told me at the beginning of 2014 that the year before he never felt the bike was 100 percent in his hands; he couldn’t push close to the limit without that feeling. We tried to improve the M1 to give Valentino “his” bike, so he could brake very hard, like in the past, to have a very good corner entry. Step by step, we found a good setting, and it was very easy and normal for him to push to fight with the top riders. But without that feeling, it would have been impossible.
To find that feeling, did you have a base setup that worked more or less everywhere or did you turn the bike upside down each weekend?
No, we didn’t turn the bike upside down. Often the difference between a good and a bad bike is very small. We tried to follow Valentino’s comments and requests. The biggest problem was the braking, because he never had a good feeling with the front tire. We tried to work with the Japanese in that direction and made a couple of good steps during the season, which was helpful. Also, downshifting without the clutch was a good step. In the end, we improved corner speed a bit, which was helpful, too.
What do you still need to improve, both with the bike and Valentino’s riding, to be able to challenge for the title in 2015?
At the end of 2014, we understood that the Honda was a bit better than the Yamaha. We improved a lot during the season, but we need to make another small step to follow Honda, especially in the braking. Marquez brakes very deep. It’s only him, we know, but he goes into the corner not with a normal style. As we can see, he’s on the limit, but he can make the corner and gain the time. For Valentino to do the same, we need to improve the bike to make it slide a little bit at the beginning and then go in fast like Marquez.
Can Valentino still improve as a rider or is he doing everything as well as he can?
Valentino is old just on paper. Every race, every test, he learned a little bit and tried to modify his style and achieve the best result. For me, in this moment, Valentino is in good shape and has a very clear mentality to fight with Marquez. We just need to improve the bike a bit from our side to give him another chance to be closer to Marquez.
How was this season as a rookie MotoGP crew chief? What was the biggest change and your greatest challenge?
The level in MotoGP is very high. Every small detail on the settings makes a big difference on the track. We spend a little bit of time at the beginning of the season to measure every difference in the setting. Now I’m a bit more ready to analyze the data to learn Valentino’s comments more quickly and change something on the bike. In 2014, on Friday and Saturday, we weren’t very fast compared to the others, but we improved in every session, and we arrived on Sunday with a good base to fight.
Do you have a way of working that you follow every weekend?
No. First, when Valentino arrives on Thursday, we try to analyze the race from the previous season and the last race, the small problems we had, etc. After that, we prepare the base setup for Friday morning. From then on, we modify it to achieve the best settings. Sometimes, we need to improve acceleration. Sometimes, braking. It depends on the track conditions, tires, and so on.
What it’s like to work with a nine-time world champion?
For me, Valentino is the top rider. In the garage, he never tries to show us his level. We work together; we try to find a good setting together. He’s like a normal rider in the garage. It’s only after the race that you see a lot of people outside the garage who want to talk to him and so on. He’s very clear in his mind and enthusiastic to fight with the top riders. That’s the best for me.