Morbidelli: ‘You need to be a chameleon’

Stung by his worst MotoGP season, Franco Morbidelli is seeking to switch from being a smooth rider to a ‘chameleon’ in 2023.
Franco Morbidelli, Sepang MotoGP test, 10 February
Franco Morbidelli, Sepang MotoGP test, 10 February

The Italian, title runner-up on a satellite Petronas Yamaha in 2020, hasn’t stood on the MotoGP podium since the 2021 Spanish round.

That was on a year-old M1, but changes to the ‘DNA’ of the 2021 machine meant that when Morbidelli returned from mid-season knee surgery to take over the factory seat abandoned by Maverick Vinales his results tanked.

“This bike’s DNA changed from 2020 to 2021 and if I want to be fast with this bike, this new Yamaha, this new concept, I needed to change my rider DNA,” Morbidelli said.

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Morbidelli’s 19th in the world championship was a far cry from team-mate Fabio Quartararo’s heroics. The Frenchman took three wins, eight podiums and fought Ducati’s Francesco Bagnaia for the title until the final round.

Like Andrea Dovizioso, Morbidelli had soon reached the conclusion that only the ‘aggressive’ Quartararo’s style could work with the M1. But doing it is another matter. While Dovizioso opted for early retirement, Morbidelli began reconstructing his DNA.

“I think I’m at a good point with that, especially at the end of last year, in the last two races I really got more in tune with the bike,” he said.

Morbidelli ran inside the early top six at Sepang until serving long lap penalties, then took his best dry result of the season with tenth at the Valencia finale.

“I’ve worked my arse off to improve this winter, to be more aggressive while riding. Even in training, I tried to change my mentality while riding.

“I’ll keep digging, the team keeps digging. There is still some gap but we are working on that.

“It's a never-ending process. Like life, you can always improve as a human being, you can always improve as a rider.”

Franco Morbidelli, Sepang MotoGP test, 10 February
Franco Morbidelli, Sepang MotoGP test, 10 February

‘I took it away from my Instagram bio!’

Some felt that if Yamaha could succeed in finally offering more top speed, it might also broaden the range of effective riding styles and move the bike back towards Morbidelli.

The Sepang test seemed to confirm that Yamaha has indeed closed the gap with its 2023 engine, but Morbidelli was clear: “I’ve changed, so the [new] bike suits me better.”

The 28-year-old explained: “I think if you want to be quick and fast everywhere, you need to be a chameleon.

“My DNA is to be smooth and nice and I always try to treat the bike gently. But I think that if you want to be a champion, you need to be a chameleon and you need to have the style that your package requires.

“So I don't feel like a smooth rider anymore. If you saw, I took it [‘smooth rider’] away from my Instagram bio!

“I think we are riding pretty aggressively right now.”

Franco Morbidelli, Sepang MotoGP test, 10 February
Franco Morbidelli, Sepang MotoGP test, 10 February

Following Suzuki’s exit, Yamaha is now the only bike on the MotoGP grid propelled by an Inline4 engine configuration.

Morbidelli hopes the more powerful 2023 M1 can combine the best cornering characteristics of a V4 and Inline4.

“I think that we are able to take sharp [lines like the V4s] in the sharp corners and be faster in the round corners, but maybe I'm too optimistic…”

Although happy with top speed and used tyre performance from the new bike, Morbidelli and Quartararo were unable to make the same time gains as their rivals in qualifying-style laps.

That left them just 19th and 20th on the final day timesheets at Sepang, although still within 1.1s of the top, with Morbidelli just 0.043s behind former world champion Quartararo.

The final pre-season test will take place at Portimao on March 11-12.

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