MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.
Could Quartararo be MotoGP’s first non-factory champ?
Most MotoGP titles are won by factory-team riders, so will Fabio Quartararo make history if he wins the 2020 crown for Petronas Yamaha?
Any talk of Fabio Quartararo winning the 2020 MotoGP world title is hugely premature, because things can change more instantly and more drastically in motorcycle racing than in just about any other sport. Just ask Marc Márquez, Mick Doohan, Wayne Rainey and many, many more.
Quartararo goes into this weekend’s third of (hopefully) 14 races enjoying a 10-point advantage over Maverick Viñales and a 24-point lead over Andrea Dovizioso. He is also 50 points in front of Márquez. Until yesterday this wasn’t an insurmountable disadvantage for the reigning world champion, who won last year’s title by 151 points, but yesterday’s second operation to fix his right humerus surely changes that. Then again, you can never tell with these people.
Quartararo has a Yamaha contract and rides a factory YZR-M1 0WW7, but he rides for the independent Petronas SRT squad. If the 21-year-old does take the 2020 premier-class crown he will become the first Frenchman to do so, but he won’t be the first non-factory team rider to do so.
The first 27 500cc world championships, between 1949 and 1977, were all won by full-factory riders riding full-factory bikes for full-factory teams: AJS, from South East London in Britain, Gilera, near Monza in Italy, Norton, from Birmingham in Britain, MV Agusta, from Cascina Costa in Italy, Yamaha, from Iwata in Japan, and Suzuki, from Hamamatsu in Japan.
The first non-factory rider to win the 500cc world title was ‘King’ Kenny Roberts and his story is the best of them all. In 1978 Roberts arrived in Europe to take on Suzuki’s Barry Sheene, who had dominated the previous two championships. No one in Europe expected Roberts to win the title at his first attempt.
Roberts did not have a contract with the Yamaha factory. His deal was with Yamaha USA, who supplied him with one factory-spec OW35 500, one TZ250 for 250 GPs and one 0W31 for the F750 world championship. In effect, Roberts’ job for 1978 was to contest the MotoGP, Moto2 and World Superbike championships!
And that wasn’t the half of it. The American was a rookie who knew few of the tracks, had never ridden a street circuit (at a time when some GP tracks were still boarded by brick walls) and at heart was only a part-time roadracer. His big thing was always dirt track and his preferred option for 1978 had been to stay home and stick to blasting around dirt ovals.
Also, his tyre supplier – Goodyear – was new to GPs, with no knowledge of world championship racing or circuit character and with its factory more than 3000 miles away in the USA. He was also the company’s only rider, so he had to test quantities of different tyre specs at every race, with no one else to help with feedback to Goodyear engineers.
Lastly, while Yamaha’s factory 500 riders – Venezuelan Johnny Cecotto and Japanese Takazumi Katayama – had two 0W35s each, Roberts only had one.
Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.