The Losail International Circuit tonight played host to the historic debut of a Malaysian team in the MotoGP World Championship, as the PETRONAS Yamaha Sepang Racing Team picked up points at the first attempt. Franco Morbidelli finished in eleventh place after fighting throughout for a top ten position, whilst his teammate Fabio Quartararo recovered from a mistake on the grid that saw him forced to start from pit-lane, making an impressive MotoGP debut despite narrowly missing out on the top fifteen.
Morbidelli started from the third row and lost some positions in the opening exchanges, dropping back to 13th before fighting back into the top ten and lapping as high as eighth. The Italian spent a long time with the lead group before eventually losing touch, crossing the line in eleventh place to score five championship points.
Quartararo, who had qualified fifth on the grid, was sent to start from pit-lane after stalling his bike on the grid before the warm-up lap. Despite that setback, the French youngster put together an impressive fightback, setting the fastest lap of the race on lap three with a time of 1’55.039. Fabio continued the charge from last position through to sixteenth, narrowly missing out on a first MotoGP point.
Today’s result leaves Morbidelli in eleventh place in the championship, with Quartararo aiming for his first points when the MotoGP season continues with round two on the 31st March in Argentina.
Franco Morbidelli, 11th
PETRONAS Yamaha Sepang Racing Team
“I would split my race tonight into two parts. The first half was good despite a bad start, because I was able to recover positions easily, run with the front group and manage the tyres. Unfortunately, we made a bad choice with the rear tyre and went for the soft option when the majority of riders went for the medium. I had to make the tyre last for as long as I could, but from around the halfway stage I started to struggle to stay with the group. It is a shame because we had the pace to finish higher up and we worked really well, being reasonably strong throughout the weekend, so we need to focus on the positives and keep this dynamic going in Argentina.”
Fabio Quartararo, 16th
PETRONAS Yamaha Sepang Racing Team
“I made a mistake before the start, which was a shame, but it is better to make mistakes at the start of the season rather than in the middle. The first lap was very difficult because the tyres were still cold so I had to really concentrate under braking, I stayed calm and was very careful until the tyres got up to temperature before I increased my rhythm and pushed. I struggled a little towards the end of the race but I am happy with the job we have done here during the weekend and also at the test. The biggest thing I learned from my first Grand Prix is that it is much harder to overtake in this category than it is in Moto2 and Moto3, but we did learn a lot during the race. I want to thank the team for all their support during my first Grand Prix in this category. Now I can’t wait for the next one.”
PETRONAS Yamaha Sepang Racing Team Manager
“I want to start off by thanking the team for their excellent work throughout preseason and here at the first round of the season. Everything went really well up until the race. I think that’s the best way to summarise the Qatar GP! Fabio [Quartararo] stalled the bike on the grid and had to start from pit lane. Unfortunately, it was a small mistake that had a big consequence. However, he didn’t throw in the towel and he put together a strong pace in the race, making it up to sixteenth.
Morbidelli didn’t have an easy start, dropping from 8th to 12th on the first lap. Then he had to push to recover, whilst managing the tyres, but after fifteen laps the left side was very worn and the performance dropped off, losing speed and a lot of time under acceleration.
11th and 16th position was not what we were hoping for from this GP, but considering the exceptionally high level of this championship and the difficulties we ran into on Sunday, we can be proud of the job we did.