“He beat one record that is the youngest pole man, so tomorrow I will try to stop him, so he doesn’t beat another record and be the youngest winner.” – Marc Marquez

Speaking in the qualifying press conference for the Spanish MotoGP, a light-hearted Marquez may have had a smile on his face but the significance of his words weren’t lost on anyone.

The youngest-ever MotoGP world champion isn’t taking the threat to his records by Fabio Quartararo without a fight, even if bigger battles in the title race must take priority this season.

The MotoGP statistics book required a couple of rewrites in Jerez as Quartararo became the youngest-ever MotoGP pole-sitter, while Marquez faced up to the reality he is no longer the new kid on the block at 26 as he was the oldest member of both the top three in qualifying and the race.

Quartararo’s stunning pole position and new lap record, heading up a surprise Petronas Yamaha 1-2 with team-mate Franco Morbidelli, gave Marquez food for thought about the unrelenting shift towards younger and younger riders along with the focused challenge from the 20-year-old who has taken his pole position record.

The French rider, who only stopped being a teenager two weeks before the Spanish MotoGP, has long been tipped for stardom.

A stunning junior career hit the headlines when he became the youngest-ever CEV Moto3 champion at just 14 years and 217 days but was denied a move up to world level only due to age restrictions.

The rules were then changed – unofficially called the Quartararo rule – to allow title winners to graduate to the Grand Prix championship, regardless of the minimum age requirements.

Quartararo duly dominated to a second CEV title to break into Moto3 world championship racing before he turned 16.

The hype around the French rider was deafening but as part of Emilio Alzamora’s Monlau Competition team, running under the Estrella Galicia 0,0 banner, there was careful focus to reduce the pressure around the starlet – as assessed by Crash.net’s Neil Morrison in greater detail back in 2015 – and he instantly looked at home by taking a podium in his second race and a pole position at his fourth.

Marquez, an earlier product of the same setup run by Alzamora, naturally had first-hand experience of Quartararo despite the six-year age gap and kept a closely-trained eye on his rapid rise up the ranks.

But the next steps by Quartararo left him as the forgotten wonderkid as he left Alzamora’s setup initially for the Leopard Racing team in Moto3 before moving up to Moto2 one year later with Pons Racing.

Quartararo struggled for consistency but his results didn’t halt his momentum as he reached MotoGP as a teenager with the new Petronas Yamaha squad run by the Sepang Racing Team.

Now a 19-year-old was on the same MotoGP bike, give or take a few parts, as nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi.

Was Quartararo phased by breaking new ground? It didn’t show as he qualified fifth for his MotoGP debut in Qatar, but a flash of youthful excitement got the better of him as he stalled his Yamaha on the grid before the warm-up lap meaning all his good work was wasted in a pit lane start.

But the French rider regained his composure under the Losail lights to charge to 16th place, less than one second behind Johann Zarco at the chequered flag, while he set the fastest lap of the race.

Two top eight results in Argentina and the United States demonstrated his true potential before he stepped into the spotlight with pole position in Jerez.

But Quartararo’s true starring moment came on Sunday before his cruel retirement caused by a broken quickshifter which left him stranded in third gear on Lap 14.

Excluding the first-lap fight from a standing start on the grid, Quartaro produced race pace to match all the podium finishers: 38.5, 38.3, 38.3, 38.3, 38.4, 38.3, 38.8, 39.0, 38.2, 38.3, 38.3.

The small blip where Quartararo’s drifts into the 1m 39s occurred when he was behind team-mate Franco Morbidelli whose pace dropped as the race progressed. Instead of sticking behind his more experienced team-mate, the French rider bolted past without hesitation in pursuit of Marquez.

If and buts are big words in racing although nobody could deny Quartararo wouldn’t have fought for a podium place as the race progressed.

Naturally the pain of losing out on a potential maiden premier class podium through no fault of his own was on display as he returned to the Petronas Yamaha on his broken bike but after time to digest the situation, and some words from his crew, Quartararo demonstrated an old head on 20-year-old shoulders.

“Of course I was really disappointed because we can challenge for a really good position,” Quartararo said. “When you look at the pace I had, the weekend we do, I only can be happy at the moment.

“Unfortunately, no podiums, no top 5, no points, but the experience we take is a lot.

“The pace I had in the race was incredible because I found something riding with these guys that made me a plus. Also I had Marquez like a reference. So I’m really happy.”

To be the best you’ve got to race the best, so for Quartararo to be following Marquez in race trim will certainly come as priceless experience later down the line.

“When we were close, less than half a second, when Marc was doing a mistake, everybody was doing mistake,” he said. “That’s something that you need to realise from behind, that he braked late and everybody braked late.

“That’s something that you learn a lot with the [full] fuel tank, here you feel a lot. Now I have in my head that all the experience I take I will manage to get in Le Mans.”

Quartararo’s performance wasn’t lost on Marquez as the Jerez winner went into the race picking the French rider as a main victory contender alongside Morbidelli and Andrea Dovizioso.

While he believes all young riders must be fast learners when they reach the top class, Marquez is also bracing for a different challenge from a generation of new riders and hopes to learn from the young pretenders.

“It looks like now the philosophy or the mentality of the young riders is just MotoGP, MotoGP, MotoGP,” Marquez explained. “They arrive here really young in MotoGP as many riders have a good talent and then they arrive very young.

“It is something that has some risks as you can miss the pace if you don’t adapt quickly but I am ready. I am 26, not old, I am young but Fabio is 20 and of course Vinales and Rins are younger than me.

“Step by step they get more experience and some young riders will arrive but it is the natural thing. Some riders will arrive that will beat me but we will fight for the championship and I will try to learn about them and the young riders because they will give something new for the category.”

For the oldest rider on the grid, this is a story Rossi has lived through on both sides having burst on to the scene as the young challenger against the likes of Max Biaggi, Loris Capirossi and Sete Gibernau before seeing new blood challenge his own status in the shape of Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo and Marquez.

Rossi echoed Marquez’s sentiments by warning the older generation must also learn from the young guns but has dismissed the change at the top has already started by pointing to the race results in Jerez.

“The most important thing is the final result of the race. Marquez won. So nobody can say anything to him,” Rossi said.

“I arrived and I was very young, I was the youngest, I arrived to the 500s at 20-years-old, and my opponents were 33 or 32. But now it’s the opposite.

“You need to stay calm, try to take the positive from the young riders, because usually the younger riders are very, very strong, and a lot of time stronger than you, because you are old.

“So you need to stay quiet and try to take the positive things from this. But it’s also a challenge, it’s good for the motivation.”

Rossi has often credited setting up his VR46 Riders Academy as “keeping him young” by competing and learning against the young stars of the future like Morbidelli and Francesco Bagnaia.

Time will tell if Quartararo can maintain his surging start to life in MotoGP and he faces another huge test next time out as he heads to his first home round in the premier class at Le Mans.

Naturally comparisons to Zarco’s rookie rise in the top class will be made at the French round later this month, where he clinched a maiden podium back in 2017, before taking his first pole position three rounds later at Assen.

Like Zarco before him, the support and expectation from the home crowd will be an added pressure but given the way both Marquez and Rossi are speaking of the 20-year-old his best is yet to come.

Comments

Loading Comments...