Why the brilliance of MotoGP-champ elect Fabio Quartararo cannot be overstated

Fabio Quartararo may have been overachieving in MotoGP for three years now but it shouldn't disguise just how far he had to come from dark days of 2020 

Fabio Quartararo. - Yamaha Factory Racing

The opening round of the season in Qatar may not seem all that long ago but the 2021 MotoGP World Championship is entering its final stretch with four more rounds standing in the way of a superb title win for Fabio Quartararo.

It’s not over yet with plenty more points from a maximum of 100 available to Pecco Bagnaia to bridge a 48 point margin, but judging by the trend of results over the course of the year, it would take bad luck/injury/sabotage now to halt Quartararo’s rapid yet metronomic form.

It’s a title win he richly and fully deserves… and not just because he is immensely talented.

Indeed, Quartararo’s modest route towards MotoGP and his remarkable headline-grabbing efforts in 2019 and 2020 have been covered on numerous occasions, to such an extent that winning the title in 2021 is more expected than surprising. 

However, it’s easy to forget where he started the season and if you break it down again, the gravity of his (likely) feat becomes far more impressive.

Here you have a young racer that didn’t make an impact in Moto3 and Moto2 take aged Yamaha machinery to stunning results to earn himself a breakthrough - but immensely pressure-filled - deal to replace the sport’s most iconic name Valentino Rossi.

Thus in that time he has overcome being unproven, to taking his new lofty profile in his stride, riding out the mental strife of inconsistency to appeasing cynical commentators and Rossi die-hards to pull it altogether for what has been a remarkable campaign that so far has yielded five wins and five pole positions (not to mention 13 front row starts from 14 races).

The mental toll of underdog-to-favourite status

The sheer  quality of Quartararo’s 2021 MotoGP campaign deserves particular recognition.

Indeed, while we were in no doubt as to his raw speed on a MotoGP bike by the time 2021 rolled around, Quartararo probably ended 2020 in a less assured position than when he started it with less experience.

His collapse in form towards the end of the 2020 MotoGP season wasn’t pretty to watch. Having led from the beginning of the year, he spent the middle portion of the season being teased as his advantage was whittled down at a pedestrian rate, despite his own indifferent results.

The simmering build in pressure in a year that had seen some crown him champion-elect after two events in Marc Marquez’s absence led to it boiling over with mistakes, crashes and clashes not just sapping his confidence and killing his momentum but practically spinning it back in the other direction.

Indeed, Quartararo has spoken about the mental toll the 2020 MotoGP season took, a weight not helped by the fact he was about to be promoted to the Yamaha Factory team for 2021, turning success from an underdog boost to an expected stipulation of his status.

The rapid rise and abrupt plateau amid impending pressure-filled expectation had all the makings of a crisis waiting to happen, one that - had it hung over into the early rounds of 2021 - could have left Quartararo all at sea for some time.

But instead he knuckled down, sought help, reprogrammed himself and came out of the blocks feeling confident and - significantly - more mature.

In 2021, Quartararo has demonstrated none of the hallmarks for a rider of his status and experience, nor the legacy of his previous struggles.

He has maintained composure, shown determination against adversity, has an awareness of what he needs to win at all circuits, proven tactically astute, been en pointe in every qualifying session (his strength) and largely covered off the compromises of a Yamaha M1 package that arguably doesn’t deserve to be as far in the lead as it is.

And he has done so with great grace, poise and personality off track too.

Is it Quartararo or the Yamaha?

Though there isn’t one obvious best bike (even if Ducati comes close), it is fair to say the M1 probably can look like a middling machine this year. There aren’t many circuits where it really excels, though it has been the most consistent of the six in Quartararo’s hands.

How much is down to the bike or the rider isn’t clear, but he has spent much of the year as the only Yamaha rider inside the top five at the end of a race, so make of that what you will.

Other than his win in Mugello - which given the M1’s top speed limitations was nothing short of extraordinary - it is actually his non-podium topping results that demonstrate why Quartararo has gone above and beyond.

Second to Pecco Bagnaia in Misano was a particular highlight, Quartararo playing the long game to with some dogged fighting spirit amid huge pressure.

Then there is his podium in Germany around a Sachsenring that had the other three Yamaha’s fighting over last place, plus breaking his wet weather hoodoo in France and Austria with good results in races that could have been a disaster.

Even his 13th in Jerez as he wrestled with arm-pump issues and eighth in Aragon with a duff tyre are credits to perseverance and staying cool (unlike Maverick Vinales…).

No-one will say Quartararo doesn’t deserve the MotoGP World Championship this year but it shouldn’t disguise a journey that could have so easily gone entirely the other way. 

Ironically, he was in a similar enough situation this time last year, but this time his erstwhile youthful confidence-turned-calamity robbed him in 2020, it is his extra season of maturity and steely determination - plus the power of his ever present bare-chest - that will see him finish what he started.