While Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP team racer Fabio Quartararo currently holds down the top position in the rider standings for the MotoGP World Championship, the young Frenchman’s teammate, veteran Franco Morbidelli, has struggled mightily to keep pace over the first half of the season. A distant 19th in points, the Italian rider who was runner-up in the 2020 MotoGP championship has not been able to come to terms and get his head wrapped around Yamaha’s YZR-M1 in 2022, and concedes it has been a colossal challenge.
“I have a big challenge in front of me because I jumped on this bike and I was expecting a completely different performance from myself, but I found the trail much more steep than I was expecting,” declared Morbidelli at Silverstone, site of this weekend’s Monster Energy British Grand Prix and the start of the second half of the MotoGP season. “I have a big challenge in front of me because I jumped on this bike and I was expecting a completely different performance from myself, but I found the trail much more steep than I was expecting.
“I am still very much in the process of trying to understand everything well. I’m trying to understand why things were coming so easily during the past few years with the old bike and that’s not happening for me with the new bike. We know the areas we need to work on, which is primarily braking. I will keep working on my performance and my comfort on the bike and that will allow me to express my speed.
“It’s never easy,” continued Morbidelli, who notes that Yamaha, the race team and team manager Massimo Meregalli have been in his corner in working to get him in unison with the M1. “Sometimes it is even harder than what you thought it would even be. However, the important thing is to never give up and to keep working and to keep riding. After all, if you know that you can do something, the mindset is a little bit different and the process is a little bit more sweet, or less sour, let’s say. We know we can do it. We know we can achieve it. We just need to keep searching and keep working until we do it.”
And has Morbidelli’s close friend, benefactor and former Yamaha rider Valentino Rossi weighed in on his efforts?
“Yeah, I saw Val recently. The thing is that speaking to him about the bike is tricky because he also struggled with it! We don’t talk too much about our struggles, you know? We prefer to talk about good things.”
The 2017 Moto2 world champion and a racer who was Yamaha’s leading competitor aboard the Petronas SRT M1 in 2020, the veteran Morbidelli believes the current era of MotoGP competition is as fierce, frantic and competitive as he’s ever seen.
“Wow,” he answered when asked about the competitive landscape of the sport. “I think we are living in an era of MotoGP which is really at a high level. It’s really nice because there are so many good riders. They are young, talented and hungry. Also, the technical level of the machines is so high. I mean, the tires are performing at a high level and the bikes are performing at such a high level. These bikes can go 370K per hour (230mph). The competition during the races is really high. I think it is really fun to watch MotoGP — and it is really fun and challenging to do it, as well.
“Finally, it is a combination of the rider, the whole team and the whole crew. There are all of the people working in Japan, and in Italy, as well. The performance is so high because there are so many people working on it, so they are always working to trim performance here and there and then to maximizing other areas. They are always pushing you to give your best and to exploit your best in this corner or that corner, or in this situation or that other situation.”
In coming to terms with the M1, Morbidelli believes it is the Brembo carbon disks and calipers and the fundamentals of aggressive on-track braking that will need to be continually addressed as he works to get back up to full speed.
“I cannot exploit the bike in braking as I would like to,” he admitted. “We are working at trying to find solutions to make me feel the bike as I want to in braking. I would like to brake strong and to brake even to be quicker. At the same time, we try to not go too much. We try to keep it simple, but precise. And this is, again, a task that my crew is doing and I have to say that they are doing it very well.”
The emotions slipped through as Morbidelli pondered what lies ahead for him at Silverstone this weekend and beyond.
“My main goal right now is to get back up, because clearly I am with one knee down,” he said. “I need to get back up and get back on feeling the sensations that I would like to feel when I ride. As I said, I would like to feel better, especially with braking. That’s the main area where we will try to increase the performance. Once I manage to do that, which is the first step, then, of course, the victories will be the end goal. We know that I can achieve victories if I express my speed. The first step, though, is to get back up.”
Morbidelli is confident teammate Quartararo will help speed that process along.
“Yeah, I like Fabio. He’s a cool guy, a great guy –apart from being really fast! We’ve been working together for three years now and yeah, I always feel a good connection with him. I always felt that in the races where we were fighting, we always were very fair with each other. At the same time, we were competitive and at the maximum with each other. I wish we can go back to those moments where we were fighting and we were aggressive one to the other, but at the same time, we were still colleagues and, in a way, friends.”