Analysis

2019 Qatar MotoGP Race Round Up: From Masterful Management To Youthful Recklessness

For a place which 95% of the paddock hates going to, Qatar certainly knows how to make us want to come back. The area between Doha and the Losail International Circuit has been a mixture of noisy construction, omnipresent sand and dust, and an ever-changing and convoluted road system (the route to the track regularly and literally changing overnight) ever since I first went to a race there in 2009. But once at the circuit, the track layout serves up some of the best racing in the world.

Fittingly, the title sponsor for the Qatar round of MotoGP was VisitQatar, the Qatari tourist office aimed at stimulating inbound tourism to the Gulf peninsula. To be honest, the best thing VisitQatar could do to attract visitors to the country is just play all three of Sunday's races on a loop. In the Moto3 race, the first eleven riders all finished within a second. The first five riders in MotoGP finished within six tenths of a second. And the winning margin in all three races was five hundredths of a second or less. These were races decided by the width of a wheel, the winner in doubt all the way to the line.

The MotoGP race was a thrilling affair, a close race from start to finish, with wild passes as far as the eye can see. Riders jockeyed for position, vying to make their contesting strategies pay off. Yet it still left some fans feeling empty, with the impression that they were being cheated of an even better race if the riders has been willing and able to go flat out as soon as the lights went out all the way to the end.

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Analyzing Ducati's Aero Attachments: Four Factories Protest, But Are They Legal?

Andrea Dovizioso's victory in the opening race of the 2019 MotoGP season at Qatar is currently subject to appeal. Dovizioso raced in Qatar using the aerodynamic components previously debuted by factory Ducati teammate Danilo Petrucci at the Qatar test, and used by Petrucci and Pramac Ducati's Jack Miller during practice at the Qatar MotoGP round.

After Dovizioso won a thrilling, close race by a margin of 0.023 seconds from Marc Márquez, the top five finishing with six tenths of a second, but the race was the first time Dovizioso had used the new aero parts. That prompted four factories – Aprilia, Honda, KTM, and Suzuki – to lodge a protest with the FIM Stewards, claiming that the aerodynamic device attached to the swingarm (see the tweet from MotoMatters.com contributor Tom Morsellino below) is illegal.

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2019 Qatar MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Freezing Desert Nights, And The Promise Of Red Hot Track Action

You don't expect to be cold in the desert. On Friday evening, most of the paddock were wandering around in short sleeves and t-shirts until after 9pm. On Saturday, people were pulling on jackets shortly after sunset. By the time MotoGP finished, people were starting to lose feeling in their hands.

It wasn't just the temperature. The wind had picked up enormously on Saturday, blowing sand onto the track in places, and blowing any residual heat from ever nook and cranny around the circuit. It was not the normal chill of the desert evening. It was cold.

That caused more than a few problems during the evening. Session after session, class after class, riders fell, mostly at Turn 2. That is the first left hand corner for nearly 2km, after the final right hander before the long straight, and then hard braking for Turn 1. That is a lot of time for the front tire to cool down, especially when there is a hard headwind blowing down the main straight, whipping the heat from the tires.

Horses for courses

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2019 Qatar MotoGP Friday Round Up: Explaining New Tech, Viñales' New Crew, And Not Moving The Race Start

And so hope and expectation meet reality. On Friday, we could stop fantasizing about just how good this season might be, and see for ourselves just how close the field is in the premier class. Well, how close it is outside Marc Márquez' insane record-crushing lap in FP2, made following Maverick Viñales around and using him as a target. It may only be Friday, but Márquez beat Johann Zarco's pole-setting lap record from last year by three tenths of a second. And they will only be going faster again tomorrow.

Any concerns that Marc Márquez might ease himself back into MotoGP, nursing the shoulder he had operated on last year until it was back at 100%, were laid to rest. "No, I ride full attack. I am riding full attack, I am pushing," Márquez said.

Viñales, who knew that Márquez had been following him when he made his fastest time, joked about it being a magnanimous gesture towards a weakened rival. "Yeah, I knew he was there, but I know he is injured, so I tried to help him a little bit... " the Monster Energy Yamaha rider joked. "Maybe I helped him too much! But it was important to see where our competitors are, so at the moment, we have to put the head down and work, work, work. They are ahead at the moment, some tenths ahead, so we need to keep working really hard."

From development to practice

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The Comprehensive 2019 MotoGP Season Preview: High Hopes And Realistic Expectations

It is tempting before each season to say that this is going to be the best season ever. It is a phrase that oscillates somewhere between hope and expectation, though more often than not, it is hope which has the upper hand. The 2019 MotoGP season promises to swing the balance back toward expectation, as the sport goes from strength to strength.

The reason MotoGP went from having 17 bikes on the grid in 2010 and the races decided virtually by qualifying position is simple. Thanks to a mixture of coaxing and cajoling, bribing and bullying, Dorna managed to get most of the rule changes they wanted. First, a switch back to 1000cc, bore limited to impose a theoretical rev limit (which has remained theoretical, as revs soar back above 18,000). Next, the adoption of spec electronics, forced through with the threat of CRT bikes, along with a promise by the factories to supply bikes at an affordable price.

Then the introduction of the more user-friendly Michelin tires. The concession system, whereby successful factories have engine designs frozen, giving less successful factories a chance to catch up. And finally, an influx of talent to fill a field of closely competitive bikes.

Close as you like

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Crunching The Numbers: Is Marc Marquez Really Risking His Career By Crashing So Much?

Marc Marquez coming over the hill at Mugello in 2018

On October 21st, 2018, at Motegi, Marc Márquez wrapped up his fifth MotoGP title in six seasons, with three races to spare. He did so despite having suffered his 18th crash of the season so far during FP4, the front washing out as he released the brakes in Turn 7. He led the MotoGP class in crashes at Motegi, and would continue to do so through the final race in Valencia, amassing a grand total of 23 crashes at official events throughout the 2018 season.

