“Really tough”: Fabio Quartararo’s Yamaha ten seconds further from the top

Yamaha starts the 2024 MotoGP season with star rider Fabio Quartararo ten seconds further away from victory compared to last November.

Fabio Quartararo, MotoGP race, Qatar MotoGP, 10 March
Fabio Quartararo, MotoGP race, Qatar MotoGP, 10 March

7th and +7.8s from the race winner in last November’s Qatar MotoGP, top Yamaha rider Fabio Quartararo was 11th and a worrying +17.7s behind in Sunday’s 2024 season opener.

It had been a similar situation in the Sprint, which Quartararo’s M1 completed 4.938s faster than he had managed last year, only for Yamaha’s European rivals to make much bigger steps.

“Yesterday's Sprint already showed that we have more work to do,” confirmed team director Massimo Meregalli. “While we were [5sec] faster in yesterday's Sprint than we were last November, it's not enough yet.”

Ducati’s Jorge Martin, winner of both the ‘23 and ‘24 Sprints, was 11.347s quicker this year. KTM's runner-up Brad Binder improved by 16.560s and third place Aleix Espargaro was 14.857s faster than the top Aprilia in the 2023 Sprint.

Sunday's GP distance was reduced by 1 lap, but if Quartararo's final lap of 2023 is removed from last year's race time it's a similar story: 39m 57.259s over 21 laps vs. 39m 52.570s over the same distance in 2024 (-4.689s).

Do the same for the race winning time and a 39m 48.881s for Fabio di Giannantonio in 2023 compares with 39m 34.869s by Francesco Bagnaia in 2024 (-14.012s).

At first glance Honda, which like Yamaha has access to technical concessions this season, also appeared to lose ground to the Europeans with former rider Marc Marquez +14.964s behind GP winner di Giannantonio last year and Johann Zarco +18.075s to Bagnaia this year.

However, if Marquez is taken out of the equation, the +18s GP gap for Zarco was effectively the same as Joan Mir managed last year, suggesting HRC at least matched Ducati's winter step. 

That is backed up by taking the final lap off Marquez's 2023 Honda GP time, creating 40m 4.242s over 21 laps. Zarco, who finished with Mir in his wheeltracks on Sunday, did that distance in 39m 52.944 (-11.298s).

Mir beat former team-mate Marquez's Sprint time by 6.847s this year and improved on his own Sprint pace by a massive 25.697s. Take the last lap off Mir's 2023 GP time and he was 14s faster this year, equalling Ducati's race winning step.

LCR's Takaaki Nakagami, the other rider remaining on a Honda, was 14s quicker in the Sprint and 2.2s closer to the top in the GP. 

Honda’s apparent progress relative to Yamaha was also reflected in the race results: Quartararo won the ‘Japanese Cup’ by a comfortable 7.136s (and four places) over Marquez last November but could only hold off Zarco and Mir by less than one-second on Sunday.

Indeed, Mir was ahead of fellow former champion Quartararo as the penultimate lap began.

While it was expected that the new Yamaha would struggle in qualifying - with ongoing rear grip issues magnified on new rubber - the lack of race pace was something of a nasty surprise.

“It was really tough,” Quartararo said. “During the test, we already saw that we are still far from the top, but for the Race I maybe expected something a bit different.

“But in the end, the performance level was similar to the test, so we still have work to do. Hopefully, it won't take long to correct this.”

Alex Rins, MotoGP race, Qatar MotoGP, 10 March
Alex Rins, MotoGP race, Qatar MotoGP, 10 March

New team-mate Alex Rins finished his first Grand Prix as a Yamaha rider in 16th place, +24s from Bagnaia and +6s from Quartararo.

But Rins had at least fought his way from 20th to be directly behind Quartararo with six laps to go, when he hit major grip issues.

“Honestly, we suffered a lot during this Race,” said the Spaniard. “We tried to do our best, and I was coming from way back down the order towards the front.

“We were gaining, and lap by lap I was feeling better and better. I got into the top 11 behind Joan Mir and Fabio, but with six laps to the end, the right side of the front tyre dropped dramatically, and I started to lose many, many seconds.

“In the right corners I couldn't do the right leaning angle. We took some positive things from this Race for the future, and I'm looking forward to the next GP.”

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