Fabio Quartararo recorded his first pole position as reigning MotoGP Champion in preparation for the IndonesianGP on Saturday.
The Monster Energy Yamaha had been on the pace all weekend having led the way on Friday, and firmly in the mix of the frontrunners in FP4 - with teammate Franky Morbidelli topping the session. Only Saturday morning’s wet FP3 same the Frenchman struggle as he failed to set a time within the 105 per cent margin.
With qualifying returning to dry conditions, Quartarao was back in his element, setting two fastest laps in succession to secure the pole with a 1’31.067 lap, and two-tenths ahead of the chasing Pramac Ducatis.
“Felt great, finally on one lap, since long time I didn’t feel so good,” Quartararo confirmed from the press conference.
“Here I felt great from FP2 when I put the soft rear and actually FP4. I’m super happy because I made 15 or 14 laps in a row and the pace was really good.
“I think was the most important to make that laps in a row to see the consistency of the tyres and I’m pretty happy. I think that I expect much more drop from the rear. To be honest, I feel great. Tomorrow maybe I try the medium on warm up or I will make more laps on the soft.
“Is difficult to know because it’s a new track,” he continued, looking ahead to Sunday’s 27-lap race. “We don’t know exactly what to expect. But for me, my main goal is to try to do my best and at the end we will see which result we make. I felt much better than in Qatar. I felt my potential is much better and is here to fight for podium and victory. So let’s see what we can do but the first thing is to enjoy and then we’ll see what the result will be.”
While the Frenchman was pleased with his pole-worthy performance, the importance of starting on the front row is greater than ever at the Mandalika International Street Circuit. While conditions are better than during February’s test, the new surface still has one distinct line, with very limited margin for error due to the dirty track, making overtaking trickier than normal for the down-on-power Yamaha, especially one that struggles so openly in the heat of traffic.
“For me is one of the trickiest tracks to overtake so that’s why I say it’s positive to be in the front row,” he admitted. “With our bike we struggle quite a lot to overtake. Then, I think you need to play a little bit with the pressure of course, before to start but in this kind of track where is really hot, is always better to start more in front than on the back. So I feel like it’s a great track to start from the front row. Let’s see how my practice start goes but normally, I’m not too bad this year.
“To be honest, I think that [the new surface] is strange. For me in the drive area is much better, but on the braking is worse. Also there is always some wet patches that for me is quite dangerous in four to five, because I think is one of the fast place of the track. Then talking about the small gravel or small rocks that we received in the test, for me is much less so if I need to choose, is much better than the test.
Varying weather conditions and Michelin’s new tyre casing have thrown up further unknowns for the new track’s inaugural competitive weekend.
“I prefer the tyre from the test,” Quartararo explained. “For me it has more performance and more consistency. This tyre for me is a little bit more comfortable riding, you feel a little bit less on the limit but you feel that the tyre have less performance and a little bit more speed. But is a small difference. I have a small preference for the tyre of the test.
“To be honest, I feel quite good because I made 19 laps in total with the rear soft and my last lap, when I go in, I was coming for maybe not my fastest but really close. So that’s positive and I think that the drop is not massive. You feel the drop, but you can ride in a different way to make the lap time.
“I think I’ve made a small step in the wet,” he said, regarding the mixed forecast for Sunday. “Not really in the wet, but even last year with rain tyre and dry track, I was feeling really bad and we make quite a big change on the bike and I was feeling much better. At the end, I can’t control the weather. So if it’s rain or dry, I will give my best and that’s it but if I need to choose of course will be dry conditions.”
While Quartararo is used to launching from the head of the grid with Ducatis to contend with - as Jorge Martin and Johann Zarco locked out the front row - the absence of the Repsol Hondas was not on his radar. Marc Marquez and Pol Espargaro both failed to get through Q1, with the eight-time champion lining up in 14th for tomorrow’s contest and his teammate two places further back.
“Of course I expect much better [of Honda] because in the test they were super fast,” the Yamaha rider said. “Pol had an incredible pace on one lap, also Marc, well everyone! But looks like the rear tyre affect them quite a lot, also Joan Mir [who also starts from the back of the pack in 18th]. At the end you need to keep the focus on yourself and not focus too much on the others.”