He was so close to becoming the youngest ever premier class winner in the 70-year history of the sport. It was Fabio Quartararo’s last chance to eclipse Marc Marquez’s record in Barcelona and although second place was not quite enough, there appears plenty of records within the grasp of the 20-year-old Frenchman who has been mighty impressive in his MotoGP™ debut season.
Two pole positions including Barcelona. That first pole in Jerez making him the youngest ever pole setter in the premier class and then on Sunday his first MotoGP™ podium when he finished second to Marquez pushing Mugello winner Danilo Petrucci back to third. Riding the Petronas Yamaha SRT, it was just his seventh MotoGP™ race as he strived to become the first French premier class winner since Regis Laconi way back 20-years-ago in Valencia riding the 500cc Red Bull Yamaha. Olivier Jacque came close in 2005 when he finished second in China riding the Kawasaki and Randy De Puniet two years later on similar machinery finishing second in Japan. Johann Zarco had an equally impressive debut season as Quartararo a couple of years back. The double Moto2™ World Champion finished second in his native France and finished the season with a repeat in Valencia which brought him an impressive sixth place and the Rookie of the Year title.
Both Jacque and Zarco arrived in the Premier class as 250 and Moto2™ World Champions respectively but it’s been a very different route for Quartararo with a more than a few big bumps in the road on the way. I remember meeting and interviewing him for the first time at Le Mans in 2014. The French media and commentators, which included 250cc World Champion and 500cc Grand Prix winner Christian Sarron, were raving about a young Frenchman who’d just turned 15-years-old and the record books agreed with their patriotic excitement. He was well on course for his second FIM Junior Championship and a place was already being prepared for the teenager from Nice in the Moto3™ World Championship. Quartararo made a much-heralded debut in Qatar less than a year later while still 15-years-old. Despite a couple of second places in Austin and Assen he eventually finished tenth in his debut season, but injuries and machine problems pushed him down to 13th the year after.
He was growing fast and joined Sito Pons in the Moto2™ class in 2017. Pons told me despite the Moto3™ problems he thought the young Frenchman was a potential World Champion. It didn’t work out with Sito but last season when he joined the Speed Up Moto2™ team, at last, all that potential and ability gelled into his first Grand Prix win in Barcelona, followed by a second place in Assen.
Despite those results, he was a surprise selection for the new Petronas Yamaha SRT team but his brilliant ride in the 24 lap race on Sunday showed just what a brave brilliant decision it had been. Following his first crash of the season in practice and an arm pump operation after Mugello, the 20-year-old Frenchman displayed maturity and skill well beyond a seven-race MotoGP™ career. While far more experienced others, who really should have known better, fell foul of the slippery condition Quartararo protected his rear tyre and took his chances when they came along.
He may not become the youngest ever premier class winner on Sunday but that first MotoGP™ win is not far away – how about Assen in a couple of weeks’ time?