After an excellent season of winter tests, Franco Morbidelli is ready to get serious in Qatar where, for the first time, he'll be racing with the Yamaha M1, which was able to put a smile on his face from the very first meters he rode in Valencia. On the eve of the start of this adventure, Morbido appears calm, aware of having great potential and confident of being able to prove that he deserves the great opportunity Yamaha has given him through the new Petronas team.
As was already repeated several times, this partnership has allowed Morbidelli to have a fully official bike for the 2019 season, aligned with the same specifications as those of Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales. A rather serious responsibility that Franco is, however, ready to face.
The wait is over. How do you feel now that we're very close to the start of the world championship?
"It's a great challenge for me," Franco began. "It will be the first race with the new team, with the new bike. The feelings were always good. We went well in the tests, especially on the last day. We were in the top positions, so this makes it all more interesting. It seemed as if the Yamahas were all having some trouble but, on the last day of testing, we were all very strong, so it'll be interesting."
A 2019 that starts differently compared to your MotoGP debut season, with much higher expectations.
"My expectations are definitely different. Thinking about the level we held in the tests, let's say we were really satisfied. So we must respect these expectations that we're setting for ourselves, and for which we'll fight for some interesting positions. Then, to say what these positions are and what they'll be for most of the championship, we'll have to wait at least three or four races. There's always talk about being in the first seven or eight. I hope to be able to do a good job over the race weekend as compared to what I did in the tests."
Now you're also on an official bike. Is your M1 the same as Rossi's and Vinales'?
"Yes, the bike is similar to that of Vale's and Maverick's. More like Vale's than the other. I don't know if it’s entirely the same or if there's some small difference. You want more details? You'll have to ask them!" (He laughs pointing at the guys on the team).
We know that you're already looking at Rossi's data from Valencia. Is it useful to analyze this information?
"Vale is a great rider. I was able to see him from the telemetry, and I realized that there is a lot to learn. Actually, there is a lot to learn also from Maverick, but I also keep an eye on Fabio. There is something to be learned from everyone, also since all three of them were faster than I was at the end of the tests, so..."
Have you understood in what you already are perhaps faster than the others?
"It's hard to see a trend and understand what my strengths are on average since, in the end, we did only three tests, and so it's hard to say now. There is no trend, yet. We have to see how the championship continues, then we'll see. I'd be saying something stupid, now. I still don't."
What do you expect from this first race of the season?
"We went well in the tests, but let's say that the tests are never exactly the same as the races, so we'll have to see how things will go. We certainly know that we can be fast on this track. I don't know how fast, but we'll see. I'll react according to what I'll find when I'm there. But at least we know our potential. This will be a difficult race because many riders are fast. So, I think it'll be more of a Moto3 type race. I hope to be in the front group, maybe to be able to take advantage of it."
The M1 seems to have grown a lot. Do you think the gap has been closed as compared to the stronger rivals?
"We have to wait for the first three races, and I think that, when we come back to Europe, we'll really know the real potential of this bike."
Is there a particular track that you're looking forward to? One where you think you'll be very strong this year?
"I hope to be comfortable in all the circuits because that's what a strong rider should do. With the MotoGP, I know that this is not very feasible, precisely because among the different manufacturers, there are tracks that are more suited to some motorcycles than others. But the prerogative of a strong rider is to be fast on all the tracks, and I want to be a strong rider, so I'll have to be comfortable on all the tracks."