Twenty-year-old MotoGP rookie Fabio Quartararo stole headlines this past May at Jerez in Spain when the satellite Petronas Yamaha SRT rider became the youngest-ever premier-class polesitter, eclipsing reigning series champion and current point-leader Marc Márquez.
The young Frenchman has continued to impress by leading races and scoring podium finishes at Catalunya, Assen, and Spielberg, and is widely considered the leading candidate to replace Valentino Rossi in the factory squad when the nine-time world champion retires.
Quartararo admits he is flattered by the attention but prefers to focus on his job; learning is his number-one priority. During race weekends, he is the first to arrive in the garage and the last to leave, absorbing information like a sponge from everyone associated with the Malaysian outfit.
Quartararo is not new to astronomical pressure. He joined the Moto3 class at age 15, acclaimed as the “new” Márquez. MotoGP rights-holder Dorna even changed the rules so Quartararo could enter the world championship a year earlier than the previous minimum age requirement of 16.
But as Quartararo relates in this interview, instead of making things easier, his apprenticeship was rocky and tough.
Petronas Yamaha SRT’s decision to move you to MotoGP this season with only one Moto2 victory under your belt was met with some doubt. How did you feel about this new role?
I have never doubted myself. I was waiting for this moment since I was a kid. When I received the phone call from Yamaha, I knew I couldn’t make mistakes. I’m facing this new chapter as my father taught me: with commitment, but first of all, having fun.
What did it mean to you personally to debut in Grand Prix racing with the label of the “new Marc Márquez”?
It was a motivation but also a huge pressure. When I joined Moto3, I made the mistake to try and follow Marc’s tire tracks. I was only focused on winning and not learning the bike or the tracks. It was a mistake, and I paid for it. I injured myself, and the results didn’t come as expected.
This year, your rookie season in the premier class, your name has once again been compared with that of the seven-time world champion.
Now it’s different as I have more experience. I’m focused on learning the new category and, above all, remaining myself.
If you had to pick a quality from the top MotoGP riders, which skills would you like to have?
Marc Márquez’s aggressiveness and the speed that Jorge Lorenzo used to have in the first laps. As for personality, I would choose myself.
How do you describe yourself?
If I had to compare myself to an animal, I would say a tiger [revealing the roaring animal tattooed on his arm, together with a rose, a musical note, and other symbols]. I want to be myself. My idol has always been Valentino Rossi, but my riding style has some similarities with Lorenzo: smooth, precise, consistent, and aggressive when it is needed.
You started racing at a young age. Have you ever felt alone in a paddock of adults?
It’s a strange feeling, but once you put the visor down, you are alone. There is no one to help you ride the bike. In the practices, you enter the garage, so you can connect with the team. In racing, it’s only you, with your bike and your mind.
How do you develop this confidence?
It’s something you learn to cope with. For example, I don’t have a trainer; I train completely alone. I listen to my music, and I focus on myself.
Do you also ride in your dreams?
Yes. I often wake up suddenly as if I were touching the ground in a crash. It’s a strange feeling. It’s a common dream for other riders as well.
Is this perhaps a way to avoid the fear of crashing?
I don’t think about the risk when I’m racing. You need to be 100 percent focused on yourself and the results you want to get.
Your “family-first” tattoo says a lot about you.
It’s true. My family is so important—my mom, my dad, and my brother. They have made many sacrifices for me. For many years, we were commuting from Nice, my hometown, to the circuits in Spain. We were not rich. As we spend so much time in the paddock, the team becomes your second family. It’s important for me to have a good relationship with the team.
In Austria, at a track that doesn’t favor the Yamaha YZR-M1, you earned your third podium. Was that an important milestone for your growth?
In a way, yes, because Spielberg is one of the tracks on the calendar with the most aggressive braking and one of the most difficult for me. I made no mistakes, which impressed me. Normally in a race you will make a small mistake, going wide somewhere. But I never missed a braking point or an apex once. When you do 28 laps without a mistake, it shows that you’re really strong.
With three pole positions and three podium finishes on a satellite Yamaha, do you feel ready for the first win?
My first win? It’s too early to say. The target now is to be the best rookie. I need to gain experience and remain calm, a quality I want to improve.
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