While the timing of the announcement confirming Fabio Quartararo’s promotion to the factory Yamaha team from 2021 comes as a shock, given this year’s pre-season testing hasn’t even started yet, the French rider’s selection is the least surprising part of the shake-up.

Almost three months before his 21st birthday, Quartararo has a prized MotoGP factory deal safely tied up to confirm his status as the sport’s newest star set to soar having demonstrated his potential from when he lit up the junior ranks barely into his teenage years.

At just 13 he clinched the CEV Repsol Moto3 junior world title but because of his age he was effectively blocked from moving up to the world stage. After securing back-to-back titles a year later, the ‘Quartararo’ rule was introduced in 2015 to provide him exemption from the minimum age requirement to allow the French rider to make his world championship debut before his 16th birthday.

With Quartararo making history and inadvertently rewriting the rule book, it didn’t take a pedigree talent-spotter to predict big things for the Nice-born rider. In fact, Quartararo has always had strong connections to the one of the best talent scouts in the Grand Prix paddock.

Speaking to Crash.net last September, Tech3 chief Herve Poncharal told the story about how he’s known Quartararo’s father, Etienne, for almost 40 years growing up and racing on the French Riviera.

“Etienne has always been mad about racing, like a lot of us guys in the south of France,” Poncharal said. “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.”

Even though Quartararo has never raced for Poncharal’s team a friendship and mutual admiration has blossomed despite being rivals on track.

After an eye-catching start to his world championship career in 2015, resulting in a pair of podiums and pole positions across his first eight races, Quartararo’s fortunes dipped as he suffered a fractured ankle and split from the Estrella Galicia team at the end of the year.

Two years of relative anonymity followed but Poncharal’s faith in his fellow countryman never wavered and once the tide turned, with Quartararo taking his maiden Moto2 win in Catalunya in 2018 with the unfancied Speed Up, the Tech3 boss may have inadvertently played a key role in his MotoGP promotion.

While watching the Assen Moto2 race, two weeks after Quartararo’s Montmelo triumph, Poncharal urged Sepang chief Razlan Razali to take on the youngster for its move into MotoGP.

“Honestly, I don’t want to sound like Mr I-Know-Everything because, believe me, that's not true!” Poncharal said. “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’. I told Razlan, ‘you will not regret it’.

“I can say all this because I’ve never worked with Fabio, so everything he has achieved is nothing to do with me. 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.

“All credit to Razlan because it was a big decision to take someone that was almost unknown and present him to Yamaha and Petronas.”

While Franco Morbidelli was a done deal early into the formation of the Petronas Yamaha SRT MotoGP squad, Quartararo was far from a front-runner for the second seat.

After missing out on the top crop of Moto2 talents, Dani Pedrosa came close to signing while Jorge Lorenzo was also considered before he ended up replacing Pedrosa at Repsol Honda.

With Pedrosa retiring to become KTM’s test rider, it left SRT to turn to Quartararo who duly signed to make his MotoGP debut with the experience of only 67 starts, one win and three further podiums from his four years equally split between Moto3 and Moto2.

“We didn’t make that decision alone, we consulted Yamaha as well. A few names came in and we locked onto Quartararo,” Razali explained during the team’s launch last year.

“Everyone was quite excited because we know what he’s like, where he’s comes from and how he’s progressed. Yamaha liked it, Dorna liked it, the French Grand Prix guys liked it.”

Quartararo jumped on to the bike fancied as the easiest to adapt to when moving into MotoGP, but he still had a slight disadvantage on the ‘B-spec’ bike and was an outside bet to take the top rookie honours against the likes of Francesco Bagnaia, Joan Mir and Miguel Oliveira.

On a race debut that didn’t sparkle Quartararo still made a statement, even if it wasn’t the one he planned. Filled with adrenaline and anxiety, the rookie stalled his bike on the starting grid in Qatar which automatically relegated him to a pit lane start.

Once he regained his composure Quartararo still grabbed attention by setting the fastest lap of the race on his way to 16th place.

From then on, there’s been no looking back.

A stunning first pole position at Jerez, leading a shock Petronas Yamaha 1-2 in qualifying, was converted into the rookie leading his first MotoGP race before being cruelly denied by a faulty quickshifter.

Quartararo had tears in his eyes but returned to his Jerez pit box with a hero’s welcome despite his race being wrecked by mechanical heartache.

But it didn’t hurt Quartararo for long as back-to-back pole positions at Catalunya and Assen were successfully converted into podium finishes. Quartararo reached the rostrum on seven occasions last year, taking the top rookie honour with ease, while arguably his biggest feat was taking a last-lap fight to Marc Marquez in both Misano and Thailand.

What’s been a vital part in Quartararo’s rookie revelation has been his immediate adaptation to the Yamaha, as he’s gelled his smooth style to the exuberance of youth and the rookie even taught the old dogs some new tricks.

“He’s very smooth so he suits the Yamaha,” Petronas Yamaha SRT team manager Wilco Zeelenberg explained back in June. “He understands well how to get the lap time with the bike at the moment.

“He has space in the head to think about new things. He’s fast but he can create new ways and learn from it. That makes him very special. He’s not fixed yet to a kind of style that’s like, ‘This is for Bridgestone [tyres]’, ‘This is Ducati’, ‘This is Honda’; he’s very open-minded to find the lap time with the bike you give him.

“At the moment this is a very big benefit for him. He’s not interfered with by anything that could be negative for him compared to the past, or even compared with the other Yamaha riders.”

With Quartararo’s stock on rapidly rising at Yamaha, he was fast-tracked on to a full factory-spec M1 with an extra 500RPM before the end of the season as he rocketed to fifth place in the overall standings – the best rookie result since Marquez stormed to the title back in 2013.

Clearly aware of possessing the hottest young property in the rider market, Yamaha hasn’t held back in making Quartararo its star for the present and for the future. Before a wheel has even turned in 2020, he will step into the shoes of the sport’s biggest star Valentino Rossi by replacing the Italian at the factory team from 2021.

Many might see it as a bold move by Yamaha to hand a two-year factory deal to a rider with one season’s worth of MotoGP experience – who hasn’t even won a premier class race yet – and at the expense of its greatest star in Rossi but managing director Lin Jarvis sees it as a logical plan.

“His results in his MotoGP debut year were sensational,” Jarvis said in the Quartararo factory deal announcement. “His six pole positions and the seven podiums in the 2019 season were a clear sign of his brilliance and exceptional riding skills.

“Inviting him to move up to the Yamaha Factory Racing Team after he completes his contract with Petronas Yamaha SRT was a logical next step.

“Fabio is only 20 years old, but he is already showing great maturity on and off the bike, and we are excited to have him join us in 2021.”

Given Jarvis planted Lorenzo straight into the factory Yamaha squad on his first MotoGP bow, it’s fair to say he’s got a decent track record.

The dream of Rossi racing forever was always going to end at some stage, even if the Doctor himself continues to defy expectations ahead of his 41st birthday next month assessing his racing plans for 2021, and Yamaha needed to prepare for its future without the iconic Italian on the grid whether that come sooner or later.

In Quartararo, Yamaha has a readymade junior superstar in the making, one that is learning within its fold who has the raw skill, hunger and charm to emulate Rossi.

But the essential reason behind Quartararo’s rapid promotion is one Poncharal pointed out before most others realised it. That’s because he’s seen it for so long.

“If there is one guy that can challenge Marc Marquez, I believe it's Fabio,” Poncharal said.

“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.”

Yamaha has moved early to stop any of Quartararo’s suitors truly seeing what was possible, giving itself a big boost while deflating its rivals for the immediate future.

 

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