Valentino Rossi joins Yamaha and title is reclaimed with new YZR-M1
Rossi clinches the championship title on the latest YZR-M1
Valentino Rossi joined the Yamaha team from this season. The newest version of the YZR-M1 was ridden by Rossi, Carlos Checa, Marco Melandri, and Norifumi Abe. At the end of the 16-round series, Rossi was crowned the champion after taking nine wins on the YZR-M1. This was the first rider's title for Yamaha in Grand Prix road racing since Wayne Rainey in 1992. Although the manufacturer's title went to Honda, Yamaha won the team title thanks to the efforts of Rossi and Checa.
Rossi rode the YZR-M1 for the first time in January testing at the start of 2004. He managed to record good times from pre-season testing and took pole position for the opening round. A fierce battle for the lead developed between Rossi and Max Biaggi (Honda) in the race, but it was Rossi who came out in front, with only two-tenths of a second difference between the two at the finish. After taking his checkered flag, Rossi parked his machine on the side of the track and showed his overwhelming excitement by kissing it. Good competition from his rivals left Rossi in 4th place in rounds two and three. But from round four, he won three races in a row to narrow down the 15-point deficit in the season ranking. At the end of round six, he was tied in points with the championship leader Sete Gibernau (Honda). Rossi and Gibernau both fell in the following round in Rio de Janeiro, and the two rivals moved on to the eighth round in Germany still tied in points.
In Germany, Rossi could only manage 4th as he struggled with a sliding tendency. Gibernau had to retire from the race, however, which put Rossi on top in the ranking. Biaggi had worked his way up in the ranking to within a single point of Rossi. But, Rossi maintained his form with a win in round 9, followed by a 2nd, a win and another 2nd. Biaggi dropped in ranking again due to no-pointers. At the end of the 12th round in Japan, the gap between Rossi and Gibernau was 39 points. But the drama did not end there.
The 13th round was held at the Losail Circuit on the outskirts of Doha, the capital of Qatar. It was the first MotoGP race to be held there, and there were some concerns about the sand on the track that comes in from the surrounding desert. Rossi started from the back of the grid after being penalized for cleaning the track surface on the grid, but he charged his way quickly to 8th position, and he improved his position further to 4th position. However, his rear tire came off during a turn and he crashed out of the race. Rossi was unhurt, and won the following race in Malaysia. In the next round in Australia, there was another tough battle with Gibernau for the lead in the final lap, with the lead changing hands three times. Rossi finished in front by a mere 0.097-second gap to clinch the championship. He also won the final race in Spain to take his ninth win of the season.
Checa meanwhile finished 7th in the ranking, with good performances including a 2nd place in the France GP as well as one 4th- and 5th-place finish. Melandri finished 3rd in the fifth round in Catalunya and the sixth round in the Netherlands, but eight no-pointers in the 16-race season meant that he was only able to finish the season ranked 12th. Abe finished 13th in the ranking by gaining points in 11 races, with 7th-place finishes in Italy and Qatar being his best results this season.
Cate. Rider Machine MotoGP Valentino Rossi YZR-M1(0WP3) MotoGP Carlos Checa YZR-M1(0WP3) MotoGP Marco Melandri YZR-M1(0WP3) MotoGP Norifumi Abe YZR-M1(0WP3)
Pos. Cate. Rider Constructor Point 1 MotoGP V. Rossi Yamaha 304 2 MotoGP S. Gibernau Honda 257 3 MotoGP M. Biaggi Honda 217 4 MotoGP A. Barros Honda 165 5 MotoGP C. Edwards Honda 157 6 MotoGP M. Tamada Honda 150 7 MotoGP C. Checa Yamaha 117 12 MotoGP M. Melandri Yamaha 75 13 MotoGP N. Abe Yamaha 74
Pos. Constructor Point 1 Honda 355 2 Yamaha 328 3 Ducati 169 4 Kawasaki 95 5 Suzuki 73 6 Aprilia 39