Pivotal 2020 MotoGP season ahead for overshadowed Franco Morbidelli

Franco Morbidelli reflects on his 2019 season with Petronas SRT Yamaha ahead of what is likely to be a pivotal 2020 MotoGP campaign

Franco Morbidelli - Petronas SRT Yamaha

Franco Morbidelli says he expects to make a step forward in all areas next season after his positive switch to Yamaha machinery even if he was roundly out-performed by his rookie team-mate Fabio Quartararo.

The Italian, who clinched the 2017 Moto2 World Championship title, switched to the newly formed Petronas SRT Yamaha squad for 2019 after an indifferent debut campaign on the uncompetitive Marc VDS Honda and showed flashes of form on the latest-spec M1.

However, much like his Yamaha counterparts, Morbidelli ultimately proved more convincing over a single lap than he did during race conditions, while his efforts were overshadowed by those of his rookie team-mate Quartararo, who notched up six pole positions and seven podiums.

As such, though Morbidelli finished tenth overall – five positions higher than in 2018 – he admits he was somewhat disappointed by his final standing.

“[I am happy] For the speed that I had in 2019, yes, I’d have been happy with this past year. Looking back now, I think I was hoping for better results in terms of position, but the speed we were able to show was really good throughout the year. Because of that, if I had to rate the season from one to ten it would be a seven.”

Looking forward, Morbidelli says he now wants to pull his strengths together to give him the best chance at maximising the Yamaha M1 package next season.

“I expect a hard season in 2020 like it always is in MotoGP. I’m expecting improvements from ourselves too though. From myself as a rider, from our team as a whole team and from my crew as a whole crew. We have one more year of experience gained from working together, so we’ll start the season with everything more in shape. I’m expecting good things!”

‘The other Yamaha rider’ – Pivotal year ahead for Franco Morbidelli

What a strange season it has been for Franco Morbidelli.

On paper it was a good year for Morbidelli that represented a solid step forward over his rookie campaign. Highlights included front row starts, top five results and was a regular feature in the upper echelons of the order.

However, when viewed relative to Quartararo, Morbidelli could be accused of under-performing relative to his machinery, not least because he was riding a current-spec M1 on a par with Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales. 

Indeed, there was a rarely a point from Jerez onwards that Morbidelli lapped ahead of Quartararo in a race, and – much like Rossi – appeared to suffer more from Yamaha’s tyre life and top speed limitations come race day. As a measure of this, Morbidelli’s results contributed zero points to Yamaha’s manufacturers’ total in 2019.

Would we view Morbidelli's achievements more favourably had Quartararo not been there? Perhaps, because in isolation Morbidelli's results are solid for a satellite rider when compared with Cal Crutchlow for instance. Problem is, Quartararo has shown what can be done with the same bike.

With this in mind, Morbidelli faces a crucial 2020 MotoGP season. Having come into Yamaha as the intended new pretender to Rossi’s seat, he faces being demoted altogether if he cannot defeat Quartararo in 2020, or at least make a notable contribution to the team.