True, Quartararo rode two-stroke minibikes, but when he moved to full-sized motorcycles aged 13 he rode four-strokes, contesting the Mediterranean pre-Moto3 championship.
Does this fact hold any significance? Not really, other than it shows the passing of time and the changing of generations.
And yet, the fact that GPs have been all four-stroke for a decade is significant, because four-strokes are easier to ride, which makes the racing closer, which requires the super-talented riders to dig deeper to make the difference.
Once upon a time, riders touched their toes on the racetrack, then their knees and now their elbows…
At the same time there have been other changes that have encouraged the younger generation to use new-wave riding techniques to sweep the older generation aside.
“Now the young riders really move a lot on the bike, with an incredible intensity,” says Danilo Petrucci, who rode his final MotoGP race last month. “I touched my elbows on the ground and everything, but the young guys are now making more exaggerated moves on the bike and this is the right way to go faster. When I started my career in MotoGP it wasn’t so important to do that.”
So who was the first rider of this new generation?
Moto2 bikes replaced 250cc GP bikes in 2010. Moto2 bikes aren’t proper GP bikes, they’re a low-cost, hybrid compromise – road-bike engines in race chassis – so they’re a whopping 50% heavier than a 250.
Twice 250cc world champion Jorge Lorenzo rode 250s like he was doing ballet and translated that technique to MotoGP. But you can’t ride a Moto2 bike like Lorenzo rode 250s, which is why, for example, the handlebars on a 250 and a Moto2 bike are so different – a 250’s clip-ons are angled tightly into the bike, a Moto2 bike’s are wider and flatter, because Moto2 riding is more like a wrestling match than a ballet – riders must climb all over the bike to wrench it into and out of corners and use their body weight to control slides, chatter and so on.
Of course, riding technique is in a constant state of evolution, according to changes to bikes, tyres, racetracks and so on. Once upon a time, riders touched their toes on the racetrack, then their knees and now their elbows…
All the greats have been part of this process, like Casey Stoner, who shortly before Márquez arrived started the fashion for riders dropping the inside shoulder as they exit corners. This movement shifts body weight over the inside front of the bike, so it turns better and doesn’t wheelie so much.
And then there’s 2021 MotoGP rookie of the year Jorge Martin and 2021 runner-up Pecco Bagnaia, who lean off the bike more than anyone.
There are four main reasons for the latest changes.
First, MotoGP’s technical rules are now written NASCAR-style, to make all the bikes basically the same (it’s called balance of performance), so the racing is closer and more entertaining. Therefore riders need to invent new tricks to gain that vital one hundredth of a second a lap.
Second, GP bikes are more rigid than they used to be – longitudinally, at least – to make the most out of better brakes, tyres and engines. Again, this is another never-ending upward cycle of progress. Therefore the bikes can accept more and more aggressive inputs from the riders.
Third, highly refined torque-delivery maps (in the MotoGP-class software) remove much of the risk of a highside, so riders don’t need to stay central to the bike, waiting to save a highside. Instead they can lean way, way off the bike, which reduces centrifugal force and helps them around the corner.
Fourth, is a consequence of all of the above. Riders are training harder and harder and in more and more different ways to find the edge on track, both physically and technically.
“With your body you can shift ten kilos there or 20 kilos here” what you do on top of the motorcycle makes a big, big difference.”
“It’s a whole new breed of racer over this last decade,” says former MotoGP rider John Hopkins, who is now rider coach for the American Racing Moto2 team.
“In any GP class a couple of tenths can make the difference of ten places, so you’ve got to do everything you can. This is coming out more than ever. You see the strengths of these guys coming up now – like Pedro Acosta and Raul Fernandez – they put in so much work to make the difference.
“And GP bikes are so stiff that what you do on the machine makes a tremendous difference, so you have to shift your body weight around.
“If you think about bike settings, you can add or take away a millimetre or two of preload, whereas with your body you can shift ten kilos there or 20 kilos here, so what you do on top of the motorcycle makes a big, big difference.”
“And look at the specially shaped fuel tanks a lot of riders use now, so they can use the tank like a latch for their outside leg, so they can really dig the leg into the tank and use that force to hook them into corners.
“Then there’s the cross training they’re all doing. Every one of these guys is doing every kind of riding training possible – from Ohvale minibikes to dirt track to motocross and supermoto. And then they’re combining all those different techniques and mixing them into what they do on their GP bikes.”
There’s no doubt that Quartararo’s success is down to all of the above. He moves around his Yamaha YZR-M1 with an incredible intensity to improve his lap times and look after his tyres.
“Being more aggressive on the bike is a trend of every new-generation rider,” says Quartararo’s crew chief Diego Gubellini. “It’s basically related to the dynamics of the motorcycles – the more ways you can move on the bike the more grip you can have, so with this style you can be more consistent and with better performance.”
Corner-entry is the place to really make winning time, because all GP riders know how to dance the rear tyre to the very limit of traction but doing that with the front tyre is much, much trickier.
What the riders are doing now should be impossible, although that’s what motorcycle racing is all about, not riding through the laws of physics, but somehow riding around them.
In this case riders are trying to simultaneously stop and turn, which really shouldn’t be possible with the tiny contact patch of a front tyre.
Again, Márquez was the first rider to really do this consistently and successfully, which is why he dominated MotoGP until his accident.
Aki Ajo, owner of the hugely successful Red Bull KTM Ajo Moto2 and Moto3 squads, sees this shift in all categories.
“If you can stop and also turn the bike in advance of the apex then you can keep more corner speed and also prepare the exit in the best possible way,” says Ajo, who won last year’s Moto3 title with Acosta and took a Moto2 one-two with Remy Gardner and Fernandez.
“This is why the way riders enter corners has changed a lot in the last five or ten years. Now they focus on being quite aggressive to stop and turn the bike at the same time. In the past this moment was much smoother, but now they are getting more and more aggressive and really using their bodies as a tool in this area. Without this they could not make it happen.
“In every category riders do this in a slightly different way. In Moto3 the rider has to use this super-aggressivity even more to survive in the war, and Moto3 races are like a war, so you cannot use ideal lines, which means you need to be able to pass other riders quickly and in many different corners.
“You can do this with the front tyre but also with the rear, like in Moto2, Raul used the front tyre more and Remy used the rear tyre more.”