Star rookie Fabio Quartararo is the rider 'most likely' to challenge Marc Marquez's MotoGP supremacy.

That's the opinion of Herve Poncharal, who feels the 20-year-old has already shown he'll go on to become the reigning five-time champion's strongest rival.

"The best is yet to come and if there is one guy that can challenge Marc Marquez, I believe it's Fabio… And I think Marc knows," Poncharal told Crash.net.

For that reason, the Tech3 boss expects a factory bidding war when the youngster's Petronas Yamaha contract expires at the end of next season.

But will the sour experiences of Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo and Johann Zarco after leaving Yamaha give the Hamamatsu factory the upper hand in the 2021 negotiations, or is Quartararo young enough to adapt and win a title after moving away from the M1?

The French Connection

Tech3 is based at Bormes Les Mimosas on the French Riviera, with Fabio born not far up the coast in Nice. Poncharal helped the racing career of a 'Quartararo' back in the 1980s, but the rider in question was Fabio's father.

"I've known Fabio for quite a while and I've also known his father, Etienne, for a long time," Poncharal explained.

"When I used to work for Honda France in the 1980s, Etienne was racing and we, Honda France, were supplying bikes and spare parts to him at national level. So we've known each other, I would say, for 40 years!

"Etienne has always been mad about racing, like a lot of us guys in the south of France. There was a small group of us, between Marseille and Nice, on the coast. The Paul Ricard circuit helped a lot also, but there has always been a strong community of motorcycle road racing here and Etienne was part of this.

"Then, like many fathers who race, when he had a son he said 'let's try'. It was obvious from day one that [Fabio] was not just fast, but a very special talent."

Back-to-back CEV Moto3 titles meant Quartararo was already hailed as 'the next Marc Marquez' when he entered grand prix, as a 15-year-old, in 2015. But after two poles and two podiums during the opening half of the season, Quartararo fractured his ankle and split from the Estrella Galicia team at the end of the year.

Two seasons in comparative wilderness followed before a shock first victory, with the underdog Speed Up team, in the Moto2 class at Catalunya 2018.

"When he arrived in grand prix everyone was saying he was the new Marc Marquez. Okay, there have been some ups and downs. I think mainly because Fabio was so young and maybe didn’t have the best entourage around him. At 15-16 it's easy to be confused or disturbed," Poncharal said.

"But now he's got a good team, the right people around him, a bike that suits his riding style and can finally show his potential."

Despite having a lower-spec M1 - including 500 less rpm than the factory machines of Maverick Vinales, Valentino Rossi and (Petronas team-mate) Franco Morbidelli - Quartararo has already claimed three poles and three podiums in MotoGP.

But Poncharal doesn’t think Quartararo has been transformed as a rider this season.

"I don’t think he's improved a lot from last year to this year, the potential was always there. He won in Catalunya last year, finished second next time in Assen from twelfth on the grid, won again in Motegi until the minor technical issue.

"So you could see he was coming, but now he has everything he needs to show what he can do."

Nonetheless, with only a single grand prix win to his name, Quartararo was the least qualified of this year's four MotoGP rookies and only got the dream Petronas Yamaha chance because Dani Pedrosa decided to retire.

With no other proven winners available, Sepang began looking for a rookie to place alongside Morbidelli during their debut premier-class season. Poncharal recalled a meeting in which he had encouraged Sepang boss Razlan Razali to take a risk on the youngster.

"Honestly, I don’t want to sound like Mr I-Know-Everything because, believe me, that's not true! But I was with Razlan at Assen in 2018 and we were watching the Moto2 race here in this office.

"I told him, 'look at this guy [Fabio]. You should go for it'.

"They were already talking to Fabio anyway because he'd won in Catalunya and I certainly didn't know Fabio would do what he has done this year. But I thought Fabio would be fast and impress. I told Razlan, 'you will not regret it'.

"All credit to Razlan because it was a big decision to take someone that was almost unknown and present him to Yamaha and Petronas. You can imagine they might say 'why this guy, we've never heard of him?' "

But if Quartararo's career has been full of surprises so far, the future looks even more exciting.

"I can say all this because I've never worked with Fabio, so everything he has achieved is nothing to do with me," Poncharal emphasised. "We know each other but that's all. I would have loved to work with him when he was younger, but it was not possible for many reasons.

"But I want to say that the best is yet to come and if there is one guy that can challenge Marc Marquez, I believe it's Fabio.

"Because sure Marc has got some challengers, but Dovi is at the peak of his form and not a youngster. Valentino is not a youngster. Maverick we will see, he is still young.

"But for me, the guy who is most likely to grow and challenge Marc, is Fabio. And I think Marc knows."

Quartararo isn’t the first French rookie to take MotoGP by storm of course, Johann Zarco (then aged 26-27) also took poles and podiums on satellite Yamaha machinery while riding for Poncharal's Tech3 team (now aligned with KTM) during 2017.

"Johann was also doing great two years ago, but what is incredible about Fabio is being so young, having to cope with being the Yamaha leader almost at times now and not doing many mistakes," said Poncharal, speaking before Quartararo suffered only his second fall in MotoGP, at the start of the Silverstone race.

"Fabio is fast everywhere. From FP1 to the race. In the wet, the dry, the cold, the hot. He's like a computer!

"Plus he can handle the pressure incredibly well for a youngster. Some young guys when they first start to be up at the front make a lot of mistakes. Even Valentino and Marc for example, when they first started."

'Fabio the guy to have for 2021'

Quartararo's stunning exploits in the last six months mean he is already tipped to play a major role in the 2021 rider market.

All of the top factory seats are up for grabs at the end of next year and Poncharal is intrigued to see whether Quartararo remains at Yamaha.

"It's going to be very interesting because clearly Marc - and I didn't say Honda! - is dominating the championship at the moment," Poncharal said.

"But I think everybody knows that Fabio is the guy to have. It'll be interesting to see how Yamaha is going to handle that. It's also going to be interesting to see what the other manufacturers are going to do.

"If I were any manufacturer, I would at least make an offer and see what's possible.

"All six factories should do everything they can in order to have him. Then it will be interesting to see what Fabio decides because he will be in a position he has never been in before.

"He will see a lot of 'zeros' on the contract. He will have a lot of people putting out the red carpet, telling him 'you will be our hero, our number one', or 'we have the biggest sponsor in the world' or 'we are the biggest factory', 'we will take care of you'."

But at the forefront of Quartararo's mind will surely be the problems experienced by the likes of Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo and Zarco after leaving Yamaha for another manufacturer.

"I think Fabio and his entourage have been following the Rossi adventure, the Lorenzo adventure and the Zarco adventure. And this will play into the interests of Yamaha [keeping Quartararo]," Poncharal confirmed.

"But Fabio is very young and capable of adapting to a lot of things, because in the other three cases the riders were a lot older when they made the move. You also always want to succeed where others failed. And nothing is impossible…"

Quartararo is eighth in the world championship heading into this weekend's Misano round, where he was fastest during the recent MotoGP test.

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