Franco Morbidelli has acknowledged he would be facing serious contract pressure right now had he not agreed a two-year deal when joining the works Yamaha MotoGP team.
A three-time race winner and the 2020 championship runner-up, Morbidelli has struggled to regain his peak premier-class form since a lengthy absence last year enforced by a knee injury and surgery to repair it.
During that absence he received a factory Yamaha call-up as Maverick Vinales’s full-time replacement, and a contract running until the end of 2023.
While his initial struggles after his return were hardly alarming – given he was still regaining fitness and lacking stamina – the results have not improved much in 2022 so far, with Morbidelli having accrued just 17 points to team-mate Fabio Quartararo’s 69 over the first five races.
That form would undoubtedly have raised questions about his immediate Yamaha future had he not signed through 2023, and when asked by The Race whether he felt fortunate he was in place, Morbidelli answered “yes”.
“I’m not performing like my team-mate, who is winning races,” he said. “I’m supposed to perform like him.
“Now I have everything [to do it] – I have the team, I have the bike, I have the means. But I’m not, at the moment. So it would be a time the factory would start to, I don’t know, panic or put pressure on you in some ways.
“And it’s not the case for me because I have another year [under] contract.”
Morbidelli said he believes he has made some progress at the recent races, “even if it doesn’t look like it”.
“If we compare myself with Fabio for example, in the first race [in Qatar] we were going same, in the race my [fastest] laptime was faster than his one, my pace was similar to his one – I [just] had a bad start,” he said.
“Then going ahead, I went further and further [adrift]. But I needed to take a path and I needed to go through a process, with the crew and with the bike, and I feel that we did the correct things most of the time – not every time, most of the time.
“And we are going to our maximum, even if sometimes the performance didn’t say so.”
Only Quartararo has consistently extracted results from the Yamaha since the start of 2021, leading to suggestions – chiefly from RNF rider Andrea Dovizioso – that he is riding in a particular way that suits the bike and that his peers in the Yamaha camp simply can’t replicate.
But while Morbidelli acknowledged the bike isn’t “behaving” like he wants it to, he said it was close enough to the version of M1 he’d prospered on back in 2020 for him to keep faith.
“We know it’s possible because of my feeling – my feeling is that the bike is not so different compared to the bike I used to ride in 2019 and 2020 and 2021,” he said. “It just feels like the same bike [but] a bit faster on the straight and not as well set up.
“So we need to believe in my feeling and keep working to find the right things.”
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