Yamaha MotoGP roster oddness leaves Quartararo question mark - The Race
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Yamaha MotoGP roster oddness leaves Quartararo question mark

Nov 17 2022
By Valentin Khorounzhiy

Fabio Quartararo’s loss of a 91-point lead over Pecco Bagnaia is clearly regarded with the level of scorn as you may expect from a sporting collapse of that magnitude. You will not see it compared to Barcelona’s successive Champions League second-leg embarrassments against PSG (4-0 in first leg, 1-6 in second) and Liverpool (3-0 in first leg, 0-4 in second), to the Golden State Warriors fumbling a 3-1 NBA finals lead over LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers, or to the Atlanta Falcons’ Super Bowl nightmare that has made ’28-3′ a running joke.

You will not see it compared to those because the prevailing impression is that Quartararo should not have been that far ahead to begin with, that his Yamaha M1 was no good enough for a 91-point lead over Francesco Bagnaia’s Ducati Desmosedici, and that Bagnaia subsequently overhauling that lead was just the status quo being restored.

Yamaha itself seems more than happy to be seen as more culpable than its star rider. Maybe because it cannot afford to alienate Quartararo in any way, maybe because it’s how the team really sees things – but it’s an image that has been projected both inwardly and outwardly. For the former, see the Dorna footage of managing director Lin Jarvis telling a shirtless (of course) Quartararo after the Valencia decider: “We knew at the beginning of the year, remember – I thought the year would be much more difficult than it was. But mainly it was less difficult because you are maximum-maximum-maximum.”

For the latter, see Yamaha publishing a letter of thanks to Quartararo, which also featured words from Jarvis – of how “the odds were stacked” against Quartararo, of how he “always extracted the maximum potential from our machine”, of how he “maintained his characteristic sunny disposition”.

We can never really know the exact makeup of performances – how much is the bike, how much is the rider’s talent, how much is the rider’s effort, and how much are all the tiny little circumstantial details that can sometimes make enormous differences.

What we can glean obviously points to the fact that Quartararo remains great, and has had a really good season. When the rider who beat you to a title admits he thinks you are still “more complete”, that says something.

But was Quartararo transcendent in 2022? Did he drag the M1 to places that other MotoGP stars won’t have taken it to? You could argue that we are missing data to be able to really say.

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At least, that seems to be the viewpoint of then-Ducati, now-KTM employee Jack Miller.

“Every time I comment on what Fabio’s doing, it sounds like I’m talking too much!” Miller lamented when asked by media about Quartararo’s season in Valencia, though he ultimately played along.

“He’s been unfortunate- I do hear a lot of, I don’t want to say ‘excuses’, but problems with the bike, and not a lot of positivity about the bike, and I mean, if you’re already focused on the fact that the bike is s**t and is no good, that’s not going to help your mindset going into the weekend. So… that’s my feeling.”

And when it was put to him that the pessimism was justified also by the lacking performances of Quartararo’s M1 peers, he said: “For sure, but I mean… it’s true, but I don’t think the bike is crazy bad. Cal [Crutchlow] hopped on it and is doing a fantastic job, after being on the couch for however long he was on, nearly a year, nearly 12 months. Okay, with a test here and there, but… and Darryn [Binder] is doing a decent job as a rookie, I think he’s done a fantastic job and for him not to have a job next year is kind of s**t, but that’s the way it goes, it’s cutthroat these days.

“[Franco] Morbidelli’s having not the best of seasons, as we all know, but since the knee injury [in mid-2021] he hasn’t really looked like himself. That’s, you know, pointing out the elephant in the room.

“So it’s hard to say. And next year there’ll be even fewer Yamahas to look at.”

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Miller is arguably biased, of course – he was speaking as a Ducati employee and as a friend of Bagnaia who doesn’t want to see the 2022 title at all devalued – but the point he makes is valid nonetheless. Quartararo has not had a clear benchmark at Yamaha this year.

The chasm between his points tally and those of his fellow M1 riders is reminiscent of Marc Marquez in 2019 at Honda. And like Marquez that year, Quartararo had alongside him in the works team a rider who both faced fitness question marks and wasn’t gelling with the bike at all.

Franco Morbidelli has long maintained that the knee is no longer a limitation, instead focusing on the fact the 2022 M1 was not accepting of the same riding style that made him shine on the 2019 version. Darryn Binder was a rookie straight out of Moto3. Andrea Dovizioso came back after nearly a year out, to a bike that he felt he’d quickly hit a brick wall with and a series that had already moved away from him with the introduction of the new Michelin rear in 2020. And Cal Crutchlow, as Miller points out, was a test rider with limited race practice.

Quartararo ran circles around all of them. In terms of the intra-Yamaha battle, he could only beat who was in front of him, and it was a beatdown for the ages.

But were any of those riders anywhere as strong as even a losing-faith Maverick Vinales from the early stages of 2021? Probably not.


Quartararo versus other Yamahas in 2022

Average gap, fastest weekend time (all sessions included as other Yamahas were rarely in Q2)

Crutchlow +0.590s to Quartararo
Morbidelli +0.675s to Quartararo
Dovizioso +0.759s to Quartararo
Binder +1.468s to Quartararo

Average finishing gap in representative races

Crutchlow +11.125s to Quartararo
Morbidelli +19.151s to Quartararo
Dovizioso +26.800s to Quartararo
Binder +32.000s to Quartararo


The numbers make the point Miller made. They are a little skewed by Quartararo’s sole qualifying defeat to a fellow Yamaha this year – Sepang, where Morbidelli was in his best form and where Quartararo broke a finger – but in any case, it appears reasonable to ascertain that Crutchlow was indeed Quartararo’s most performant rival. The Sepang weekend aside, his fastest weekend lap gaps to Quartararo all slotted in between 0.629s and 0.739s.

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Having six tenths in hand over your test rider is solid but not incredible, right? You’d expect, for instance, that the gap between Bagnaia and Ducati tester Michele Pirro on your average weekend would be more than that. But, as good as Pirro is at his job, you’d also surely say Crutchlow is the better MotoGP rider, even after a spell on the sidelines.

So, in terms of Quartararo’s ‘greatness’, there is no conclusive answer in the team-mate comparisons. But what the numbers do contain is a pretty strong suggestion that he wasn’t the architect of his demise.

Take Morbidelli’s season again, and his feeling that he’d been gradually improving – along with the fact that he’s been getting further and further away from that mid-2021 knee operation. But if Morbidelli really was getting better, Quartararo kept pace. Sepang might paint a different impression, but take the full mass of gaps and you’ll see little in the way of a trend. The Spearman rank coefficient – a statistical tool to measure correlation, which maxes out at 1 – between the number of a race and Morbidelli’s deficit to Quartararo in said race is 0.376, which suggests only a moderate-to-low correlation (i.e. Morbidelli perhaps was getting closer in races as the season went on, but not conclusively).

And as for the single lap, the number is 0.063, indicating there is no correlation at all between the weekend number and Morbidelli’s deficit.

So, was Quartararo’s season a truly great one? It’s not easy to say. But it certainly looked great early on – and, with no clear performance decline from the Frenchman, it should’ve at least been good enough to keep the crown in Iwata for another year.

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