Fabio Quartararo says he did not expect to be a MotoGP champion after a somewhat lacklustre period in Moto2 and Moto3.
Quartararo clinched a maiden world championship crown with two rounds to spare in 2021 after finishing fourth in the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, although he was assured of that honour as soon as Francesco Bagnaia crashed out of the race.
It means the Frenchman now boasts just as many MotoGP titles as he does official race wins in the Moto2 and Moto3 World Championships combined.
While considered a future star after taking out the CEV Moto3 Junior World Championship as a 14-year-old in 2013 and making it back-to-back honours in 2014, he fell out of favour once in the grand prix arena.
Quartararo was 10th in an injury-disrupted 2015 Moto3 World Championship season, 13th in 2016, 13th in Moto2 in 2017, and 10th in the intermediate class in 2018.
He was therefore a somewhat surprising signing for SRT for its own MotoGP debut season in 2019, being given the call-up largely because Dani Pedrosa decided to retire.
It took only four MotoGP rounds for ‘El Diablo' to qualify on pole, his first of six that year, before breaking through for his first two wins in the premier class at the start of 2020.
By the time of those victories, Yamaha had already decided to make him Valentino Rossi's replacement, and Quartararo would repay the faith with the Iwata manufacturer's first riders' championship since 2015.
“When I won the two Spanish championships, of course the first step was to win the Moto3 World Championship, but I didn't even make a victory,” said the 22-year-old.
“Then I moved to Moto2, [and] I was trying to take confidence back. First year, was not achieved; the second year, yes. We won two races – OK, one was taken off [disqualification; technical breach], but I know that I won that race – but I didn't expect to move up to MotoGP.
“So [a] Moto2 World Championship was not possible also to get, and really far [away from achieving], so the only way to be world champion was in MotoGP, and we achieve it, so, something that I never expect.”
Quartararo admitted that he hardly felt capable of riding a MotoGP bike when he saddled up on a Yamaha, one of the field's less potent in a straight line, in post-season testing in 2018.
“When I make the first test in Valencia in 2018, I say ‘What the hell I'm doing on that bike?' you know?” he recalled.
“I couldn't ride; so much power. Right now, I ask much more,” laughed #20.
“The steps [progress] was slow but good. First day, we finished three seconds [off the pace], then two seconds, last day of Jerez we finished at zero-eight [0.8s].
“Sepang [2019 pre-season] was tough then in Qatar we make a massive step that we finished in P2 in the test and from that moment I knew that I was well.
“Then, 2019 was good and of course was a big dream to be world champion and we achieve it.”
Quartararo has five wins and a total of 10 podiums so far this year, and eight wins in his MotoGP career to date.
The penultimate round of the 2021 season is the Algarve Grand Prix at Portimao on November 5-7.