Why Quartararo's Le Mans podium was one of his very best

The anguish of Jerez, the operation, unfavourable conditions, the hopes of a nation on his shoulders all equalled a stand-out moment

There is simply no place like home. Well, that's certainly the case for Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) after El Diablo well and truly banished the demons of the Spanish Grand Prix by retaking control of the MotoGP™ World Championship in Le Mans. His third-place finish might not seem like one of the stand-out performances of the Frenchman's young premier class career on the face of it, but those 16 points sent out a clear message to his rivals: the new and improved Quartararo of 2020 is a serious player in the title chase.

There's a reason why Quartararo claimed the final spot on the French Grand Prix podium felt like a victory. First, it came just over a week after going under the knife to rectify the arm pump problem that robbed him of victory in Jerez. Secondly, and following on from that, it proved Jerez was merely a blip, a lucky escape for his title rivals. Finally, it put to bed the theory Quartararo needed everything to align for him to be at his best. The right conditions, the right circuit, the right time of year.

A career-first rostrum in wet conditions was a warning shot to Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team), Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) and Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing). His three closest Championship challengers are no longer going to look to those off-days to take profit. Furthermore, Le Mans hasn't been Yamaha's favourite hunting ground in recent history. In the previous two visits, only Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT) was able to finish inside the top five for the Iwata marque as both Ducati and Honda dominated. But by Quartararo splitting up the Ducati domination on Sunday, he's proven he can take it to the Bologna bullets at even the most unlikely of venues - a huge plus heading to Mugello.

"I had never done a flag-to-flag race before," said Quartararo after a first taste of the bubbly on home soil. "We were so fast on slicks before it started to rain. I saw that Maverick and Jack were a little bit careful in the first corners and I said, 'Okay, I want to go for it'. But then I got to Turn 9 where it was raining a lot, and without braking the bike was going right-left-right-left. I thought, 'If I manage to arrive at the box like this, that in itself would be great'.

"I did arrive there at the perfect time, but then I almost wanted to go into Bastianini‘s box before pulling into my own box. Then I almost took Maverick‘s bike, it was a mess! But to take a podium in these circumstances is amazing. I never expected it in these mixed conditions. I don‘t really care about the lead in the championship, because there are 14 more races to go, but it‘s still good because it means we are doing a great job. Looking at the conditions we had today, I was scared to lose positions, but we gained one. In the next few races we need to focus and take it step by step."

Meanwhile, factory Yamaha boss Maio Meregalli was equally as pleased with the 22-year-old's performance: "I think Fabio did a really good job adapting from dry to wet to mixed conditions, especially taking into consideration how we started this weekend in the wet and that he had never done a flag-to-flag race before. He has made great progress in changeable conditions these last few days, and to do it only a week after his surgery is all the more impressive."

With only a one point advantage over Bagnaia heading to the Italian Grand Prix, Quartararo will surely have to do something extraordinary to hold the World Championship lead. But if we've learnt anything in MotoGP™ over the past few years, it's to always expect the unexpected. 

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