There was so much to talk about after the Austrian round of MotoGP. The stunning battle and spectacular last lap between Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Márquez, in which Dovizioso emerged triumphant. The bizarre story surrounding Jack Miller's contract and Jorge Lorenzo, a rider who wasn't even present in Spielberg. And to top it all, Johann Zarco's shock announcement he would be leaving KTM at the end of 2019, with no clearly defined plan.
While all of this dominated the headlines, there was so much more going on at the Red Bull Ring that got lost in all the drama. Developments which promise much for the future, both for next year and for the rest of the season. This was a weekend where Yamaha made a comeback, and especially where this year's crop of rookies started to shine.
That Fabio Quartararo should have a good race is no longer really news. The Frenchman has slotted in perfectly to the Petronas Yamaha SRT team, and has shone from the very first weekend. He has had a couple of podiums before, but the podium at the Red Bull Ring should count as something very special indeed. Barcelona and Assen, the two previous races where he got on the podium, are known to be Yamaha tracks. The Red Bull Ring is anything but.
No business being so fast
Perhaps Quartararo was helped by the fact that Marc Márquez ran Andrea Dovizioso wide on the opening lap at Turn 3, opening a hole for him to dive through and run the pace the Yamaha is capable of, without slower bikes getting in the way mid corner. That bought him enough of a buffer that once Dovizioso and Márquez were past, he didn't have to defend quite so hard. Jack Miller helped too, by sliding off behind him on lap 8.
Quartararo had nothing for Márquez and Dovizioso, but then again, neither did anyone else. Once they were past, Jack Miller couldn't pass the Frenchman, Valentino Rossi couldn't get close enough to attempt a pass, and in the end, Quartararo kept his pace to open up a gap. It was an outstanding ride, and not a result they had been expecting. On Friday, the Frenchman had been talking about the top ten as a goal, and being surprised to be top five. On Saturday, he qualified on the front row, and on Sunday he finished on the podium.
Choosing the soft rear tire had made a difference, as the temperature was lower than expected. "With the team, we spoke and we expected that the first laps we will struggle," Quartararo said after the race, "but at the end we never expected to lead the first five laps. Was tough because we chose the soft tire. We never really had the experience of really how to manage that tire. Even when I was leading in corner four and five I tried really to avoid the spinning. When Dovi and Marc overtook me I tried to do my best to stay with them, but I was really on the limit. I could stay but maybe on the last lap my tire was destroyed. So I prefer to let them because today we knew that they had better pace than us. We never expect also to be on the podium, so we are really happy."
He had been worried once Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales started to close on him. "It was tough because when I was in the third position, Vale was at 0.3 I think, so from there I tried to make my pace, to try to keep the tires because we knew that they have a medium," Quartararo said. "But every lap I took one tenth, two tenths, until arrive to two seconds. We could manage between 1.7 and 2 seconds. Was a tough race because I was alone, but we are really happy to finish first Yamaha and of course on the podium."
Yamaha back from the brink
The fact that it was Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales who Quartararo was worried about is telling of its own accord. The Red Bull Ring is the antithesis of everything Yamaha is about – hard acceleration needing maximum horsepower and a minimum of corners where corner speed might matter – and yet Yamahas finished third, fourth, and fifth. Compare the three Yamahas in the top five with Ducati and Honda. The second Ducati was in seventh, the third in ninth. The second Honda was in eleventh, the third in thirteenth. Sure, Jack Miller and Cal Crutchlow crashed out, but even if they hadn't, it wouldn't have changed the complexion of the race that much.
What a difference year makes. Compared to 2018, the leading Honda and Ducati were roughly 6 seconds faster this year. The fastest Yamaha – Fabio Quartararo – was nearly 14 seconds faster than in 2018. Rossi himself was over 12 seconds faster than 2018, Maverick Viñales a whole 20 seconds quicker.
Where has the speed come from? Some is from the track, with the grip much better than in 2018. A good deal is from the Michelin tires, which used a slightly softer construction with the same compounds, giving better grip, something which the Yamahas both need and can use. But a lot came from the improvement of the Yamaha itself, from the fact that the improvements in electronics and chassis means the bike can make the tires last. There has been an influx of engineers into Yamaha's MotoGP program, and this is making a serious difference.
More grip, more speed
"On paper we’re supposed to suffer a lot here in Austria like in the past," Valentino Rossi said after the race. "But from the beginning in FP1 we see something good. We improve, especially the constancy and the grip of the tires. I did a very good start and very good fast laps. I was strong and was able to cover a lot of positions. I was in a good position to fight for the podium but unfortunately the guys in front of me – especially Dovi and Marquez, but also a little bit Quartararo – were stronger than me. So I wasn’t able to go with Fabio."
To read the rest of this article, you need to sign up to become a MotoMatters.com site supporter by taking out a subscription. You can find out more about subscribing to MotoMatters.com here.
This is part of a regular series of unique insights into the world of motorcycle racing, exclusive for MotoMatters.com site supporters. The series includes interviews, background information, in-depth analysis, and opinion. Though most content on MotoMatters.com remains free to read, a select amount of uniquely interesting content will be made available solely to those who have supported the website financially by taking out a subscription.
The aim is to provide additional value for our growing band of site supporters, providing extra original and exclusive content. If you would like to read more of our exclusive content and help MotoMatters.com to grow and improve, you can join the growing band of site supporters, by taking out a subscription here.