“We were criticised. 'Why Fabio Quartararo? You should take Bautista"

Petronas SRT Yamaha team boss Razlan Razali explains why he picked rookie MotoGP star Fabio Quartararo rather than Alvaro Bautista

Fabio Quartararo - Petronas SRT Yamaha

AS FAR AS rookie MotoGP campaigns go, the newly-formed Petronas SRT Yamaha team has much to be delighted about.

However, for team boss Razlan Razali there is a particularly special satisfaction to be had from confounding critics in his decision to sign Fabio Quartararo instead of a more established or touted rider.

MotoGP 2019 Qatar Rider Ratings

With three pole positions, five front-row starts, a pair of podiums and two fastest laps from the first-half of the season, the combination of Quartararo and the Malaysian Sepang International Circuit-backed Petronas SRT – which became Yamaha’s new satellite operation following the defection of Tech 3 to KTM – has taken MotoGP 2019 by storm.

It’s hard to believe now that Quartararo was considered a ‘rogue’ choice for Petronas SRT when it was announced almost twelve months ago in August 2018. Though at the time he was coming off the bounce of a strong run of form – including a maiden Moto2 win in Spain – the Frenchman had an underwhelming record in the junior categories. 

In two years of Moto3 he finished 13th (2015) and 10th (2016) overall, with just two podiums to his name. He mirrored that in Moto2, his win in Spain complemented by just one more trip to the podium in 36 starts.

Razali is passionate about MotoGP and recognised a talent beyond results in Quartararo – who came into GP with six Spanish titles to his name aged between 13 and 15 – which have come to the fore in the pressure-free surroundings of Petronas SRT. 

Dismissing those who suggested Alvaro Bautista or Alex Marquez should have had the nod, Razali says it was conscious decision to go leftfield and offer the ride to someone who could make more headlines as a ‘surprise’

"When we ran out of riders for the second bike of the calibre that would deserve a factory ride then we thought, 'let's look at a young rider'. A few names came in and we locked onto Quartararo."

Razali told Visordown’s sister publication Crash.net

"We saw the idea of, okay we have Frankie that should give us that performance, but we want to be a young, new, exciting team. If not, there’s no real story. You bring Bautista in and there’s nothing much to write about. So at least having a rookie - and Fabio surprised everybody.

"We were criticised. 'Why do you take Fabio? You should take Bautista or Alex Marquez. You guys made a big mistake'," Razali said. “Now everybody is claiming [the credit], 'We told you so!' "

"I think [the success] is a combination of Fabio having fun and we always maintain the fact that the target is to be Rookie of the Year. That’s it. Anything more is a bonus. So, there’s no added pressure," Razali said.

"I was informed by the team that, every rider is a special rider, but we made an exception with Fabio from his background and history. So, we try to protect him as much as possible, together with his manager, Eric [Mahe].

"So, we already knew what he’s like, where he could get a bit nervous… But I think he’s coping with all the attention that he’s getting this year very well. I think what’s important is so as long as the team doesn’t pressure him too much."

Interestingly, Quartararo’s success has been achieved on a Yamaha M1 with a lower specification than those steered by factory riders Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales, and his team-mate Franco Morbidelli. 

Described as an A- bike (rather than a ‘B’ spec 2018 bike) the bike is 2019 but has some rev limitations to ensure the engine needs fewer changes, a restriction reflected in the way Quartararo is consistently the slowest rider through the speed traps and makes him vulnerable to dropping back in race conditions.

However, while Razali says Quartararo certainly deserves an ‘A-spec’ bike, he is also wary about upsetting the youngster’s evident affinity with what he has.

"I do not want to change what Fabio is enjoying at the moment. One thing I know from Diego [Gubellini], his crew chief, is that Fabio just has to adapt his style to the bike with minimal changes.

"That is also why I question how come the factory riders can't do it? Fabio's bike spec is less than Frankie and the factory [team]…

"I think Fabio deserves to be on a factory bike next year, and I just can’t imagine what he will be like if he’s on a factory bike!"

It is worth pointing out that Petronas SRT was prepared to fun the technical resources of having two 2019 specification Yamahas had Dani Pedrosa – who was approached before Quartararo – decided to sign instead of retire.

 It may also be pressured to do so following the news Ducati will supply current-spec bikes to Pramac Racing next year.