After months of speculation, reigning MotoGP world champion Fabio Quartararo finally seems to be edging closer to signing a new deal to remain with Yamaha for 2023 and beyond.
But with the negotiation process clearly having been a fraught one to date, it begs the question: what demands is he likely to be making of the team?
There have been rumors this weekend in the paddock at the Spanish Grand Prix that his future has already been decided, but that’s something that was categorically denied by the Frenchman when asked by The Race.
“About this, my manager of course is talking to Yamaha, but during the race weekend I prefer to focus on my thing,” said Quartararo after qualifying second.
“Back home we always have a discussion about the weekend, how goes the race but also for our future.
“On Monday I will have more information. But I can say that I have signed nothing.”
So what might be holding up the final deal?
One thing that is very likely to change compared to his existing contract is of course the salary, with a pay raise pretty much an expectation given that one facet of the offer is going to be financial.
He’s been adamant since the beginning that it’s never been the primary issue, but it’s nonetheless worth remembering that Quartararo was signed up by the team before the 2020 season had even started as a MotoGP sophomore without a victory to his name. He’s unlikely to have been expensive, especially in the eyes of a team that was then running Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales, and had been home to Jorge Lorenzo not so long ago.
The result is that there should obviously be more money on the table for Quartararo now – but with Yamaha clearly keen to retain its world champion, it’s highly unlikely that a financial gap would be the reason the deal’s not done yet.
The bigger issue is obviously related to development. What Quartararo wants from the team is no secret – more power – but whether it’s really deliverable is another question.
It hasn’t appeared so far, and it’s impossible to upgrade during this season thanks to MotoGP’s rules restricting new engines.
There’s also a challenge in achieving that without losing the Yamaha M1s almost-unique character of having incredible fast corner speed. There’s a big risk of compromising one area to perfect another.
But, with Suzuki managing that exact feat for 2022, it’s got to be a key target for Yamaha’s engineering team back at Iwata ahead of the start of testing for next year.
And, with two key in-season testing dates quickly approaching, it could be that the reason that no one’s in a real hurry to sign anything is so that Quartararo gets the chance to see what upgrades are in the pipeline.
He’s set to test on Monday at Jerez following this weekend’s race and again at Barcelona following June’s Catalan Grand Prix, and those tests could well be the unofficial deadline that’s very much in Quartararo’s head.
As far as Yamaha is concerned, none of the issues seem insurmountable, with veteran team manager Lin Jarvis sounding positively bullish about the efforts to date to re-sign his lead rider – all while being careful not to put a deadline of any time soon it.
“We are in close contact with Fabio and his management discussing future plans,” Jarvis told The Race.
“We have explained our future development plans to improve the competitiveness of our bike by maintaining the many positive aspects, while improving the top speed potential.
“Our discussions are proceeding well and we are optimistic and hopeful that Fabio will decide to stay with Yamaha in 2023-24.
“Our exchanges will continue in the coming weeks and we hope that we can reach an agreement before the end of June.”
That, of course, is something that’s likely buoyed by knowing that Quartararo’s alternative options are somewhat limited.
Still believed to be the key piece in the puzzle that is the 2023 grid, it’s going to take his signing before some other elements are decided – but with Suzuki and Aprilia unlikely to meet his salary expectations and KTM and Ducati believed to be keen to promote from within, the only realistic option left for him is to replace Pol Espargaro at Honda.
But there’s an inherent risk in that, too, with examples like Maverick Vinales’ transition from Yamaha to Aprilia and Espargaro’s own switch from KTM offering warning stories about just how hard it is to relearn the style needed to push on a modern MotoGP bike.