The Petronas team did not exactly enter the MotoGP on tiptoe. It actually gave the championship a jolt, thanks to Fabio Quartararo. The terrible Frenchman is the real surprise of the season but, just a few months ago, no one would have bet on him. Or rather, almost no one. Because Wilco Zeelenberg, Petronas' team manager, focused instead on the winning horse.
Wilco, what did you see in him?
"It wasn't magic. When he was 14, he won the Spanish championship in the Moto3, and when you beat your adversaries in a high level championship at that age, everyone says you have a lot of talent. I did the same. I can't say what happened to him later. I have no idea. At 15, 16, you're in puberty, and it's not the best time of your life ," he laughed. He had problems with his manager. He changed teams two or three times, and all this helps. But I've always believed that he had the talent to make a difference."
Was it a bet?
"It was September, and we didn't have much of a choice anymore. All the riders who could win in the MotoGP were already been taken. Bautista had been an option, even Pedrosa, but he had decided to retire. We had to decide whether to choose a young rider to develop or a more experienced one. We discussed it a lot because our team wants to win."
Quartararo is always ready...
"If he hadn't had problems with his arm, caused by a compartment syndrome, he could have already won a race. On the other hand, our strong point is to let our riders go ahead with their talent, to believe in themselves, regardless of the results. It's the rider who must have the will to win. It can't be instilled. In my experience, to allow a rider to give the best of himself, you have to make him believe in himself. There is no need to put pressure on him because there's a risk that he'll then want to overdo it, which is wrong, like Fabio did at Sachsenring and Silverstone."
Did he stumble?
"Fabio is not Iron Man. He's talented, but he still has to learn. Having said that, he surely can win. I hope he does already this season."
But your team started off on the right foot.
"We're proud of what we're doing. Our structure also includes the Moto2 and Moto3 teams. We'll be able to have new talents to develop in the future."
When the results are good, expectations are set to rise.
"Expectations are always high. There is not one rider who doesn't want to become a world champion, but we also must be realistic, and we're a satellite team. This doesn't mean that we can't win. It's possible in the Moto, but it's not easy to beat the official teams. It's a dream."
It's easier with two official bikes...
"It's in our plans. Franco already has an official bike but, even with it, you have to beat riders like Valentino and Vinales, who have a lot of experience on the Yamaha. Morbidelli has the speed to succeed, but he needs more experience. The official riders are not, however, too far from us and, without mistakes, we'd be even closer, maybe even with Fabio in front. We need to develop with the team to be even more competitive."
So will you have two official M1s in 2020?
"We'd like to, and Petronas has already declared this intention. Now Yamaha has to tell us if it's possible. Our wishes are clear. There won't be problems for Franco. He'll have an official bike, but we'd also like one for Fabio. We are, however, very happy with the situation we have at the moment because Quartararo's M1 is very similar to that of Morbidelli's. We are limited in development, but it's normal. You can't expect Yamaha to give new material to 4 riders at the same time. It's impossible. And Yamaha spends 10 times our budget... so they can do whatever they want ," he laughed.