The announcement that the Petronas Yamaha SRT team had signed Fabio Quartararo for the 2019 MotoGP season was met with some skepticism. Why, the critics said, would you sign a rider with just a single victory to his name after four seasons in Grand Prix, and with two other podiums, both of which had come in his first year in Moto3?
Quartararo soon proved the critics wrong. The Frenchman impressed by qualifying in fifth place for his first race, and then again by setting the fastest lap of that first race after starting from pit lane due to stalling on the grid. Four races later, he put his signing beyond doubt, qualifying on pole and battling for the podium until a broken quickshifter took him out of contention.
Since then, Quartararo has gone from strength to strength. The Petronas Yamaha rider ended the 2019 season in fifth place, with six poles and seven podiums, two of which came as thrilling battles to the line with world champion Marc Márquez. He starts 2020 as one of Marc Márquez' main challengers.
Behind every great motorcycle racer is a smart crew chief, and Quartararo is no exception. The Frenchman has Diego Gubellini at his side, an engineer with over 20 years of experience in the Grand Prix paddock, including seven seasons as crew chief with the Gresini, Aprilia, and Marc VDS teams. In 2019, he joined the Petronas Yamaha SRT team to work with Fabio Quartararo.
I spoke to Gubellini at the Jerez MotoGP test in November of last year about working with Quartararo. He spoke candidly about how the collaboration came about, how he started the year with the Frenchman, and his approach to working with a rookie rider. We covered subjects from what impressed Gubellini most about Quartararo, finding the limit of the bike, and why Quartararo ended up topping so many sessions in search of a qualifying setup.
Q: What did you know of Fabio before you worked with him?
Diego Gubellini: Basically like everybody more or less. I started to hear about him when he arrived in the paddock because everybody was saying that he will be the next Márquez. Then of course I followed him a little bit. To be honest, not much, but a bit the first races he did in Moto3. Then in the second season, I didn’t follow him at all, to be honest. Then I really started to check what he was doing in Moto2, but his second season basically.
When he won the race in Catalunya, he actually surprised me. Then I started to check every race, not because I knew that he was my rider, but just because I was curious, to be honest. Basically, after the second season in Moto3 was not so good, then the first season in Moto2 was also not great, but then he won. Then he started to be more or less in the top ten. Basically for that reason. Then of course, when I knew that he would join us the Petronas team, of course. But not really very much. I never worked with him before.
Q: How did you prepare to work with him? Because the relationship between crew chief and rider is the most important relationship maybe in the entire paddock. Can you prepare before the season, before you meet him? Or do you have to go in with a completely open mind and just see what you get?
DG: Basically, from my point of view, I try to have a global picture of his career. What I noticed is that because everybody was talking about him like the new Márquez, I think he felt a lot of pressure and he made bad results for that reason. Then after that I said, okay, we make it simple, we try to not put pressure on him. Try to be positive and simple, because he’s a really young guy. This was the base of the 2019 season. This is how we prepared this season.
Then working with him, he doesn’t need so many special things, because he’s a quite easy guy, easy to work with. Nothing really complicated for me. I don’t know if it is because we match really good from the beginning, or because in general it’s quite easy to work with him.
Q: When you say keeping things simple, that would be not giving him too many choices, giving him the bike and saying, we think this will work for you? Does it mean limiting him?
DG: We didn’t put any limitations on him, but in general my style is to keep it simple, as simple as possible. For example, I don’t like to play a lot with the setup of the bike. I like to test the tires, let the rider make laps, adapt himself to the bike instead of changing the bike too much.
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