Granted, the Suzuki rider wrapped-up the title at the penultimate round, but it was still an exceptional display from Morbidelli, who like Mir hadn’t even finished on the podium before this season.
Unlike Mir’s full-factory GSX-RR, Morbidelli was the only rider on the lowest A-spec Yamaha, not to mention the valve problems that dogged the M1 riders all season.
The Italian also effectively lost two races during the terrifying tangle with Johann Zarco in Austria, for which the Frenchman was punished by the FIM Stewards, before soaring up the championship table with three wins in the last nine rounds.
Following the motorsport mantra of ‘doing better than last year’ means there is only one place Morbidelli can aim for in 2021. Team principal Razlan Razali is sure he is up to the task.
“Well, I think Frankie has been there before, when he was champion in Moto2 in 2017. So he’s been in that position before, and he nearly did it again last year,” Razali said.
“I think he has all the experience to deal with the pressure, to deal with the situation. He’s a much more mature rider, compared to Fabio for example, and what he did last year after being always being overshadowed by Fabio in his rookie year, he stepped up his game.
“He knows what it takes to be better, he knows that it’s not impossible, so I have very much confidence that he will think about being champion this year.
“I’m sure he will continue to train hard, work hard, with Valentino and the others. And it’s all about consistency this year, and we believe that he has the possibility to really fight for this year.”
Team director Johan Stigefelt is a little more cautious, but still feels the title top three is a’ strong opportunity’.
“We are getting a bit spoiled now to be honest with the results we’ve had, with many poles, podiums and wins. To be better [than last year] is to win the championship and that’s very difficult, we know that. Also looking at our competitors, they look very strong this year,” Stigefelt said.
“It will be a different championship to last year I think, more competitive. But on that side Franky has the mindset and the ambition to do really well.
“We need to remember he had issues last year with the engine and all that. That also hurt him a bit. We definitely have a strong opportunity with Franky to be in the top 3, but to sit here and say we are going to win the world championship… Of course that’s the dream and target but it’s a big task.”
The main question mark over Morbidelli, not least from the side of his rivals, is the level of the A-Spec bike he will remain on this season.
Razali explained the background to the original A-Spec decision and why Morbidelli will continue on the 2019-based machine, despite top Yamaha status in last year’s world championship.
“Yamaha told us as well during the Malaysian Grand Prix in 2019 that the 2020 [Factory-Spec] bike is a totally new bike. If they develop it better, it can be great, if not, they have the risk of problems,” Razali explained.
“So they wanted us to have two kind of specs, so the 2019 [A-Spec] bike is like a fallback if anything untoward happens with the new bike.
“Not to say that the 2020 [Factory-Spec] bike is completely not very good, because it won four races collectively with Fabio and Maverick. It’s just that it is a bike in its first year and the lack of testing meant they couldn’t develop any more.
“But I believe they have already identified all these problems and it [Factory-Spec] will be better this year.”
Morbidelli won his first MotoGP race in September last year and his second not until the end of October. By then, Yamaha say, it was too late to upgrade him to Factory-Spec status for 2021, due to logistical and cost reasons.
“The situation we are in in terms of contracts and the economic situation does not allow us to upgrade his bike to the same [Factory] bike as the others,” Razali confirmed.
“However, we have been assured that Frankie’s bike will be upgraded to some extent. We’re not sure exactly what is being upgraded right now, we will know when the bike gets to Qatar. They will do their utmost to assist and do what they can with Frankie’s bike this year, like they did it last year.
“There were a couple of things that were upgraded during the season, which was supported by Yamaha to increase Frankie’s chance in performance. Hence this is why we have a very good relationship with Yamaha.
“We have a 2020 bike [for Valentino Rossi] and a 2019 [for Morbidelli] but as you can see, at the moment Franky is very comfortable with his bike, because this will be his third year on that bike. “
Stigefelt is also confident the A-Spec will not be a barrier to success.
“Franky will start with the same package that he ended with in 2020 and from there make small steps [upgrades],” he confirmed.
“Ramon [Forcada] and Frankie have found a way that the other three Yamaha riders didn’t do in terms of chassis set-up. It works for Franky really well and I think he will continue his progress based on that.
“It’s also a lot of settings, it’s not only about the new parts. Like we see with Franky, he’s been working on that bike for two years basically and it’s just getting better and better. So there’s still potential within the package.”
Technical specifications aside, Razali also gave a glowing description of Morbidelli as a person.
“The way he speaks, the way he carries himself, he’s like an artist, whether it’s a painter or a musician, he’s an artist in motorsports on two wheels. Such a pleasure to talk to and have a conversation with him,” said the Malaysian.
“A calm and collected person who has very good views on life as well, especially his talk on diversity and such is very respectful and very noble.
“So a very nice guy in general, but on track he’s just as tough and aggressive as everyone else. So I look forward to start this new relationship with Vale, and let’s see how it develops.”