MotoGP world championship leader Fabio Quartararo has added his thoughts to the ongoing debate about the age of grand prix motorcycle riders, admitting this week in an exclusive interview with The Race that he believes that racers are being placed under an increasing amount of pressure at a young age.
The debate was in part started by the tragic death of European Talent Cup rider Hugo Millan last weekend during a race at Motorland Aragon, with the 14-year-old losing his life after being hit by fellow competitors during a race at the Spanish circuit.
His death has prompted a conversation about once again raising the minimum age to race at Grand Prix level circuits on Moto3-spec machinery, which has steadily crept down over recent years to 12 years old across most of Europe.
Quartararo is no stranger to being placed under large amounts of pressure at a young age, with the Frenchman making his Moto3 debut at only 15 years old, when the rules were changed especially to allow him to graduate from the Spanish CEV championship after back-to-back title wins in 2013 and 2014.
However, once he moved across to the world championship he endured three tough years spent in the wilderness, going from his Moto3 debut in 2015 until mid-way through the 2018 season without a victory despite being heralded as the next Marc Marquez when he arrived into the series.
And with that failure to perform came more and more pressure – pressure that he says might have made him who he is today, but at the time left him really struggling.
“I felt it like motivation at the beginning – but as soon as you make a mistake, you feel a lot of pressure,” he told The Race in an interview at his Andorran home. “Then I made all of 2015 bad, and the change of team was a bit of a mess.
“But it helps me for experience. The results were so bad – I never won a Moto3 race, but in CEV I won nine out of 11. Something went wrong with me.
“I spent tough times, and I think it helps me to stay stronger for the future. What went wrong – first of all the pressure I had, but also the move of team from Leopard. It was supposed to be Honda, at the last minute it was KTM. I wasn’t happy with the person taking care of my career, and then I broke my foot. In 15, 16 and 17, when you have all of this happening, it wasn’t great, and mentally I wasn’t as strong as now.
“It took a lot of time for me to come back. Even when I had a crash, it took a long time to get back to my pace. Right now, if I crash, I come back right away, and that’s something important for a rider.
“From the middle of 2015 to the end of 2017, the beginning of 2018, was bad. Really bad. It came back a little bit at the end of 2017, as I improved my pace a little bit.”
Thankfully, though, Quartararo was able to avoid the risk of losing the fun of bike racing and to find his way back to enjoying what he was doing, finding his form with the Speed Up team just at the right time to land his seat with Petronas Yamaha, and to complete the transition to MotoGP.
“I had just a podium, a win and a podium,” he explained, “and then I’ll remember all my life Eric [Mahe, Quartararo’s manager] telling me on the way home from Assen that there was the possibility to go with Petronas. I asked if he meant Moto2, and when he said ‘no, MotoGP!’ I felt, woah. From Assen to Sachenring was ten days, but it felt like a year!
“Two podiums and a win changed everything for my career. The synchronization was good, Eric made magic, and I was still like ‘f**k, no way this is happening.’ ”
But worryingly, the 22-year-old says he can see young racers being placed under the same type of pressure at a younger and younger age than he was.
“I only really started to train when I was 14 years old,” he said. “Now, you see kids of eight or nine years old running and cycling, and you ask what they are doing. I enjoyed myself so much when I was younger, but now it looks like they’re giving them work. I don’t think that a kid of nine years old enjoys going for a run.
“It was normal for me to play with friends and then to go ride motorcycles, but I was never at home training.
“It’s a big change, and it’s a lot of pressure. It was a lot of pressure for me when I was 15. It’s easy to lose the enjoyment.”