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16 days ago
By Nick Harris

Time to mature like a fine French wine

Former MotoGP™ commentator Nick Harris delves into the rise of double Jerez winner Fabio Quartararo

They tell me that you must let fine French wine mature for a few years to enjoy drinking it at its very best. We have waited five years for 21-year-old Fabio Quartararo to mature and like the taste of wine, it has been worth the patience.

Back in 2014 at Le Mans the success-starved French media told me they had discovered the next Valentino Rossi. Their long wait and search for not only a French premier class Grand Prix winner but first ever French premier class World Champion had ended. They had found their man to fly the tricolour in the toughest sporting arena of them all. I understood just how they felt. It had been 33 years since Barry Sheene had brought Britain premier class Grand Prix success and at least it was only 15 years previously that Regis Laconi stood on the top step of the podium in Valencia.

Andalucia GP: MotoGP™ race highlights

Fabio Quartararo had just turned 15 years old at Le Mans, and I was suitably mighty impressed. He won the FIM Junior World Championship race on route to his second successive World title. Not so impressive was my attempts to speak French to him in the resulting press conference. Typically, his English had improved a great deal more than my feeble French by the time he arrived in Qatar ten months later for his much-heralded Moto3™ World Championship debut. He was still 15 years old and the World was at his feet.

What a race under the floodlights to start your Grand Prix career. The teenager finished seventh but under eight tenths of a second behind race winner fellow Frenchman Alexis Masbou. Two weeks later he finished second behind World Champion elect Danny Kent in Austin. When he grabbed pole in the opening two European races at Jerez at Le Mans all the hype surrounding the next Rossi or Marquez seemed justified. The only question was when that first Grand Prix victory would come. It just never did in the Moto3™ class.

"What's better than racing with your idol?" - Quartararo

All that promise and optimism started to drain away in a cloud of injury and uncompetitive machinery. There were still glimpses of brilliance but after two years the ever-growing Fabio joined the Moto2™ World Championship in 2017 riding for the Sito Pons team. I remember Sito, a double World Champion and one of the most experienced team bosses in the game telling me that the French teenager had a fantastic talent and was an amazing prospect.

Sadly, it did not work out for either of them and they parted company at the end of the season. It turned out to be the turning point in a career that had promised the earth but was going nowhere. Riding the Speed Up machine suddenly that old sparkle and confidence returned culminating in that long-awaited first Grand Prix win at Barcelona which included pole position and fastest lap. He followed up with a second in Assen and eventually finished tenth in the Championship.

Despite the change of direction in his career I certainly, and I think many others were surprised, when the new Petronas Yamaha SRT team signed Fabio to join former Moto2™ World Champion Franco Morbidelli for their MotoGP™ debut. They knew exactly what they were doing. What a debut in the premier class last year. Seven podium finishes, Rookie of the Year and fifth in the World Championship. The only thing that was missing was that first premier class Grand Prix win. We did not have to wait long for that magic moment when the 2020 season finally got underway in Jerez last week. Then he did it again a week in the stifling Jerez heat.

FREE: Best of the Andalucia GP in super slow motion

Like that fine French wine, the wait for it to mature was well worth it and there is still so much more to come. I will raise a glass with those French journalists who six years ago told me what to expect. It just took a little bit longer than we envisaged.

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