Let’s call it right now: Fabio Quartararo is the 2022 MotoGP Rider of the Year.
But will he be the 2022 MotoGP World Champion? Well, the odds are increasingly stacking against him despite having held a comfortable advantage out front for much of the season.
Indeed, a fourth win in six races for Pecco Bagnaia has gone a long way to changing this season’s story arc in a remarkably short space of time.
Coming out of the summer break the thread was preoccupied with whether Aleix Espargaro could sustain his and Aprilia’s surprising run of fine form against a steadfast Quartararo, a rider who more than anyone else has been maximizing his results on a Yamaha that by all intents and purposes is either the quickest bike out there or the slowest.
A strange evaluation that may be but a measure of where Yamaha has found itself in 2022.
Indeed, the Iwata marque’s reluctance to tinker with its (admittedly) title-winning package has produced a mixed effect of it being quick in clear air but flaccid when jammed in the pack. It’s a Catch 22 but one that puts the onus – somewhat unfairly – on Quartararo to make the most of, albeit an unenviable task he is stepping up to magnificently.
To say Quartararo is carrying Yamaha would be an understatement. Each one of the manufacturers’ 211 points have come from its 2021 MotoGP champion but while Espargaro is a manageable foe, Bagnaia – or more accurately ‘Ducati’ – is an entirely different multi-faceted challenger.
Indeed, Bagnaia’s turn of speed is probably a match for Quartararo’s pace like-for-like, and credit where credit is due, he has produced a fantastic bounce back after his up and down form before the summer break, not to mention the embarrassment of his drink-drive incident while on holiday.
So the gap is down from 91 points to just 30 points in just four races, leaving Quartararo facing a rear-guard action to repel the Italian.
Except, in this case, the Frenchman is taking on eight riders for the MotoGP title, not just one.
Do Ducati have too many bikes on the MotoGP grid?
Earlier this week, Claudio Domenicali rather pointedly called out Enea Bastianini for his close-quarters battling with Bagnaia for victory in the San Marino MotoGP at Misano, claiming the Italian – who will join the factory squad next year – ‘risked too much’ in their tussle
One part critique of Bastianini, one part a clear indication from Ducati that it is in effect enforcing some ‘team orders’, while those are words that draw derision from most fans in motorsport, there is some sense in Domenicali’s words… well, perhaps if he’d uttered them in private rather than in front of TV cameras.
Strictly speaking, no one has made a faux pas here. Ducati insisted its riders were free to race in public, although it can be assumed the rhetoric was somewhat stricter behind closed doors.
However, this will surely change following Misano now Bagnaia can officially refer to himself as a title contender. Even if it doesn’t explicitly, let’s just say no-one wants to piss off the big boss, so you know, common sense…
Either way, the momentum is very much with Bagnaia now. Indeed, while Quartararo has been exemplary on the vulnerable Yamaha this year, ultimately he is still on the back foot if he qualifies outside the top three, something he is increasingly doing.
This is where team orders for Ducati may then come in. Indeed, with eight bikes on the grid to leverage, Ducati certainly has flexibility to get one or more of its entries in the way of Quartararo flying solo near the front for Yamaha. Flip it over and Ducati has up to seven bikes it can leverage to get in the way, whereas Yamaha… well, let’s just say we can’t remember the last time we saw one of the other M1s on camera.
Moreover, Ducati’s – and therefore Bagnaia’s – hopes are helped by the quality within its ranks, not least now we are seeing both VR46 Ducati’s featuring higher up the order on a more regular basis.
Indeed, since the summer break we have seen seven Ducatis qualify inside the top ten at Silverstone, a Ducati 1-2-3-5 on the grid in Austria and then an all-Ducati top four on the Misano timesheets.
It raises the question of whether Ducati should be permitted such dominance on the grid. While no rules have been broken per se and it is to the Italian firm’s immense cost that it can sustain supporting eight bikes, it affords it a great advantage that perhaps Dorna might not have anticipated pre-season.
Not that it has worked entirely in its favour. After all, Ducati’s entries are scattered across the overall riders’ standings but its might as a constructor is demonstrated more clearly in that particular reckoning. In fact, a Ducati has finished either first or second in all but one race… and even then that anomaly was a third place in Indonesia.
So what is working in Quartararo’s favour? Well, his rock solid consistency – an area where Bagnaia has fallen short – had been the foundation of his title bids, which might come in handy when MotoGP heads overseas again to visit Phillip Island, Buriram, Sepang and Motegi for the first time in three years.
However, while he may have led the standings for some time and have a 30 point buffer in hand, keeping Ducati’s strength in numbers behind him is a tough ask… even before you consider the sheer limitations of his top speed Yamaha compared with the more powerful Ducati.