Why can’t Rossi keep up with MotoGP rookie sensation Quartararo?

Has Fabio Quartararo solved Yamaha's the Valentino Rossi problem? The young Frenchman's performances could be changing the way Yamaha thinks...

Fabio Quartararo, Valentino Rossi - Yamaha

Valentino Rossi admits he’s unsure as to why he couldn’t replicate the pace of his satellite Yamaha counterpart Fabio Quartararo during the San Marino MotoGP when – on a strong Misano MotoGP weekend for the manufacturer – he only just avoided being its slowest representative.

Rossi finished fourth in the San Marino MotoGP – one of his best results of the year – but ended it 11secs shy of Quartararo and a similar distance behind factory team-mate Maverick Vinales, while Franco Morbidelli finished on his tail having run ahead of him for much of the race. He was also its slowest qualifier.

It’s a trend seen in most recent events, with Rossi’s two podiums, back in rounds two and three, paling into comparison to Quartararo’s three pole positions and four podiums. Indeed, though Rossi remains ahead in the overall standings – largely by virtue of the Frenchman’s modest start to his rookie campaign – he hasn’t had an answer to the youngster in each of the last three races.

Moreover, he is struggling to understand where the difference comes from, even going as far as to suggest it is because he – and Morbidelli – are taller.

"But Maverick [third] and Quartararo are faster than me and Franco, who are a little bit more in trouble, especially on the exit of the corner where it looks like we have a bit less grip in acceleration,” he told reporters after the race.

"Why? Maybe because we are taller, we don’t know. But we need to find a solution for us to be stronger."

"During this season we have been struggling about the rear grip," Rossi added. "Especially compared to Quartararo, also a little bit with Maverick. They accelerate better and they are able to open the throttle with more grip and they exit from the corner better.

"After the summer break, we modified the balance of the bike and it looks like we improved compared to the first half of the season. But it's not enough, because I am better in braking and corner entry is not so bad. But in acceleration we lose. So we need to find the solution to be stronger in that area."

Could Quartararo make Yamaha think twice about Rossi?

For a rider that has famously kept his friends close and his enemies closer – albeit occasionally separated by a wall in the garage – there is no suggestion of a rivalry forming between Valentino Rossi and arguably the fastest Yamaha man on the grid right now, Quartararo. 

Indeed, in theory Quartararo is riding a ‘worse’ Yamaha than Rossi, one with fewer horses and a slower top speed than his does – the area the Italian has been pushing for gains in recent months – making it hard for him to talk up the bike as the reason.

Whilst talk of Rossi’s future is never far from journalists’ lips at each passing round, there is the sense of a shift in mentality towards now planning for a MotoGP life without ‘the Doctor’… not because he has made a decision per se, but because it might well be made for him.

Indeed, this weekend at Misano, Rossi’s home round, there is talk Quartararo has Yamaha trying to sign him onto a long-term manufacturer contract. It doesn’t hurt his outstanding performance was right under the nose of Yamaha’s president, who was in attendance this weekend, though it will have only validated what he already knew.

At a time when Rossi has been very firm on what he needs from the 2020 Yamaha – essentially to convince him to sign for 2021 – Yamaha has stumbled across a 20-year-old who is a blank canvas from which it can arguably paint its future.  

Indeed, if you look at the bigger picture, given Rossi himself admits he is in the twilight of his career, would Yamaha want to push development in his vision if it is only for a maximum of three more years? By the same token, is Rossi going to want a rider like Quartararo on equal machinery on a longer-term contract?

After all, Rossi won’t be here in years to come, but Yamaha will…

When A- is better than A+

As mentioned above, one of the more interesting aspects of Quartararo’s emergence as a contender is that he has done it on a bike that doesn’t even match those under Rossi, Maverick Vinales and even his team-mate Franco Morbidelli.

Dubbed the A- Yamaha M1, whilst Quartararo was gifted a 2019 machine, he has been given one with 500rpm less than his stablemates, which is consistently demonstrated by him being the slowest rider through the speed traps.

Herein, however, lies one quandary for Yamaha. Whilst it stands to reason Quartararo will get the chance to ride an identical M1 to Rossi and co. in 2020, Petronas SRT owner Razlan Razali has previously pointed out that adding that 500rpm back on won’t necessarily make him quicker.

“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!"

Indeed, Marc Marquez comments that it is Quartararo outstanding ability to carry corner speed that very nearly snookered him in Misano, which explains why he has now topped an incredible 19 timed practice sessions in 2019 where he can make best use of fresh tyres. Adding that extra grunt could simply negate his clear strengths into the bends.

Of course, Rossi fans will be (rightly) quick to point out Quartararo hasn’t won a MotoGP race yet and – despite his performances – he remains a relatively unproven talent on anything other than this seemingly unique bike.

However, he’s certainly a raw talent too and in a sport where riders are annulling big money contracts because they can’t get a machine to work to their riding style – Johann Zarco and KTM – having a young, motivated and adaptable rider getting the best from what is already there is surely worth those extra tenths in such a close field…