Yamaha: Frankie ‘fast, but he has to rediscover himself’ - Exclusive

From Brno 2020 to Jerez 2021, Franco Morbidelli stood on the MotoGP podium six times in 16 races, including three victories on his way to title runner-up in the shortened 'Covid' season.
Franco Morbidelli, MotoGP, Australian MotoGP, 13 October
Franco Morbidelli, MotoGP, Australian MotoGP, 13 October

Morbidelli was the first satellite rider to achieve such an accolade since Marco Melandri in 2005, but he hasn’t finished higher than seventh in the wet and tenth in the dry during the past 29 races.

That left Morbidelli 19th in last year's world championship with a score of just 42 points compared to 248 for factory Yamaha team-mate Fabio Quartararo, the rider Morbidelli outperformed at Petronas SRT in 2020.

As ever in motorsport, there are many potential factors to consider. The first is that Morbidelli’s results haven’t been the same since undergoing major knee ligament surgery in the summer of 2021.

Then when Morbidelli returned it was not with Petronas, but a different (factory-spec) bike and crew at the Monster team, where he was parachuted in as a replacement for Maverick Vinales.

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“The knee injury was the turning point only in the sense that Frankie was out for five races, then we brought him into the factory team after the Vinales affair,” Yamaha Racing managing director Lin Jarvis told Crash.net.

“So we were faced with an extraordinary situation, we drafted Frankie into the factory team at Misano 2021 and he did the last five races of the season with us, but he wasn't fit.

“He took the role, joined our [factory] team, but arguably it was too early. In reality, he was not race-fit at that stage. So that was a reason for last year’s [performance].

“But for this year [2022], that's not been an issue. He trained well throughout the winter and I think he'd be the first to say ‘no, this year I've been physically capably fit’.

“But something has been missing and he's never been able to truly find the confidence with the bike.”

Franco Morbidelli, MotoGP, Valencia MotoGP, 4 November
Franco Morbidelli, MotoGP, Valencia MotoGP, 4 November

Frankie ‘has to rediscover himself’

The paradox is that, while Yamaha has been criticised for not developing its M1 enough in recent seasons, the changes made since the 2019 model (that Morbidelli took to the runner-up spot in 2020) have still been enough to knock the former Moto2 champion’s form completely out of kilter.

“Frankie just hasn't been able to have that same speed, aggression on braking and fast corner speed, which you need for the Yamaha,” Jarvis said.

“To make the Yamaha perform well, you need to be aggressive on the brakes and you need to enter the corner fast.

“But you need a lot of confidence to do that, and that's something which I would say is Fabio’s forte. He has a lot of confidence with the front end of the bike and Frankie has just been struggling to find that.

“Frankie's been looking for different solutions and trying to change settings and setups and it just hasn't worked out.

"We know Frankie can be fast. He's a race winner in MotoGP, and he’s a vice-champion in MotoGP, so the capacity is there. But he has to rediscover himself and we have to give him better tools to help him in that process.

“Our target is obviously to give him a better bike for the future.

“We have to make the bike more user-friendly. But part of that will be creating a little bit more margin in the performance I think. Because now in order to keep top speed, you need to be able to exit the corners super-fast as well because we don't have the pure horsepower, which means you need to carry more speed in the corner.

“Fabio is very clever to extract the maximum potential out of the package. So let's see. Frankie can do it, but he must rediscover his confidence.”

Fabio Quartararo Marc Marquez , French MotoGP, 14 May
Fabio Quartararo Marc Marquez , French MotoGP, 14 May

‘There are some similarities to Marquez and Honda’

Jarvis - who has overseen MotoGP title success for Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo as well as Quartararo - acknowledged that there’s also the psychological aspect of being outpaced by someone on the same bike week in, week out.

“It's not easy having a team-mate as fast as Fabio,” Jarvis said. “I've seen that with other riders, when the team-mate is extraordinarily fast, sometimes it's tough to be on the other side of the garage looking at the data and saying ‘how is that possible?’”

It’s a situation the Englishman likens to Marc Marquez’s team-mates at Honda.

“I think there are some similarities to Honda. I think over many, many recent years Marc has always been the extraordinary performer that can do things that other riders just have not been able to do and to follow.

“So let's hope that Frankie rediscovers himself. “

Adding to the pressure on Morbidelli’s shoulders is that his current contract expires at the end of 2023. The 28-year-old could face competition to keep the seat from the likes of Yamaha’s WorldSBK champion Toprak Razgatlioglu and Pramac Ducati’s Jorge Martin.

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