Morbidelli’s Internal Struggle: Yamaha Rider’s Poor Form Continues

A man who really didn’t want to be here and there’s no telling how far “here” extended. Dean Adams

Italian Franco Morbidelli had a decent race in Argentina despite the poor track conditions. The Yamaha rider performed well, reminiscent of his form from the season he rode for the Petronas Yamaha team, when he was keen to secure a spot on the factory team.

Unfortunately, Morbidelli (28) seems to have returned to poor form, as indicated by his performance on Friday at Cota. He finished sixteenth-fastest in the second free practice and struggled.

More concerning than the poor performance of a factory Yamaha MotoGP bike was Morbidelli’s demeanor when he came to the media center to talk to the press.

He spoke in a voice barely above a whisper and his mannerisms and body language suggested he has internalized his own failures. He appeared somber and unwilling to go into specifics about what is plaguing him on the bike (he did say that his problems are in steering and traction). When asked about his steering problems, he brushed off the question, making it clear that even he doesn’t know what’s wrong with his bike.

An old memory in my head: a Honda transporter somewhere. DuHamel is sitting on a chair with a razor blade in one hand cutting the blisters on his other hand. I said something to him like, can’t your gloves protect your hands better? He misunderstood what I asked but his answer has stayed with me. He said: “You have to make the bike do what you want it to do. Don’t let the bike tell you what to do. Ever.” After that he smeared Ben Gay on his ankles with the same hands he had just cut into with a razor.

Morbidelli is a favorite of the Italian press, being a VR46 rider and riding for an Italian-based team. He had the clout and capability to secure a seat on the factory Yamaha team, but since then, his performance has been as bad as Maverick Vinales when he raced for the same team.

There is an opinion that Morbidelli’s knee–he underwent surgery on his left knee during the Summer of 2021–isn’t up to the task of racing. This is how Australian rider Chris Vermeulen’s career ended: a surgeon fixed his injured knee and Chris the V never went fast again.

Franco is probably a nice kid and well-liked by everyone on the Yamaha team; and it’s their business, and that of their sponsors, to decide whether to keep him when his results have been so truly horrible.

However, this is not how you win a championship or defend a world championship. To achieve that, you need a rider who is pushing for every tenth, needs all the data he can get with the bike at the absolute limit, and best case scenario, from multiple bikes. Ideally this is how former champion Fabio Quartararo claws forward. But there are only two Yamahas in MotoGP now. And one of them is basically useless, in terms of obtaining data and information.

Ducati probably approaches racing differently. In any given practice session, they have half-a-dozen MotoGP riders out with basically the same bike. There are nuances; one might have the engine adjusted forward, one with the engine pushed back, one with new forks, one with an older swingarm which they thought might work here. After that session, all data is collected and analyzed. A direction is chosen, for all, for the next session—for all eight bikes—and they move forward.

In contrast, Quartararo has himself and a teammate who, at times, seems like he needs a track map taped to his tank. Think about it: Yamaha’s entire global MotoGP effort has been humbled by some Superbike guys from a little company of which the gates are two blocks away from where the truly hideous Italian prostitutes stand in Bologna.

MotoGP is a serious endeavor of racing at the highest level. For a rider there is fame, money, women and endless rooms of people who are overjoyed that you are there. But ya gotta be fast. You gotta be able to do it.

And at the end of the day, you can either do it or you can’t.

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