“How can one be so confident of the quark model when no one has ever seen an isolated quark? There are good reasons for the lack of direct observation. Apparently the color force does not drop off with distance like the other observed forces. It is postutated that it may actually increase with distance at the rate of about 1 GeV per fermi. A free quark is not observed because by the time the separation is on an observable scale, the energy is far above the pair production energy for quark-antiquark pairs. For the U and D quarks the masses are 10s of MeV so pair production would occur for distances much less than a fermi. You would expect a lot of mesons (quark-antiquark pairs) in very high energy collision experiments and that is what is observed.
Basically, you can’t see an isolated quark because the color force does not let them go, and the energy required to separate them produces quark-antiquark pairs long before they are far enough apart to observe separately.”