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Has Morbidelli found his MotoGP mojo again after years of struggles at Yamaha?

Pramac rider Franco Morbidelli showed glimpses of his former self as he battled team-mate Jorge Martin and reigning champion Francesco Bagnaia for a podium in last weekend’s German GP.

While his strategy to play aggressively early on ultimately dropped him to fifth at the finish, there were only positives to take for a rider who is rebuilding his career after going from fighting for the championship in 2020 to becoming an occasional top-10 scorer in MotoGP.

In fact, Morbidelli’s results over the last few years with Yamaha were so underwhelming that many questioned how he managed to land a top seat with Pramac on a factory-spec Ducati GP24.

The criticism wasn’t completely invalid when you look at how easily he was overshadowed by team-mate and 2021 champion Fabio Quartararo during their time together at the factory team.

Even after showcasing a major improvement in his speed last year on an underpowered Yamaha M1, he still finished three places and 70 points behind Quartaro in the standings – and without a single podium to his name. It was perhaps no surprise that the Japanese marque made a decision not to renew his contract and poached Alex Rins from LCR Honda instead.

While it was unfortunate that Morbidelli could never turn around his performances at Yamaha, despite the Japanese manufacturer publicly supporting him for the longest of times, the Italian has now been given a new lease of life at Pramac and he must take full advantage of it. If the Sachsenring race was any indicator, one can see him delivering on his promise again after years in the doldrums.

“A version of me that we haven’t seen in a while. I’m glad it came back out,” Morbidelli said of his showing on Sunday. “I’ve been there for a few races now, seeing the podium and getting closer – but this one a little bit more. At one point I thought I had to win! So, good. It was a positive weekend that everyone needed.”

Franco Morbidelli, Pramac Racing

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

It was clear that Morbidelli was going to face a challenging first half of the year when a training accident at Portimao prevented him from riding the GP24 during the official pre-season testing. Adapting from the M1 he has raced since his debut in 2018 to the Desmosedici was always going to be a tough task, but he then had to complete the transition during race weekends.

But after surviving the madness that was the Spanish GP sprint to take his first points of the year, there have been clear signs of progress. Since then, Morbidelli has been able to qualify and finish inside the top 10 on a regular basis – and a performance like his in the German GP was a long time coming.

“It’s three races that I [feel I] could reach the podium – since Barcelona,” he said. “It’s not getting there but yet I’ll keep working. I can do it. I was out of the battle for top five in Assen. That was a difficult track for us but since Barcelona [I feel] I can do it. “If I can’t do it [in the second half then] I’m missing something but I’ll work, I’ll chase.”

Morbidelli’s fifth place at the Sachsenring was his best result since he took fourth at the Argentine GP with Yamaha more than 12 months ago – an outlier of a result given it was a wet race and he failed to crack the top six in any other race in 2023. But, if his recent form is to go by, he is likely to build on that result in the second half of the season and return to the podium for the first time since the 2021 Spanish GP, when he was still riding for the now-defunct Petronas SRT team.

“It feels great, it feels amazing, being there in such an attack position,” he said. “I’ve been there last years, just once. But when I have been there in the past two years it was always in defensive mode while today was in attack mode. It’s much nicer, much more my style.”

Morbidelli’s 2020 campaign on what was then a year-old Yamaha was no fluke and there is genuine reason to believe that he can deliver the results, now that he has a competitive bike and a healthy environment around him.

The Italian has already leapfrogged VR46 rider Marco Bezzecchi in the championship for 11th and is now on the cusp of the top 10. With rumours linking him with a move to the squad run by his mentor Valentino Rossi to replace Aprilia-bound Bezzecchi, now is the time for the 29-year-old to up his game and challenge the other three riders equipped with the GP24.

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