Yamaha MotoGP rider Franco Morbidelli thinks his first full season with the factory team had a “happy ending” – but is the damage already done regarding his longer-term future with the team?
The 42 points scored by Morbidelli this year is the worst result for a factory Yamaha rider in the MotoGP era, despite the 2022 season being the longest ever.
The Italian, a 2020 title contender on a one-year-old Yamaha with the Petronas SRT team, has only made the top 10 on the road three times all season.
The first time was at the beginning of the year in Mandalika, while the other two have participated in the last two races, in Sepang and Valencia. And although Sepang’s top 10 was then taken away with a post-race penalty, it was widely regarded as Morbidelli’s best weekend of the season as he eventually outclassed title-challenging team-mate Fabio Quartararo. (although the latter had to deal with a finger injury suffered during pre-qualifying practice).
In Valencia, Morbidelli lamented missing out on a direct Q2 berth via FP3 by just half a tenth of a second on Saturday morning and said he was “caught up in different conditions” in the afternoon en route. towards the 16th qualification – with an FP3-to – qualification declines a common theme to its season. His return to 10th place on Sunday was aided by strong attrition, but he was happy with the note he finished the season on.
“It’s time to think about the whole season, and I must say finally thanks to my crew and Yamaha, they hung on when I arrived and I understood that it was going to be very hard to extract the potential of the bike,” said Morbidelli, who – amid doubts over whether he had fully recovered from his knee injury in mid-2021 – has long maintained his struggles were just a matter of difficulty. adapting to a modified M1 bike and becoming more aggressive under braking and acceleration.
“They stayed close to me, and they always supported me, they always believed in me. And I always believed in them. And they work, and they kept working, to improve the faults that we know all on the bike.
“We’re in the same boat and I’m happy to be able to extract speed from the bike now and to be able to completely change my style. Go from a smooth rider to a very aggressive rider.
“So I’m happy with the change I’ve been able to make, I’m happy with the closeness of Yamaha, I’m happy with the closeness of my team. Finally a difficult season, but with a happy ending, I would say.
At Valencia’s post-season test day, testing a more powerful prototype Yamaha engine was a failed surprise, but Morbidelli was particularly pleased – more so than team-mate Quartararo – with a new chassis. that he had tested.
“Everyone deserves a little rest. Such a long season,” he said after the test. “For me, it was also a journey.
“I chased, for 80% of the season, and also the last 20% that I was still chasing – a much closer carrot, but still chasing.”
Morbidelli’s rhetoric, however, appeared somewhat out of step with at least one senior Yamaha official.
Managing director Lin Jarvis has admitted quite sensationally ahead of Sepang – Morbidelli’s exceptional weekend – that Yamaha may have made a mistake in not choosing World Superbike rider Toprak Razgatlioglu for the race. factory alongside Quartararo.
And even with the backdrop of Sepang and Valencia, Jarvis’ tone wasn’t much more reassuring when he spoke to MotoGP.com during post-season testing.
“I think we had a good season in the end. Not super happy, I would say, with Fabio [Quartararo’s runner-up result] because he was really the only Yamaha rider who was really able to extract everything the package had to offer.
“Disappointing for Franky, because he never really… in the last two races we’ve seen some promising signs for the future, but let’s be honest, 19th in qualifying is not what we expected, it’s not what he expected. So it was not good. »
While it’s not definitively clear if that was what Jarvis was referring to, Morbidelli finished 19th in the MotoGP “qualifying championship” – the BMW M Awards. He scored 27 points in that standings, compared to 250 accrued by teammate Quartararo, who finished third despite Yamaha’s well-documented one-lap struggles in 2022.
Team boss Massimo Meregalli was more positive about Morbidelli’s progress, which was also reflected in his comments at Valencia testing – but he also acknowledged that Yamaha needed the Italian to step up.
“I see him in the last two races differently compared to the season. We all expect him to be a contender,” Meregalli said.
“Next year we won’t have a satellite team [as RNF has joined Aprilia], we will only have two riders on the Yamaha. And we really need to have both fast riders because one will push the other. We need help.”
Morbidelli is under contract until 2023, having agreed a two-year contract when he was promoted to the factory team to replace the abrupt departure of Maverick Vinales in the middle of last year.
He probably has some luck being out of sequence with the vast majority of factory-contract riders on the MotoGP grid, with most contracts running until 2024.
Still, Yamaha will still have options to explore if they want to replace him, whether it’s the aforementioned Razgatlioglu rider or Pramac Ducati rider Jorge Martin, who is on a one-year Ducati contract after being turned down for a promotion. factory.
And Yamaha’s rhetoric suggests – as does MotoGP history – that Morbidelli will not be given the full 2023 season to follow up convincingly on his 2022 “happy ending”.