Quartararo: the new prince of Moto GP claims his crown

Misano Adriatico (Italy) (AFP) – Before the MotoGP season started Fabio Quartararo said he believed he could win and in Italy on Sunday he delivered, bringing a first ever title to France.

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Quartararo has never lacked confidence, predicting to AFP in February: "I feel ready to win the championship."

He was assured of the title when his closest rival Francesco Bagnaia crashed out of the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix.

At 22 years and 187 days old, the Nice-born rider edges Valentino Rossi as the second youngest champion of the MotoGP era behind Marc Marquez, who sealed his first title aged 20 years and 266 days.

Quartararo opened last season with two victories before fading. This season he again started quickly, winning the second and third races and, this time, protected his lead in a manner as smooth and controlled as his riding style.

Apart from Barcelona, where he was penalised three seconds after ending the race with his jacket unzipped, he has been unflappable.

When his right arm seized up in Jerez when he was leading, he slid to 13th. He underwent 'arm pump' surgery and bounced back.

"I did not say to myself: we are no longer favourites," he said. "We had a problem, we had an operation and that's it. It can happen and you don't lose a championship on one race."

He returned 13 days after the operation to finish third at Le Mans. He then won at Mugello two weeks later.

When Francesco Bagnaia began to harness the horsepower of his Ducati to win twice in a row, Quartararo kept picking up points.

When Marquez rediscovered his dominance in Austin in October, outpacing the field, Quartararo was content to be faster than everyone else, cruising to second on a circuit he did not like and tightening his grip on the championship.

"I almost feel better than during a victory because we are getting closer to the title," Quartararo said after the race. "My goal was to be on the podium and I did."

"It was the toughest race and now we are 52 points ahead.

"I am in championship mode now. "

Quartararo started riding at the age of four. He dominated in youth competitions before moving up to Moto3 in 2015 at 16 and to Moto2 in 2017.

Yet in those classes he won only one race, in 2018, and never finished higher than 10th in the final standings.

'Motorcycle prodigy'

Wilco Zeelenberg, the boss of Yamaha satellite team SRT, believed that the 5ft 8ins (1.72m) Frenchman's riding style and body type would suit the greater power and weight of MotoGP bikes and signed the youngster.

Quartararo quickly displayed a surprising maturity. After coming in 16th in the season opener he finished 15 of the remaining 18 races, reaching the lower rungs of the podium seven times.

He started 2020 by taking the opener in Jerez to become the first French winner in the top category since Regis Laconi won a 500cc race in Valencia in 1999.

When Quartararo won again on the same circuit a week later, he became the most succesful French rider, eclipsing Laconi, Pierre Monneret, who won one race in 1954, and Christian Sarron, in 1985.

But Quartararo could not keep up the pace. He won in Spain at Catalunya in September but, in a Covid-curtailed 14-race season, could not manage another podium place and finished eighth.

"It was only my second season in MotoGP and I didn't know how to handle (the problems) well," he told AFP before this season.

For this season, Quartararo stepped up to the factory Yamaha team, replacing the legendary Rossi. His confidence was undented.

"When they call me the French motorcycle prodigy, I see it as a bit of a reality," he said. "You just have to be realistic: I have a huge potential, but you have to have your feet on the ground and work hard."

On Sunday he backed up his predictions by winning the title.