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The key hire who might keep Quartararo at Yamaha

by Simon Patterson
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

With MotoGP’s 2024 preseason testing now completed, it seems that despite considerable improvements Yamaha is yet to make a big competitive step with its M1 - much to the dismay of star rider Fabio Quartararo.

Yet while this could've boded poorly for the manufacturer's hopes of hanging onto Quartararo beyond 2025, key personnel changes within the team this winter seem to be actually helping Quartararo buy into the long-term vision.

Finishing last week's two-day Lusail test in a rather lacklustre 14th place was perhaps not quite indicative of Quartararo's true pace - but it reflects upon the fundamental issues that he’s facing even with this new and upgraded machine: it’s still incapable of success while in time attack mode.

Updating his complaints to match those of Yamaha’s MotoGP veterans now that the team has made significant work in fixing its top speed issues, he’s finally on the same page as the likes of Andrea Dovizioso, Cal Crutchlow and even Valentino Rossi, Maverick Vinales and Jorge Lorenzo as identifying the actual root cause of their issues as being related to a lack of rear grip.

Unable, as a result, to take the benefit from a new soft tyre when trying to set a qualifying time, it means that Yamaha may still be completely hamstrung by its grid positions like it was in 2023.

“There’s a lot of work to do on many things,” Quartararo explained after the test. “The rear grip is one of the main things. Turning and rear grip. I was behind [factory Ducati racer Enea] Bastianini in my sprint race simulation, and I had the chance to see many things that they’re doing much better than us.

“The bike looks fast [on the straight], and this is a really good thing, but it’s not really our main problem. It’s a really positive side of the development that we had during the winter, but the issue is the same as in the past. The grip.

“It’s horrible, the same as the past. Really aggressive on the bike, and when we put in a new tyre there’s basically no change. I made only two tenths' difference with new tyres or with 11-lap tyres, and this is totally unacceptable. We have to find a way to maybe burn the tyre for two laps but to improve the laptime.”

However, despite the blunt language and the dubious competitive picture, it’s nonetheless clear that something has definitely shifted within the team in recent months for Quartararo.

And central to that is the arrival of former Ducati vehicle engineer Max Bartolini, who has been recruited as the previously unheard-of European project leader for the Japanese bike project.

How Bartolini fits into Yamaha

Bartolini's arrival has been part of a big push by Yamaha to not just keep Quartararo involved but overall return itself to past MotoGP glories - by incorporating a lot of European engineering and headhunting both from its rivals and the four-wheeled world.

“I think Max's arrival is part of a whole process that probably in reality started in force in 2022,” Yamaha managing director Lin Jarvis explained at the team’s launch at Sepang earlier this month.

“When we took the contract with Marmotors, with [ex-Ferrari and Toyota F1 engineer] Luca Marmorini and his team of engineers, to help us develop the engine, to look outside of Japan, look outside of our box, take in new knowledge and take in additional manpower. That was the first phase.

“Then the second phase was probably much more recent, was last year in August. We started the contract of collaboration with Dallara, which is a quite famous automotive aerodynamic specialist, car specialist and engineers. And they started to assist us with aerodynamics. Because honestly we are pretty behind with aerodynamics.

“Then the third part of the process was probably when we took Marco Nicotra from Ducati, and he's now head of our new aerodynamics department, based in Italy. So he joined us in October."

His impact on Quartararo

Bartolini, for his part, only started working on January 9.

But it's obvious that he’s already made a big impression on Quartararo, with the 2021 world champion gushing in his praise at Lusail even if Bartolini hasn’t yet been able to have an impact on results.

“With Max, we've made some massive changes [since Sepang],” Quartararo explained. “In the past, we used to change little by little, but here we’ve made big changes.

“He still needs time to understand the bike, but already I really love the way he is working. That’s why I’m really motivated, because I feel like we are working in a good way and I have to be passionate because it’s never a pleasure to finish more than six tenths from someone.

“But he’s really calm. When I go in the box really angry, I look at him and he’s laughing, because he knows that we are missing a lot. But he needs time. We all need time. I think we’ll arrive, but not right now.”

With the 2025 MotoGP rider market set to kick off in the coming weeks, a rider of Quartararo's calibre is likely to be on the hit list for a number of rival teams should he find himself with a still-uncompetitive Yamaha when they come looking.

Quartararo has been open in the past about his willingness to look elsewhere if Yamaha doesn't improve - and told Motorsport.com Spain recently that he's had "first contacts with other brands".

But he does sound ready to wait to see what Yamaha and Bartolini can do.

“I think that we need more time,” he insisted. “[Bartolini] came from the reds [Ducati] only last month, six weeks ago, and we need more time, more tests. We need three or four months more to see the improvement of our bike.

“It’s better with the concessions of course, but also to have someone who has the idea of what is the fastest bike of the paddock from last year. He knows, but he needs more time to see where we can improve.

“We will see. But I believe a lot in the project, and I believe that even if it’s really complicated right now Yamaha are doing their best. I’m not thinking about this three or four months for my future, I’m thinking about it for improving our bike.”

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