There is a lot of frustration at Yamaha. Quartararo is struggling to keep up on the French circuit of Le Mans, historically congenial to him. Despite an improvement of 5 tenths between one free practice session and another, he missed direct entry into Q2 by a hair's breadth at the end of the day. The frustration is palpable in the words of the Frenchman, who cannot explain the evident confusion in the setup of a bike which on the one hand seeks more power to chase down its rivals, Ducati above all, but which on the other hand risks distorting itself and losing those strengths that have distinguished it in the past. The time for anger is over, the era of self-criticism has come for the French rider, who aims to keep calm despite the difficult situation, trying to sort out a motorbike that is struggling to find a direction five rounds into the championship.
"I can't explain it - explains Fabio - even if the bike can be aggressive, I can't get the right feeling. It doesn't turn as it should, but here we had strengths that we were able to get the best out of, and now we can't do that. Whenever we improve in one area, we get worse in another. Having obtained more power seems to have worsened the agility in riding".
Last year the situation was quite different, you fought alongside Bagnaia at Jerez. Have your opponents improved or is Yamaha suffering problems?
“I would say backwards is a tough word but we’re not improving at all and others are improving. We’re improving one way with the engine but I think it’s taking off the balance or whatever it is, that riding I never had a bike that aggressive and not turning. I’m hoping for of course more power for the future, but you know, if every time we change something and we have more power, it’s taking us so much time to build the bike, it’s incredible… maybe the character of the engine makes the bike super aggressive, we have more power but it’s making the bike super aggressive in any way.”
Perhaps F1 engineers are used to working with aggressive engines.
"It's not just a matter of aggressiveness, I expect the power to increase more in the future. In the past I've always been the type of rider able to identify which aspects of the bike to work on, but now the bike is so aggressive and it moves so much that I find it difficult to make accurate judgments."
What is your opinion after this first day of free practice?
"We'll definitely have to keep working, but I decided to not get angry anymore, because I feel like every time I get angry, it’s making things more difficult. We are I think in the toughest time of any year I’ve been with Yamaha right now. Because we cannot find a solution after I would say eight races, because sprints for me are races. And we don’t have any base and any speed. It’s the moment, having this tough time, to try to build up and find our way through the season.”
Were the Jerez tests of any help in this?
“We tested an exhaust, it’s not working. Chassis, not working. Aero, not working. Electronics, things were not working. Maybe one setting that we tried with Ohlins was a little bit better. But… from the test, the new things we tried, was useless.”
How does a rider with these difficulties react psychologically?
"It's a difficult situation to deal with, especially when you used to fight for the podium. In Austin I took an opportunity because of Pecco and Jack's crashes, and I got a good start, but that's not how I want to get podiums. I'll go into Q1 with the mentality of someone who wants to win, but it's not easy when at the start of FP2 the message is that you have to fight to get into Q2 rather than for the first position. It's certainly a frustrating situation but it could be a opportunity for growth as a rider, I'll have to keep calm".
Morbidelli: "Yamaha's working method isn't producing results"
Instead, his teammate was more analytical. Franco Morbidelli underlined that although both riders are working hard to find a balance for the bike, the Japanese working methodology is not giving the desired results as happened in the past.
"We're far away - adds Morbidelli - it's easy to see from today's results. We have to keep our heads down and keep working to make the bike friendlier to ride. This weekend was another slap in the face, we're aware of the difficulties and don't we have to cling to the good impromptu performances. At the moment we are unable to express good performances consistently. The bike package needs to be improved".
Compared to last year, you've gotten closer to Fabio's performance. Are you the one who has taken a step forward or Fabio who is in trouble?
"I think I've improved a lot compared to 2022, I did some good qualifying and a good race, like Fabio in Austin. I've worked a lot over the winter to improve and bend this package to my will, but it's still not enough compared to our rivals."
Do you think the absence of the satellite team this year is having a negative effect?
"Considering Yamaha's working methodology, I don't think its absence has as much influence as one might think. The priority has always been for the factory riders, so we've always carried out the work. We certainly would have more data to analyse , but then the situation would also depend a lot on the riders. But having a satellite team with bikes a second behind isn't much help to the factory team."
You talked about the working methodology in Yamaha. As a rider, do you have the perception that among the Japanese there is a hectic or calmer working climate?
"They work in a very different way, which has paid off in the past but is not doing so under current conditions."