MotoGP™ appears to have its new star. Among a highly talented batch of class rookies, Fabio Quartararo has been head and shoulders above the rest with his performances in the first half of 2019 earmarking him out for future greatness.
The turnaround in the fortunes of the once-hyped teenager has been remarkable; this time a year ago he had agreed a move to the premier class with Yamaha’s new Petronas SRT satellite team on the basis of two strong results (at the Circuit of Barcelona and Assen) in the Moto2™ class.
But the 20-year has exceeded even the wildest expectations, scoring podiums at the Circuit of Barcelona and Assen, as well as three remarkable pole positions. The first of those in Jerez meant, at 20 years and 14 days old, he took Marc Marquez’s record for MotoGP™'s youngest ever pole sitter. And who knows, after sensational showings throughout free practice, where he would have placed had he not stalled his bike on the grid for Qatar’s season opener? It was there where he set the race’s fastest lap in his MotoGP™ debut.
Quartararo has had to the good fortune of jumping on Yamaha’s M1 – arguably MotoGP™’s friendliest bike – for his MotoGP™ apprenticeship. Like countryman Johann Zarco in 2017, his silky smooth riding style and languid body movements appear perfectly matched to the equipment at his disposal. But at Jerez he was outperforming experienced Yamaha riders Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi comfortably.
That all of this has come among some niggling injuries just adds to the feeling that we have been watching something very special. After a demanding Italian Grand Prix, Quartararo went under the knife to alleviate arm pump issues on his right arm. From there he scorched to back-to-back pole positions and podiums. The early fall out of the recent German Grand Prix was his only blemish to date.
Joining the premier class it’s crucial to have the right package around you. That means team and bike and at Petronas Yamaha this is certainly proving to be ideal. Along with his teammate, Franco Morbidelli, this brand new outfit has taken to the class superbly thanks to the expertise of Team Manager Wilco Zeelenberg and Team Coordinator Johan Stigefelt.
Quartararo’s Yamaha M1 has remained largely unchanged from testing. The ’19 package lacks top speed, but has made big strides with tyre management. Starting the year with 500 RPM less than fellow Yamaha men Viñales, Rossi and Morbidelli has not been a burden. Nor have the standard Ohlins front forks (the other Yamaha riders use the lighter carbon components) that he has used from the first race.
Instead Quartararo has rarely sought big changes to bike set-up. Stigefelt backed that up: “It was him that changed his style, his way. We basically don’t touch his bike,” he said at Jerez. “It’s like the same bike during the last three races. They have been very, very, very small changes. You wouldn’t believe it! At the moment he’s just enjoying and riding and doing his own work.”
Marc Marquez earmarked the 20-year old Frenchman as one of two riders to watch in the second half of 2019. If it’s anywhere near as exciting as the first, we’ll be in for a treat.