What now for Fabio Quartararo after Yamaha’s MotoGP opening night flop?

Fabio Quartararo cut a vindicated figure after the Qatar MotoGP but could this see him to look elsewhere for 2023... or spark Yamaha to change its ways?

Fabio Quartararo - Yamaha

The opening night of any MotoGP ‘show’ will always be a nervy one for some riders and - as ever - the 2022 curtain raiser threw up its fair share of five-star reviews and the odd bomb.

If you’re Yamaha, the Qatar MotoGP weekend was a critically lambasted showpiece, its four M1s looking very out of their depth on the Lusail International Circuit stage as Fabio Quartararo quietly blended in with the main cast, while Enea Bastianini and Brad Binder et al. vigorously stole the limelight.

The reaction from Quartararo was perhaps both a blend of what you’d expect - if you’ve been following his internal tug-of-war with Yamaha over the winter - and also not at all what you’d expect from a rider finishing ninth from 11th on the grid a year after winning at the very same track.

On the one hand, there were no feathers being spat and determined finger pointing… but that is because this was already taking place in the closing stages of last season and during pre-season testing. Instead, there was quiet vindication and a sense of ‘told you so’ as though the result was anticipated.

We’ve spoken at length on these here pages as to Quartararo’s petition to get Yamaha to waken more ponies from his engine for fear the M1 - which has always been laboured down the straight and narrow - was being left with too much to do in corners to make up the difference. 

More specifically, Quartararo seems a touch aggrieved that while the M1 maybe can match the GP22 on a full lap, it puts pressure on him to deliver in qualifying. No deliveries came in Qatar and the impact was clear.

Had this happened a year earlier then Quartararo might feel the weight of responsibility for his ninth place finish, but with a title in his back pocket, he knows what he needs to ask of the M1 to get it to perform. 

This year, however, while it may be answering the same questions, Yamaha appears to have forgotten that Honda, Suzuki, Aprilia and KTM could have also made a big step forward in the power department over the winter to make it look even slower in a straight line.

Whereas Yamaha might have been convinced it had the package to defeat Ducati - which has its set-up devoted to power over braking and stability - it perhaps didn’t take into account its rivals might lean more towards Ducati in ethos, thus multiplying the stress it will feel on faster circuits.

Could Quartararo look to a different MotoGP team for 2023?

What’s interesting is that as this unfolds, Quartararo remains very much a free agent for 2023. And not just a free agent, but a disgruntled free agent too.

The Frenchman told reporters ahead of testing that he will get a better steer on where he sees his future once he has ridden the Yamaha M1 in testing. Well, pre-season testing and a disappointing opening round has been and gone… 

Even so, Quartararo’s options for 2023 thinned somewhat in Qatar. It is known Honda has been keen to bring him on board for next year, but this would be at the expense of Pol Espargaro, a prospect that might have seemed likely before pre-season testing began but now seems a touch premature given the Spaniard’s impressive performance in Lusail.

Indeed, you have to go back to Dani Pedrosa for the last time a fully fit Marc Marquez was comfortably out-raced and even then that didn’t happen all too often. For now it seems Repsol Honda will be content to see how the next few races go, no doubt taking in mind the harmonious team atmosphere at the moment versus the potential ructions of Marquez vs Quartararo in their midst.

Elsewhere, Ducati will probably make enquiries but is aware it has an embarrassment of riches in its midst already and any insertion of Quartararo above Jorge Martin or Enea Bastianini would likely be a loud starter pistol for one or both being poached by another manufacturer. In short, it’s probably not worth the risk.

Suzuki, however, presents an interesting option for Quartararo. The manufacturer has often found itself punching above its weight, the tight single team operating well without a satellite influence, while there is no ignoring its brilliant run to the title in 2020.

The GSX-RR - in 2019, 2020 and 2021 at least - has demonstrated the consistency Quartararo craves, while the 2022 evolution definitely looks to have made a step forward in terms of power, even if the jury is out on whether it has sacrificed too much of the chassis’ sweet spot in return.

This last point is important because no doubt somewhere there is a Yamaha boss hoping this is the case to vindicate its own call not to pump in more power if it risks affecting the M1’s tuned handling prowess.

Discounting Aprilia because it is unlikely to either appeal to Quartararo or be able to foot his wage bills, there is an argument for KTM to make a bid. Brad Binder is contracted for 2023, but Miguel Oliveira - though in a long-term contract himself - hasn’t looked the same rider that beat Quartararo to the Catalunya MotoGP race win ever since his injury back in Austria.

Certainly KTM could meet those wage demands and the more precocious streak of Quartararo might see an appeal of potentially taking the team from occasional front runners to a potential title winner… it’s an outside chance, but certainly a curiously intriguing one.

The case for Quartararo staying with Yamaha MotoGP

But this is all assuming Quartararo is prepared to leave Yamaha… and that’s not necessarily going to be the case.

Indeed, while many may look at Qatar as the red rag for the team bulls to begin contract negotiations, it could also be the impetus Yamaha needs to listen to FINALLY its rider and consider a change of evolution.

It won’t be easy for Yamaha to go a different way with the M1 after so many years and one could argue it is the only manufacturer that has remained a front runner throughout the last 15 years. In short, it knows what it is doing, 

However, a change of philosophy isn’t beyond it and it will no doubt be looking closely at Honda’s seemingly successful overhaul with the RC213V as a sure sign that it can be done.

Indeed, even if Yamaha stuck with the current M1, there is surely very little more it can extract from it performance-wise. It will pound around lap-after-lap doing the same time, but it is in harder-to-replicate race conditions where it is left wanting and will continue to do so if it can’t escape away at the front from pole position.

As such, Quartararo’s quiet response to Yamaha’s poor opening weekend might be because he knows he was right all along and that it might - just might - bring Yamaha round to his way of thinking.

Yamaha may baulk at the idea of changing philosophy for the 2023 MotoGP season but doing so would probably solve one major problem… it would likely stop Quartararo looking around for another ride.