Franco Morbidelli: “Qatar is an old story already; it’s in the past…”
He came close to winning his first Moto2 race in Australia last year, only to be out drafted by Tom Lüthi to the line, but Franco Morbidelli finally took the win everyone had been waiting for at the opening round of this year's championship in Qatar.
Laid back by nature, Morbidelli's victory celebrations were fairly muted, but beneath the cool, calm exterior the Italian was visibly relieved to have finally achieved a race win after threatening throughout the second half of the 2016 season.
We caught up with Morbido ahead of the Grand Prix of Argentina to find out exactly what the Qatar win meant to him.
You came so close to that first Moto2 race win in 2016, but for a number of reasons it just didn't happen. Was that a heavy burden to carry into the winter break?
“No, it wasn't a heavy burden because I didn't miss out on the win last year through bad luck, I missed out on the win because each time I came close there was someone stronger than me, someone faster who beat me. If anything this motivated me to work harder over the winter, to come back stronger and faster this season.”
Even before the season started you were being talked about as a championship contender. Is this something you've been aware of?
“I've heard the talk, but it just means you end up doing more interviews and answering more questions based on people's perception of you as a contender for the title. I don't think about it and it changes nothing for me. I just try to stay calm and do my job like always.”
We're only one race into the new season, but have you not thought about the championship, even just a little bit?
“Yes, of course I think about the championship, because winning the championship is our ultimate goal. But it's something I can do nothing to influence at the moment, other than to try and put in place every single piece I need to carry on winning races. I'll think more deeply about the championship when it's time to do so, but that time is not now.”
Did you go into the opening race of the season in Qatar knowing you could win?
“No, not really. After the test in Qatar I went into the race weekend knowing I could do a good job, but it was only on Sunday that I thought to myself 'I can win this'. But even then, it wasn't until I actually saw the chequered flag that I really thought I could win it!”
What does the win mean to you?
“It was a really good moment in my life, a great achievement and one that gave me a fantastic feeling. It's something I will remember forever. For me the win was important because it proved to me that I can consider myself a true world championship rider, one who can compete on equal terms with the best riders in the world. For me that is the most important thing. But now I need to continue, to see if I can be the best in the world championship, to see if I can win the title.”
Do you think you can do it?
“The truth is that I don't know. I think if we can continue working as we have done this past year then I can be a strong rider in this championship but can I win the title? That's a tough question. Of course I want to and that's what we're working towards, but there are things outside of my control, so I can only focus on those aspects that I can influence by working hard, by staying focussed and, if possible, winning more races. Then we will see.”
How has the Qatar win changed your approach?
“It hasn't. Qatar is an old story already; it's in the past. Yes, I have more confidence as a result of the win, but that race is already gone and here in Argentina we start a new chapter in the story. We start again from zero, but this time knowing that if we do everything well then we are capable of winning on Sunday.”
As soon as a rider wins a race and leads a championship people start talking about pressure. Do you feel pressure, or is it something you are aware of but ignore?
“Yes I feel pressure, of course, but pressure isn't always a bad thing. Without pressure I couldn't do what I do, it's as simple as that. It's the pressure that pushes you to improve, it's the pressure that makes you faster and ultimately it's the pressure that pushes you to do things you didn't even think possible.”
“What is important is that you channel this pressure in a positive way, to use it to make you faster and not to lose energy worrying about things you cannot control.”
Morbidelli will start Sunday's Grand Prix of Argentina as the Moto2 championship leader, courtesy of that victory in the opening race of the season in Qatar. It's a position he's hoping still to be in when he starts the final race of the season at Valencia in November, but his rivals will certainly have their own ideas about that!