Monster Energy’s Fabio Quartararo put in an heroic ride at the Portuguese GP this afternoon, continuing his winning streak at Portimao for the second consecutive race.
The victory also gifted the Yamaha team three-from-three, the first time the Japanese manufacturer has started the season with three wins in a row since 2010.
Quartararo was the favourite going into race day, thanks to his stellar showing throughout the Autódromo Internacional Algarve weekend, and he dominated the field once again. The youngster delivered a masterclass on the rollercoaster, making it back-to-back victories and claiming the lead in the championship standings.
Despite starting from pole, he slotted into sixth place after the usual scuffle through the first corner. Immediately kicking up the pace to prevent the riders in front from breaking away, by lap 2, he had already passed Marc Marquez and Jack Miller to take control of fourth place.
Joan Mir was next and the hunt for glory was on, and with fellow Frenchman Johann Zarco dispatched on lap six there was just Álex Rins between him and first place. With 17 laps to go, the number-20 rider hit the front for the first time. Only Rins was able to stay close to Quartararo as he put his head down in a bid to break away, with the duo repeatedly battling for fastest lap honours. Ultimately, the Yamaha‘s blistering pace proved too much and with seven laps to go, Rins crashed out. El Diablo remained unthreatened for the remainder of the race, winning it with a 4.809s margin over Pecco Bagnaia in second place to sit 15 points clear in the championship standings.
“First of all I don’t want to think about the championship,” Quartararo declared from Parc Ferme. “I just want to think about the victory of today, that was an amazing pace! So happy, because I feel like we can make a great job during the year, mentally I’ve grown a lot and it was great to be in front and push to the limit.
“I knew that we had a little bit extra pace from Rins, he was behind but he made a mistake, unfortunately for him, but was one of the strongest races I ever did. I prefer the one in Qatar, but this one was also a different kind of race. When you make a pace like that, you are so impressed by yourself, by the team, and I just want to say thanks to everyone that makes this dream happen.
“My start was not bad, it’s just we are struggling with the device, that we are still missing. When you have great results you always can push a little bit, the Japanese engineers to bring as fast as possible that device! Our bike has a lot of potential but if we lose that opportunity, is difficult.
“I’m so impressed about today and I think that it’s only the beginning, because I feel great mentally, great on the bike, great with the team. I feel great and I’ve never been that happy for a long time. I’m so happy because honestly, I did not expect to make that pace - because I think we did more 39’s than 40’s - the pace was so strong.
“Here with our bike, we feel a lot the fuel going down and at the middle of the race, when I saw the pace was amazing, I knew that we had a little bit extra from Alex. He was running so fast, but for me, I don’t feel that pressure when I have someone in the back, I’m just thinking of trying to pull away. The pressure maybe comes into the last laps but I was just enjoying and pushing so much, so I had not really pressure there, just every lap I was looking my lap time and looking how far he was but was more motivation than pressure. The pace that we set today was unexpected for myself, but feels great to enjoy the track a lot, it’s a unique track!”
When discussing his choice of tyre - he raced with the hard rear after performing so strongly on the medium for the majority of the weekend - Quartararo explained: “For me there was not really a bad choice, because in FP4 we were so fast. This morning we try the hard in the worst condition that was cold, old from yesterday, reheated, and we were so fast in the morning so it was not too bad. I felt like this tyre was, not much better but I had a little bit extra confidence with that tyre, and we decided to go with this, so was great. I knew that Rins was with the medium, so I knew in the end he was going to drop a little bit more with the hot conditions.
“I feel full of confidence, bringing from Qatar that confidence here. Now we know what we need to work to go fast. I only need to feel the front and I’m going fast, just focus on my riding but wow, what a pace! I didn’t expect, I was less than half a second from my qualifying lap, so it was amazing.
“Honestly, Yamaha has made a big step compared to last year but for me, mentally I feel stronger” the Frenchman admitted. “I learned a lot last year, when the bike was going not so great, I was thinking always negative and I’ve totally changed. Thinking positive always I think is great and even when some few things were not working well, I’m just thinking on what is working well. To set the pace that we set today was not easy but I was focused and I think that 70% is in your mind.
“I feel totally different [to last year]” he continued. “When you win the first two races in a row with an advantage of four-seconds, you feel that this is going to start and keep going but the others are working so hard to take that place, so naturally right now, I’m just thinking race by race. When I won the two races in Jerez I was just like, ‘wow, we are first in the championship, I’ve never been in that position, ever’, and was strange for me so that’s why, right now, I’m even not looking at the championship, I’m just thinking about the next race, to keep going.
“Mentally, during the preseason I work pretty well with my psychologist and I feel like all the exercises he gave to me were good and are keeping me calm.
“Honestly, I feel like 2019, the bike is working so well. Here, I have the same as Qatar. We don’t touch the bike. We never asked ourselves ‘should we try this?’, and 2019 it was like this - and if you see the difference between Qatar and here, they are totally different tracks - so that means that the bike is going so well. I’m pretty sure that the bike will work in all the tracks this year, maybe we will struggle for sure, but I think that the bike will go well in all the tracks.
Switching his attention to who he sees as his main championship rival, Quartararo remained open.
“Pecco looks really strong but Joan too” he remarked. “It’s so difficult to say, we saw Johann also so consistent, he crashed today but actually, right now if I need to say one, is Pecco because he was so fast. For me, Pecco is one of the strongest, Joan is strong, he has a lot of experience also from last year, but for sure there is missing six/seven guys, so there is not really one favourite!”
Looking ahead to the next race, having already won two of the three opening contests and with last year’s back-to-back victories in Jerez under his belt, the Frenchman is already being tipped as the one to beat as the paddock heads to Spain but he’s taking it all in his stride. “Now we go to one of my favourite tracks, in Jerez, so I can’t wait to be there” the Yamaha rider explained.
“I want to stay calm” he continued humbly. “Work like we do during these weekends, and then go step by step. We are in Portimao, in Jerez we will think about Jerez, but nothing to do with the championship.
“We did an amazing job [this weekend]. Yesterday we were P1 all day, today P1, so thanks to the team. It’s a great celebration for my birthday in two days” he concluded.