Franco Morbidelli is feeling satisfied and optimistic about his first experience with the PETRONAS Yamaha SRT.
The Italian, riding for PETRONAS Yamaha Sepang Racing Team –the first Malaysian team in the MotoGP World Championship,– was one of the standout riders in the first 2019 preseason tests, which took place last month at Valencia and Jerez. Now enjoying a hard-earned winter break, Morbidelli discusses his role in this new project and in particular how the first few days have gone with his new team and his first laps on the Yamaha YZR-M1.
What did you think when you were first offered the opportunity to join this new project?
“I felt very happy when I received the call from my manager and he told me about this possibility. He told me about a new, ambitious project with good opportunities that could be a great challenge for me. From that moment I was interested in the structure of the new team and I spoke with the people at Yamaha.”
Do you feel like an important part of this new PETRONAS Yamaha SRT adventure?
“I feel like I am one of the people that has to make this a great project. I don’t feel like I have more or less responsibility than anybody else, we are all equally important. Each person has to do their job to the best of their ability to make PETRONAS, Yamaha, the partners and the fans proud of us.”
After your rookie season in MotoGP, do you feel more pressure for the season ahead?
“There is always pressure in this game, so yes I feel it but it’s not a problem – it is how this sport works.”
You recently spent two weeks testing with the team. How did you find the first few days together with them?
“Really good. I felt comfortable from the first day mainly because I have worked with the majority of staff already in other teams, so there were no big surprises for me. Also, the ones I haven’t worked with before I knew, and we have been speaking for a while.”
One of the team members that you haven’t worked with before is your crew chief Ramon Forcada. What is it like to work with such an experienced professional as him?
“It is going really well. So far we have only done four days of testing but the feeling is very positive. He is very experienced as a man and as a crew chief, so I am very curious to see how we can translate our work onto the track.”
What were your first impressions of the Yamaha YZR-M1?
“It is a very easy bike to take to the limit and this surprised me a lot. When you reach that extreme point it is the moment to work on how you push it further. That is when the real work starts.”
“I am excited to meet the fans in Malaysia because I know that the love they have for MotoGP is huge and I want to experience it first-hand alongside the team.”
Do you think you will have to change your riding style to adapt to this new bike?
“We still need more laps to understand perfectly how and what I need to change about my riding style. I think it will be a natural process, which we will take step by step, to see what I need to go faster.”
We could see at the test that you have good support from Yamaha Motor Co. This must be something very important for the team.
“Both at Valencia and Jerez, we had a lot of Yamaha staff on hand, working and helping us out in the garage. That’s a good thing because it means we can give them our feedback and all the information we have so that they can work in the right direction for next season.”
What are your expectations for the 2019 season?
“I think it is still too early to set our objectives, we have to wait and see how the next tests go in February and March. We are expecting new material for the next tests so we’ll have to try them out and see how we get on. Once preseason is over we will have a good idea where we can expect to be in the Grands Prix.”
Now you have two months until you next ride the bike. What is your plan for the time off?
“The idea is to rest, a lot and to spend time with my family and my people. I am also looking forward to going skiing for a few days with my friends.”
In a couple of months it will be time to head to Malaysia for the first time, which will be a very important moment for the whole team.
“The team presentation is planned for Malaysia, just before the test at the Sepang International Circuit, so I am really looking forward to seeing what kind of reception we get. I am excited to meet the fans in this country because I know that the love they have for MotoGP is huge and I want to experience it first-hand alongside the team.”