At the Losail MotoGP tests, the Yamaha factory riders rounded out day two with the first and seventh fastest times. Leading the way was the newly-hired Fabio Quartarato, who set a best of 1'53"940, followed, six places behind, by Maverick Viñales, with a 1'54"395.
The two Iwata riders were separated by just 0.455 of a second and both were pleased with their performance, "El Diablo" in particular pointing out how important it will be to collaborate with his team-mate.
And yet, the impression is different. Or rather, yes, numbers 20 and 12 will share many things and compare data via their respective engineers, but the reality is that the younger rider is sending a message to the older rider: "Look, I’ve come to the factory team for two reasons. To upset the apple cart, so to speak, and to win the world title”. Rightly so, this is racing after all, but is Viñales in agreement? Not exactly.
Quartararo's unmissable opportunity in MotoGP
“Quarta”, who will turn 22 on 20 April, is the explosive youngster on the Yamaha factory team. 2021 marks his seventh complete season in the world championship and his third in the top class. And although the results he’s achieved thus far have been interesting, they haven't allowed him to achieve his goal.
And that’s the number 1 plate of course. He looked to be getting close last year, but then came the collapse, both emotional and performance-related. With mistakes, crashes, technical confusion and imprecise riding, Fabio essentially threw the title away.
He has stated that the pressure he feels as a factory rider is significant. And that he likes it. But he has also said how he likes to pave the way for Yamaha. Perhaps all this reasoning is fruitless, or at least limiting. He just needs to twist the throttle and that’s it. That’s the only way to beat everyone, Viñales included. El Diablo has the opportunity of a lifetime and he needs to exploit it, just as he did at Losail, if he wants to step up as the first Yamaha rider.
A unique opportunity also for Viñales? His last as a factory rider?
It applies to everyone of course, but… if there’s one rider who hates to be referred to as second rider on a team, then that’s Maverick Viñales. You can say that the status depends on the results, true. But the Catalan doesn’t see it that way. The 26-year old weighs every gesture, every word is evaluated and considered.
In fact, although he was faster and more competitive than Valentino Rossi - the Italian disappointing under the Qatari night sky - he continued to create problems bigger than himself. A lack of encouragement, complements and so on. It’s lucky for him that the nine-time champion’s performance was under par, otherwise...
...otherwise, imagine the scene! The answer may arrive soon. Quartararo has launched a message: the number 1 spot at Monster Energy (and Yamaha) is mine. So, ‘my friend’, accept that you are second rider. Yes, sure. As the more experienced rider and the older rider who steers development, Viñales will do anything but hang his head.
No wall between Quartararo and Viñales. For now
Clearly we won’t see a protective barrier like that put up between Rossi and Lorenzo during Jorge’s early MotoGP years. That was damaging to the Yamaha image - not to mention the sport in general – and not something the company wants to revisit. Also because time is ticking on and "even Suzuki" has won the title in the reigning class while Iwata continues to win nothing. Still nothing.
It will be difficult to manage two primadonnas like Fabio and Maverick. They may have to share a garage, but don’t ask them to get along. Put up with eachother? Maybe. Exchange Christmas gifts? Mmm, we don’t think so.
Quartararo is ready, already ready after Qatar, to step into the role of first Yamaha rider. And what he’s lacking in concept, he’ll make up for on the track. On the other side of the garage, Viñales needs to keep his garden growing, assisted by a royal salary and the advantage of being able to steer M1 development in his favour. We won’t see walls, but we are in for some mega battles on track. And we can’t wait.
Translated by Heather Watson