He had gone one better in 2018 than he had the year before, finishing second to Sam Lowes in 2017, ending up with 27 crashes to Lowes' 31. In 2016, he was a lowly third in the crash rankings, ending the season with 17 falls, behind Cal Crutchlow and Jack Miller with 26 and 25 crashes respectively.

That propensity to crash has caused many people to question just how long Márquez can keep taking the risks that he does. Former triple world champion Wayne Rainey, in a recent interview with Motorsport.com's Gerald Dirnbeck, voices a concern felt by many. "If Marquez falls down over 20 times again next year, maybe Marquez beats himself," Rainey said. "When you are off your bike, sliding across the grass at 200km/h, maybe you're OK for the first two meters, but then if you start flipping across the track, anything can happen. I'm hoping Marquez can find a way to be more consistent. He needs to stay on his bike more. It's not very healthy to make mistakes like that."

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Changing The Qatar Race Start Time: No Good Answers To An Intractable Problem

The Qatar round of MotoGP is problematic for all sorts of reasons. Even setting aside the human rights issues, there are challenges from every direction in staging the race at the Losail International Circuit, just north of Qatari capital. Those challenges are due to the choices being made, and the choices are being made because of money.

The biggest problem is that the choices being made are all slightly at odds with one another. Qatar wants to be the first race of the MotoGP season, and pays a large premium for the privilege. Enough to cover air freight for the series for all of the flyaway races during the season. That need not of itself be a problem, but to make the race look more spectacular, the circuit wants to hold the race at night, under the incredible set of floodlights which light up the track. And of course, because it is the first race of the season, Dorna want to hold it at a time when it will receive maximum media attention. The right time slot for the race in key European markets is important.

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2019 Phillip Island WorldSBK Round Up: Wizard of Oz? Definitely. Wizard of WorldSBK? Not Yet

MotoGP riders have changed the game in WorldSBK before but is Alvaro Bautista the next coming of Max Biaggi, or is he like Garry McCoy, a winner who put together a decent SBK campaign? Is the answer somewhere in the middle?

When Biaggi came to WorldSBK, he changed a lot about how riders approached the series. No longer was good, good enough. He demanded more from his team and any small issue was a big issue for Biaggi. He was trained from his 250GP days to understand that any small problem can become a big problem very quickly. He motivated himself and his team to make everything perfect for the race.

He wasn’t more professional than his rivals - he was up against Troy Bayliss, Troy Corser and a host of others - but he worked in a different way. MotoGP was the pinnacle then and it’s still the best class in the world. It’s the deepest championship with the deepest pockets. There’s always riders biting at your heels and you have to get the most from your package at all times. That’s only exacerbated at the moment with the Golden Era we’re witnessing.

You can’t race in MotoGP now and be anything less than 100% committed on every lap. You ride everything like it’s your last lap, because with such competition that’s the only way to stay sharp. Bed yourself in with an easy session? There’s no chance of that any longer. For Bautista, he arrived in Australia with that mentality and it showed.

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2019 Qatar MotoGP Test Sunday Notes: Rins Rocks It, Quartararo Surprises, Yamaha's Dilemma, And The End Of Testing Is Nigh

The Qatar MotoGP test is turning out to be more intriguing than we dared hope. The track in the desert is a very different beast to the tropical Sepang, and throws up different challenges. That produces different winners and different losers. And that leaves us, the neutral observers, with much to chew on.

Some of the names at the top of the timesheets are the same: Alex Rins and Maverick Viñales have been fast all preseason, and the second day at Qatar was no exception. But seeing Fabio Quartararo in third is quite a surprise; at Sepang, the Petronas SRT Yamaha rider was way down in sixteenth, 1.2 seconds off the pace at the front.

Quartararo's secret? "Today has been the first time that when I put the new tire in, I disconnected my brain to say, OK, now it's time to make a time attack," he joked. So disconnected was his brain that he didn't even realize just how fast he was going. "The first lap time I made was a 1'55.0, and I didn't realize it was a 1'55.0. I thought it was a 1'56.0, and I said, 'I need to be faster!' The next lap, I made a 1'54, so the lap before was a 1'55!" He was happy that it was three quick laps in a row, proving that it wasn't just luck.

It is interesting to compare the fortunes of Quartararo and Pecco Bagnaia. At Sepang, Bagnaia was the rookie making all the waves, while Quartararo languished down the field. At Qatar, the roles are reversed, with Quartararo third, and Bagnaia down in fifteenth, over a second back.

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2019 Qatar MotoGP Test Saturday Notes: Half A Test, New Parts, And New Penalties

The Qatar MotoGP test is really only half a test. Taking place just two weeks before the first race of 2019 at this very same track, factories are caught between testing and reevaluating new parts and looking for the right setup for the race. And with the test running from 4pm local time until 10pm, the first two hours, the track is too warm, heated by the setting sun, and too cold and potentially damp in the final hour, as temperatures drop perilously close to the dew point. Of the six hours the track is open, only three actually approach the conditions during the race and qualifying.

That means it's imperative that the factories get most of their work done at Sepang, bringing parts to Qatar more to verify the findings at Sepang, rather than actually run through a major testing program. There is one major exception to this rule: aerodynamics. With just under two weeks to go to the race, Qatar is the place where aerodynamics have to be finalized. No factory can risk bringing brand new aero to the first race, when they have to homologate a fairing.

There was some new aero on display on the first day of the Qatar test. Aprilia unveiled their 2019 livery – good news, it looks like an Aprilia, and is consequently gorgeous – and also a new set of wings, looking for all the world like Ducati's most recent effort.

Scoop!

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