Having weathered a late Bagnaia surge to secure last year’s crown, Quartararo was left disappointed by the absence of engine progress for 2023.
But Bagnaia and Ducati hit issues with their winter modifications and, after the shock of a meagre ninth in the Qatar opener, Quartararo squeezed the most out of what he had for three wins and six podiums during the opening half of the season.
Bagnaia’s early handling problems were compounded by four DNFs, leaving him 91 points behind Quartararo after Sachsenring. But the Italian regrouped to hunt Quartararo down during the final ten rounds, overwhelming the Yamaha rider 8-2 for podiums including five wins.
The battle still went down to the Valencia finale, where Bagnaia claimed Ducati’s first title since 2007 by an official margin of 17 points.
But while three Ducati riders finished in the championship top five, with Enea Bastianini third and Jack Miller fifth, the next-best Yamaha after Quartararo was team-mate Franco Morbidelli in 19th.
Crutchlow, who tried to aid Quartararo’s doomed title defence by gathering data with alternative tyres and set-ups during his six end-of-season appearances for the satellite RNF team, said:
“I know what Fabio’s riding and he’s the best rider on the grid at the minute, because I don’t believe anybody else could do what he’s doing with that bike. And that’s a simple fact.
“Take nothing away from Pecco because he rode a fantastic championship. He did a great job this year, and so did Ducati, and he’s a great rider.
“I’m not saying Fabio’s better than him, but I think what Fabio has done is very, very good. And difficult. Honestly, to even think of grabbing some points is [sometimes] difficult with that bike.
“So to do what he’s done is incredible and we need to fix it for next year.”
Scary end to Crutchlow’s MotoGP comeback
After retiring at the end of 2020, then returning for four stand-in rides at Yamaha last season, Crutchlow was propelled back into the heat of MotoGP battle when Andrea Dovizioso suddenly bowed out of RNF at Misano this year.
Better prepared than in 2021, Crutchlow finished in the points during four of his six appearances, headlined by twelfth place at Sepang.
The Valencia finale threatened to be his only DNF, falling after being caught out by rising tyre pressure. But the 37-year-old re-joined to bring the bike home in 16th “with no wings and no rear brakes” before a scare on the slowdown lap.
“The scariest thing I’ve ever had in my life is coming out of turn 1 and seeing one hundred people [celebrating] on the track already. Honestly, unreal,” he said.
“But it’s been good to do the six races, I felt a lot better than I expected.
“Could I do the [full season of] 21 races? No, but I’m happy with the way it’s gone and we got to test some things for Yamaha in that time as well.”
Crutchlow will return to test riding duties next season, when Yamaha will be without a satellite team after RNF’s switch to Aprilia.