Why Fabio Quartararo can now ‘laugh’ about back to front MotoGP turnaround

Fabio Quartararo considers disastrous Moto2 weekend in Argentina four-years ago as the 'low' that inspired the change which led him to MotoGP title glory

Fabio Quartararo - Speed Up, 2018 Moto2

If a week is a long time in MotoGP, then four years might seem like a lifetime by comparison.

However, in the context of a MotoGP rider’s career then the events of 2018 season will no doubt remain fairly fresh in one’s mind.

Indeed, this weekend’s return to South America for the Argentina MotoGP at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit is the GP circus’ first visit since 2019, a time when Marc Marquez was at the height of his powers and the likes of Joan Mir and Fabio Quartararo were fresh-faced rookies unaware they were on the ascendency to World Championship glory.

For Quartararo especially, the return to Argentina is particularly poignant as it marks, in his words, the ‘low’ of his career during which he questioned whether he had the skills to make it to the top of the sport.

Today the Frenchman is the rider with a target on his back after clinching the 2021 MotoGP World Championship with Yamaha, but during the 2018 Moto2 race at Termas de Rio Hondo he was simply at the back, starting on the final row in a lowly 28th.

Indeed, you’d have been a brave person to predict Quartararo’s meteoric rise to come that weekend. A talent so touted in his early teens that the FIM changed its rules to allow him to start the 2015 Moto3 World Championship despite his 15-years of age coming in below the minimum requirement of 16, here was a rider for whom many were in no doubt was going to be ‘the next Marquez’.

However, despite a rapid start with a podium in only his second start, Quartararo’s GP career stalled somewhat in the novice class, picking up just one more rostrum finish over two fairly lacklustre seasons.

Nonetheless, he was tapped for a move into Moto2 for 2017 but again results on the Pons Kalex were modest at best, leading him to join Speed Up Racing, one of the few teams to use a chassis other than Kalex or KTM, in 2018.

While a 20th place finish in the Qatar opener didn’t get things off to a promising start, it was the following round in Argentina where Quartararo hit his low, qualifying down in 28th position (out of 30 riders) and making scant progress in the damp race, crossing the line 22nd.

At the time it appeared Quartararo’s star was already burning out to become the latest in a string of high hopes failing to find their feet on the GP stage. It was a status Quartararo admits crossed his mind at the time. 

“For me four years ago I was 28th, I was super far [from the front] and you never know if you’ll reach MotoGP or not, and from that moment to now, I think this was the worst race of my career, certainly the most difficult.”

His form thereafter improved though, Quartararo riding around the Speed Up’s limitations compared with its rivals’ to string better results together. It culminated in a first win in Catalunya, followed quickly by a podium in France. He won again in Motegi later that year, but was disqualified for a technical infringement.

Had the result stood, Quartararo would have completed the season a much more creditable fifth in the standings, rather than tenth.

The MotoGP shot few would expect

Regardless, Quartararo’s technical nous and accuracy on the Moto2 machine hadn’t gone unnoticed, prompting Johan Stigefelt to surprisingly throw his name into the hat as the incoming Petronas SRT Yamaha squad came to selecting riders for its inaugural 2019 MotoGP campaign.

While it took first choice Dani Pedrosa to turn the seat down in favour of a KTM testing role, Quartararo was still chosen over a number of perceived ‘safer’ options. With the chance to hone his craft on a MotoGP machine, Quartararo promptly capitalised on the opportunity and was competitive out of the box, even picking up a fine eighth place finish on his second outing in Argentina.

The rest as they say is history; Quartararo would go on to record six poles and seven podiums in his first year, preluding his move to the Yamaha Factory team two years later for 2021 and his run to the title.

It means Quartararo comes to Argentina in a very different mindset to three years ago, even remarking he looks back on his disastrous 2018 Moto2 outing with fondness now since it was a catalyst for stepping up his form.

“It was the one [race] that made me change. I would say it is a great memory because I can laugh about this race [now].”