until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


More proof needed after Morbidelli ‘confidence injection’

by Simon Patterson, Valentin Khorounzhiy
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Franco Morbidelli’s Argentina MotoGP weekend was mathematically as good as it could’ve been without him returning to the podium for the first time since 2021. Arguably, it was even better than some podiums may have been.

Fourth in the sprint was Morbidelli’s best race finish since he took third place at Jerez in May 2021 when still at the Petronas SRT Yamaha team, prior to that season being disrupted by a knee injury and Yamaha then promoting him to its works line-up after its split with Maverick Vinales.


Since then, Morbidelli hadn’t got anywhere near the level of performance he displayed when dominating three grands prix and finishing runner-up in the 2020 championship – at least, until he was able to turn a strong weekend-long performance in Argentina into his most impressive pair of races in years.

The sprint ride was followed up by an equally credible run to fourth place again in the main race, this time at an absolutely soaked track.

It completed a weekend in which Morbidelli looked better than Fabio Quartararo throughout, and was a consistent presence out front through a variety of track conditions. In the dry, in the wet, and in the wet-dry of qualifying – in which he was the fastest of those riders not to make a late switch to slicks, and was perhaps even compromised by that, looking so good on the wet rubber that he had more to lose than those who’d rolled the dice.

The whole weekend was an indisputable, crystal-clear positive, and Morbidelli clearly recognised that.

Franco Morbidelli Yamaha MotoGP Argentina

“It feels so good, and I’m so full of joy,” the always-reserved Yamaha rider said after the sprint. “I don’t know if it looks like it, but I swear I am full of joy!”

“It’s a fourth place, I’ll take it, we’ll take it, because the team deserves this. They’ve been working so hard to catch up, and we need to work even harder together.

“These kinds of results are good fuel for me, and for the team. Not these kinds of results, these kinds of performances.”

After Sunday’s race, he acknowledged it had been the “best weekend for a while”.

“I’m happy about that. We were quick in different conditions – half and half, wet, dry. That’s positive.”

Franco Morbidelli Yamaha MotoGP Argentina

But it’s nothing to get too excited about just yet, and Morbidelli clearly knows it. Every time he spoke to the media, he made a point of emphasising the need to prove this weekend was repeatable.

Though he thrived in a variety of conditions, it was never a high-grip track. Termas de Rio Hondo just isn’t that.

“I think with Franco we have two riding styles that are totally different. And the tracks where it’s low grip, he always, like Barcelona and Malaysia in the first test [this year], he’s always fast,” was Quartararo’s post-sprint summary.

And when asked by The Race about that perception during the weekend, Morbidelli offered a somewhat telling answer: “I think that low grip is helping. I don’t know. I don’t know, really. I hope not. I hope this is a good step. But actually I really don’t know.”

It’s not as if the grip was routinely perfect during 2022 – and Morbidelli still finished 19th in the standings while team-mate Quartararo was a title contender, and had a best race result of seventh while Quartararo won three times. Morbidelli always put his struggles down to chasing a change of set-up or riding style that would allow him to access the latest Yamaha M1’s true performance, and denied that his knee damage had any permanent impact on his career.

Talk of Morbidelli showing great pace when testing on a superbike pre-season showed he was still capable of going fast on a motorcycle, but reproducing his form at other tracks – in the dry, too, and over a full grand prix distance – will be the real test.

Franco Morbidelli Yamaha MotoGP Argentina

Again, he clearly knows it. “I keep my feet on the ground. I’m conscious that in this category it’s very easy to collapse or come up, as you saw.

“So I keep my feet on the ground. This I take as a great confidence injection for me, for the team also. I’m looking forward to Austin, to see if the improvements we did here, the good feeling I had here, is also in Austin.”

The good news is, at least one area of improvement is something that Morbidelli can lean on without any doubts about its repeatability.

It is the new and more powerful engine now installed in the Yamaha for 2023 thanks to the efforts of former Ferrari and Toyota Formula 1 engine builder Luca Marmorini – who Morbidelli named specifically as someone he was thinking of when he was managing to stay in the fight in the sprint.

“A big, big thanks because they did great work in improving the engine,” he said of Marmorini’s department. “We have much more potential this year, and that’s great. A big clap to them.

“We are able to be at least very difficult to overtake, and this is a positive. Usually we get smoked in a straight line.

“The engine is a base, a great, great base to build up upon. I’m happy about that, and let’s see if we manage to fix our problems during the year ahead.”

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