QUARTARARO – BEST OF THE YAMAHA PILOTS
Since arriving in MotoGP, Fabio Quartararo has been the pick of the Yamaha riders. No one else has been able to be as consistently fast as he has. You could argue that is an easy task considering the relative inconsistency of the other Yamaha riders over the last few years.
Nevertheless, Fabio has been racking up pole positions and race wins while other Yamaha pilots have struggled. Sure, there have been glimpses of speed from Vinales and Morbidelli, but it is fair to say that Fabio has dominated. But why, and how? This is a question I’m sure his Yamaha rivals (and others) have been scratching their heads over. Now I will let you in on his little secret.
VERY ADVANCED RIDING TECHNIQUE
I won’t keep you in suspense. The simple answer is Fabio uses the front brake (and probably the rear too) and the throttle at the same time. He does this on corner entry, mid-corner, and corner exit in varying degrees and with varying timing.
This is a very advanced riding technique first pioneered in MotoGP by Freddie Spencer and American dirt track oval racer David Aldana before him. Aldana’s philosophy was to, ‘consider the front brake lever and throttle control as one control’. In other words, ‘you squeeze the lever as you close the throttle and release it as you open it’. I believe this is what Quartararo is doing to great effect.
TRAIL BRAKING ON STEROIDS
Many of you are probably familiar with the trail braking technique. It is a technique I use all the time, especially at the track. I can honestly say that since I learned how to use trail braking effectively, it has transformed my confidence on the bike. But I only use it entering the corner. During mid-corner and corner exit, I am nowhere near the front brake lever. Observe the picture below of me on my GSX-R1000 mid-corner. My mind, and therefore my right hand, is focussed solely on caressing the throttle in preparation for corner exit.
Now, look at the images of Quartararo. He brakes with only one finger, his pointer. During every phase of cornering, he has his pointer finger on the front brake lever. Doing this allows him to modulate the throttle and the brake simultaneously, regardless of where he is on track.
You will not see an overt movement of his hand as he removes it from the brake to ‘take up’ the throttle as he finishes his braking on corner entry as other riders do. He employs the technique mid-corner and on corner exit also, but it is much harder to spot because his movements are so subtle. This is trail braking on steroids sprinkled with magic throttle dust.
Fabio applies throttle and brake simultaneously and in varying degrees. Crucially though, he does this with such precision and smoothness that it doesn’t upset the bike’s stability. On the contrary, he does it so well that it gives him a distinct traction and stability advantage, especially compared to his Yamaha rivals.
This is how Fabio compensates for the relative straight-line slowness of the Yamaha. He makes up the deficit, and then some, by maximising the grip and balance of his bike in all other phases of riding that does not include 100% straight-line throttle. So, the remaining 90% of the lap then.
LOOK, AND YOU SHALL SEE
If you watch Quartararo ride, you will see that he always uses only his pointer finger to operate the front brake. Moreover, he almost always has his pointer finger resting on the brake lever when he is not working the brake. He leaves it there so that it is always in position and ready to apply the brake when he needs it, leaving the rest of the hand available for throttle application.
As he brakes and transitions to throttle application, there is minimal movement of his hand and wrist. This is much easier to spot during corner entry. Observe the other riders while trail braking, and you will see an obvious and deliberate movement of the right hand as it releases the brake, lifts over the brake lever, and then moves down and forward with a roll before grasping the throttle to crack it open.
You will not see Quartararo make this movement. His hand and pointer finger are always positioned in the same position, ready to apply brake and throttle simultaneously.
I’LL PROVE IT TO YOU
This combined braking and acceleration technique is made even more apparent when you watch the telemetry graphic sometimes overlayed on onboard footage during the MotoGP television broadcast; the graphic that shows lean angle, speed, brake, and throttle application. If you watch this carefully when Quartararo is on screen, you will notice periods where the brake and throttle are being applied simultaneously, especially on corner exit. Watch the first 10 minutes of free practice 1 of the 2021 Assen round to see it for yourself.
It is no secret that the Yamaha M1 is slower in a straight line than its rivals. It’s one of the most common complaints from Rossi and Co after being vacuumed up by a Ducati on every straight. This is where Quartararo makes the most of his technique. With a straight-line speed deficit, the only other way to make up time is in corner entry and exit (the bikes more or less have similar mid-corner speed). Fabio does this by deftly balancing braking and acceleration to maximise traction depending on the needs of a given corner.
Fabio has zero lag time when transitioning between braking and acceleration and vice versa because he is always braking and accelerating! In a sport where thousands of a second matter, this technique gains tenths.
I don’t see any other rider doing this regularly in MotoGP, not even Marquez. That’s not to say that others aren’t doing it, but it doesn’t seem to be prevalent. I have seen some Moto2 and Moto3 riders using this technique, but Quartararo appears to be using it the most and to the greatest effect.
PUMP IT UP
Fabio has had a history of problems with arm pump (compartment syndrome), particularly since joining MotoGP. In fact, he underwent surgery to help manage the ailment following the 2021 Spanish GP. With 13 laps completed in Jerez, Fabio hit issues with his right arm and proceeded to fall through the field from first to thirteenth, relinquishing his lead of the World Championship in the process. That was his second operation, the first coming in May of 2019, shortly after his MotoGP debut.
Now consider the stress generated on the finger (remember, he brakes only with his pointer finger), hand, and arm by his throttle/brake technique. While other riders are either braking or accelerating, Quartararo is doing both at the same time. Could this be contributing to his arm pump?
Interestingly, the worst bouts of arm pump in 2019 and 2021 occurred relatively early in the season. Less riding during the off-season and pre-season followed up by full-on hardcore racing may be working his hand and arm too much. Have you ever done strenuous activity after a period of relative rest and stressed or pulled a muscle or joint as a result? Did this happen to Fabio? Will it be an ongoing issue?
BUT AT WHAT COST?
While this technique has obvious traction advantages if you have the talent to use it, it must be mentally taxing. Imagine the accuracy and smoothness required to apply this technique consistently over every lap of every race. Physical limitations aside (arm pump), the concentration needed to ride a MotoGP monster, let alone combining acceleration and braking while doing it, must be immense.
Quartararo has this down to a fine art thanks to countless hours of practice, but it must have been quite challenging to get to this point. Remember when he stormed onto the scene after being labelled the next Rossi following his domination of the CEV Repsol series? He moved to Moto3 with great expectations but never really managed to replicate his earlier success, and his name fell from favour. Was his ‘slump’ a result of his attempts to master the magic technique? Perhaps. Luckily, Yamaha noticed what he was capable of early because they plucked him out of Moto2 despite his average race results and plonked him on an M1. The rest is history (in the making).
DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME
Ok, now that you know Quartararo’s secret, it’s time to go out and practice. Actually, don’t! I do not want to be responsible for you flinging yourself into the scenery. But if you do make it all the way to MotoGP, tell them I sent you. As for Fabio’s rivals? You can thank me later.