5 months ago
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If your name is Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP), it’s safe to say you enjoyed your weekend at the Grande Prémio 888 de Portugal. Pole position – albeit fortuitously – and a commanding race victory is just about as good as it gets, and the soon to be 22-year-old Frenchman leaves the Algarve as the World Championship leader.
But Quartararo, a reformed character from last season, isn’t taking notice of the Championship standings so early into the season. At the same stage of the 2020 campaign, after three races, Quartararo was also top of the standings. Quartararo had never been in that position before and admitted after Sunday’s expert Portimao victory that it felt strange for him to be topping the table in 2020. Not this year though. Quartararo has explained he is much better mentally in 2021, having worked with a psychologist over the winter to improve this part of his game. And it’s showing.
“Yes. I feel totally different,” said the factory Yamaha rider, when asked about his different mentality this year. “When you win the first two races in a row with an advantage of four seconds, you feel that it’s going to start and keep going but the other ones are working so hard to go over you, to take that place,” he continued, talking about the beginning of last season, when he won both Jerez encounters – the venue we’re heading to next – at a canter.
Naturally, especially with Marc Marquez’s (Repsol Honda Team) injury and Quartararo having such a stunning year in his 2019 rookie season, expectations from the outside were heaped on the young man’s shoulders. 2020 was going to be his year. The same bike as factory riders Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi – who joined him on the Andalucia GP podium – and seemingly a great package, Yamaha and Quartararo were going to dominate the season. As we know, that didn’t happen.
“Actually right now I’m just thinking race by race. When I won these two races in Jerez I was just like, wow, we are first in the Championship. I’d never been in that position ever. It was strange for me. That’s why right now I’m event not looking at Championship. I'm just thinking about the next race to keep going. Mentally during pre-season, I worked pretty well with my psychologist. I feel like all the exercises he gave to me were good and keep me calm. So I’m happy about my pre-season,” explained Quartararo.
“Honestly, Yamaha made a big step compared to last year. But for me, mentally I feel stronger. Last year after Aragon that we lose more or less the opportunity to fight until the end with Joan for the Championship, I was even not frustrated, but we lost that moment to fight with him. I learned a lot last year. When the bike was going not so great I was always feeling negative and I totally changed. Always feeling positive I think is great. When I arrived here, I knew that the bike was working. Even a few things that was not working well, I’m just thinking on what is working well. To set the pace that we set today was not easy but I was focused. I think that 70% is on your mind.”
That says everything we need to know. Quartararo’s and Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP teammate Viñales’ 2020 title aspirations were ultimately ended by a yo-yo performing 2020 YZR-M1. Winning races one weekend and finishing outside the top 10 at the next saw Quartararo, having won the first two races so dominantly, finish eighth. Something needed to be done to change that. Clearly, Yamaha have worked wonders over the winter to rectify 2020’s problems. Couple that with a new Quartararo and we are witnessing a formidable blend.
Quartararo then went onto explain the better phenomena he has with the 2021 YZR-M1: “I think like everybody knows, last year we had a lot of struggles with engine and electronics. So we needed to take out a lot of things that actually was working well for us but for the consistency of the engine we had to take it off. From this year we start with a normal base and of course it’s much better.
“I feel better with the new chassis. I have a little bit more feedback that actually is one thing that is making me going faster. If I don’t feel the front, I’m lost. Like in Valencia last year was a total disaster. In Qatar 2 I said I have a really great feeling on the front. Also to make overtakes was good.
“Arriving here we had exactly the same feeling arriving to turn three. Turn one, where I overtake Alex, I was feeling on the limit, but I felt every movement on the front. I felt that was going fine. Electronics-wise it’s okay. Tyre-wise it’s more with your hand and trying to set the best pace as possible but keeping also for the end. Then that’s it. It’s just pushing yourself to the limit.”
Working on two completely different tracks like the Losail International Circuit and the Algarve International Circuit certainly bodes well for Quartararo and Yamaha this season. Feeling like his 2019 self on the bike, the number 20 is made up by the fact he was able to win in Doha and Portimao, and it’s a pair of results that gives Quartararo a sense his bike will work at all the tracks we visit this year.
“Honestly, I feel like 2019 that the bike is working so well. We don’t touch the bike. We arrived here, it’s exactly the same bike as Qatar, changing a few things but it’s nothing different. We never ask ourselves, should we try this? 2019 was like this. If you see the difference between Qatar and here, it’s total different tracks. So that means that the bike is going so well. I’m pretty sure that the bike will work in all the tracks this year. Maybe we will struggle for sure, but I think that the bike is going well in all the tracks.”
The next track is the Circuito de Jerez-Angel Nieto: scene of Quartararo’s first two MotoGP™ wins and a favourable Yamaha layout. Since 2005, only on two occasions has a Yamaha rider not stood on the Jerez rostrum – 2006 (Capirossi, Pedrosa, Hayden) and 2017 (Marc Marquez, Pedrosa, Lorenzo). At this moment in time, it would be a surprise to not see at least the factory number 20 Yamaha not spraying the bubbly on Jerez’s podium again.
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