'Fabio Quartararo the one who can challenge Marquez…and Marc knows it'

Petronas SRT Yamaha's Fabio Quartararo will be the rider that takes the fight to Marc Marquez for the MotoGP world title, believes respected team manager Herve Poncharal

Fabio Quartararo - Petronas SRT Yamaha

MotoGP rookie sensation Fabio Quartararo has been touted as the rider most likely to take the challenge to Marc Marquez’s dominance of the premier class, according to one of the sport’s most respected team principals.

In an exclusive interview with Visordown’s sister publication Crash.net, Herve Poncharal, team manager of the long-serving Tech 3 Racing team, believes the 20-year-old has already shown the glimpses of talent that will ultimately turn him into a formidable title-fighting force in the near future.

Moreover, Poncharal – who has known Quartararo from when he competed in the junior categories -  believes Marquez himself is also aware that the young Frenchman is likely to be the rider to challenge for his MotoGP crown.

"The best is yet to come and if there is one guy that can challenge Marc Marquez, I believe it's Fabio… And I think Marc knows," he said. 

It’s been a remarkable six months for Quartararo, who has transcended from little-known outside of MotoGP to a contender for race wins with a team competing in its first season of MotoGP. 

With his startling single lap pace seeing him top more practice and qualifying sessions than any rider other than the Repsol Honda rider (70 total timed sessions - Top three: Marquez tops 31, Quartararo 17, Vinales 9), he has already notched up three pole positions and three podiums.

Fabio Quartararo: From little-known to MotoGP title talk

A MotoGP ‘household name’ he may be now, it’s easy to forget Quartararo was a relative unknown only a few months ago when he was announced with the newly-formed Malaysia-funded Petronas SRT team alongside Fabio Morbidelli.

Indeed, even then Quartararo was only picked after the team’s first choice Dani Pedrosa took his time deciding whether to accept Petronas SRT’s offer or retire, meaning many other notable alternatives had already penned deals elsewhere by the time he chose to hang up his helmet.

For many it is the validation of what they saw during Quartararo’s teen years, where he was considered so talented the FIM changed its regulations to allow him to compete in Moto3 at the age of just 15. 

However, injuries and indifferent results dampened the early buzz, with the weight of expectation seemingly working against him. 

Indeed, whilst his results in Moto3 and Moto2 were positive (if unspectacular), Quartararo was always somewhat harshly viewed in the context of not living up to his 15-year-old promise.

"When he arrived in grand prix everyone was saying he was the new Marc Marquez. Okay, there have been some ups and downs. I think mainly because Fabio was so young and maybe didn’t have the best entourage around him. At 15-16 it's easy to be confused or disturbed," Poncharal said.

Roll forward to Catalunya 2018 and Quartararo pulled a remarkable Moto2 win out of the bag on unfancied Speed Up machinery to make MotoGP sit up and take notice. However, Poncharal suggests Quartararo is not as ‘massively improved’ as others suggest, insisting the same quality was always there.

"I don’t think he's improved a lot from last year to this year, the potential was always there. He won in Catalunya last year, finished second next time in Assen from twelfth on the grid, won again in Motegi until the minor technical issue. So you could see he was coming, but now he has everything he needs to show what he can do.”

Yamaha heading for bidding war over Fabio Quartararo?

Somewhat inevitably, there is already talk of a bidding war forming over his services for 2021 when his current Petronas SRT Yamaha deal – which is with the team, rather than the manufacturer - is due to end.

It will coincide with several other contract conclusions at all manufacturers, with Quartararo set to become a key figure in negotiations which will likely start this winter.

For Yamaha, Quartararo could be the perfect choice to replace a retired Valentino Rossi, but if the Italian stays on board and Maverick Vinales’ current trend of form carries on so as to make his continuity enticing too, it could snooker the Iwata manufacturer’s hopes of staving off a big money deal from elsewhere.

Moreover, a Honda or Ducati deal could look more attractive if Yamaha cannot get the M1 up to pace with its rivals, particularly after some lacklustre feedback over the 2020 specification machine. 

Then there is Suzuki, which has shown impressive race-winning form with Alex Rins on a bike that – like Yamaha – favours a balanced chassis over pure engine grunt, much like Quartararo’s so-called ‘A- (minus) specification 2018/2019 hybrid Yamaha M1.

In the meantime, Quartararo – who was close to surpassing Rossi and Vinales in the standings before crashing at the most recent British MotoGP – is considered a favourite to secure his first MotoGP win at Misano this weekend following a rapid turn in testing earlier in the year.