Analysis

Qatar 2 MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Keeping Illustrious Company, Confusion In Qatar, And Whether The End Of An Era Is In Sight

"I'm so glad to hear that a lot of the riders are confused! Because I am too, I really am." Franco Morbidelli, like just about everyone in the MotoGP paddock in Qatar, has spent so long trying to get his head around the Losail International Circuit and the tricks it can play, with grip, with wind, with track temperatures, and so much more, that he is utterly lost. "I don't know what's going on. Something is going on, and I hope that whatever is going on, it will go away as soon as possible, because it is tricky to work like this."

"Consistency has been difficult this weekend because the track is different every time we exit the pits," Jack Miller agreed. "There's only one more day left here in Qatar and I'll try and make it a good one and get out of here in one piece." After nearly a month in the Gulf state, on and off, and ten days riding around the same track, everyone is very, very over being in Qatar.

First there's the weird schedule, which means the riders hit the track in the late afternoon and finish in the middle of the evening. By the time they are done, it is well past midnight before they can hit the sack. Then there's the track. The grip is too inconsistent, the conditions are too changeable, the window for race conditions is too narrow. If engineering is about changing one variable at a time, Qatar is like twisting every knob at random and hoping for the best. An idle hope in almost every case.

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Qatar 2 MotoGP Friday Round Up: Changing Conditions, Reusing Tires, And Why Morbidelli's Engine Issue May Be Fine

Plus ça change... if you put the top four from FP2 of Qatar 1 from a week ago next to the top four of FP2 from today, what difference would you see? The same four names, with only the names of Johann Zarco and Fabio Quartararo swapped around, the Yamaha rider now fourth instead of third, as he was last week, the lone M1 amid an army of Ducatis.

Even the times are virtually identical: the time difference between Pecco Bagnaia's second place last week and this is just 0.036. The time difference between the third-place times is 0.038. And the difference between the fourth-place times was 0.003, a mere three thousandths of a second.

Only Jack Miller really improved his time. In fact, Miller set a blistering lap, improving his time from last week by nearly a quarter of a second. That was faster than he had been in qualifying last week, though he still would have started from fifth on the grid.

The factory Ducati rider was satisfied with his days work. As well he might be: he set his fast lap after having a huge moment in Turn 15 on his previous run, when he was thrown out of the seat and forced to come straight back in again. He was not phased, banging out his quickest lap on his first flying lap out of the pits.

Different conditions

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Qatar 2 MotoGP Preview: How To Win At Qatar On A Ducati, And Why Tires Do And Don't Make The Difference

One week later, MotoGP is back at the same race track, with the same riders, and likely racing in pretty much the same conditions. Does this mean we are going to see exactly the same result in the Doha Grand Prix as we did for the Qatar Grand Prix?

That will depend. And it will perhaps depend on how well the MotoGP riders learn the lessons of last week, as well as the lessons of the past. If Maverick Viñales maintains the form he showed last Sunday, he will be very difficult to beat.

Difficult, but not impossible. Sure, Viñales' pace was astounding: he beat Jorge Lorenzo's race lap record from 2016 by three tenths of a second, and the race was the second fastest in history, just two tenths slower than Lorenzo's race win from 2016. And it could have been even faster than the 2016 race if Viñales hadn't backed off during the last three laps, his pace dropping from mid 1'55s to low 1'56s. Viñales' advantage over second-place finisher Johann Zarco dropped from 1.7 seconds on lap 20 to just over 1 second at the end of the race.

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Qatar Moto2 & Moto3 Review: Neil Morrison On Aki Ajo's Nose For Talent, Sam Lowes' Title Charge, And Diggia Winning For Fausto

As always, Moto2/3 delivered plenty of talking points at the Qatar Grand Prix. Sunday’s results threw up a host of surprises and some fine racing. Here, we take a look through some of the big talking points from both classes.

Aki Chose Well

Viñales and Lowes were the winners in the top two classes. But the man with arguably the most to celebrate on Sunday was Aki Ajo. Of his four riders in 2021, two finished second and fifth in the Moto2 race. The other two: first and second in Moto3. Not a bad return when two of those names – Raul Fernandez in Moto2 and Pedro Acosta in Moto3 – were rookies in their respective classes.

As a highly successful team boss and known talent spotter, not every one of Ajo’s past gambles has paid off. For every Marc Márquez, Johann Zarco and Brad Binder, there has been a Nico Antonelli, Can Öncü or Tetsuta Nagashima, names that never quite lived up to the initial billing.

And the latter is worth mentioning. When he was ruthlessly cut from Ajo’s Moto2 squad late last year, it was not only cut-throat in the extreme (Nagashima remains without a ride in 2021); it was a risk. At that time, Fernandez had yet to win a grand prix and still seemed a work in progress. Promoting him to Moto2 alongside Remy Gardner seemed a touch premature, especially when he had yet to master the race craft necessary in a Moto3 brawl.

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Qatar MotoGP Sunday Subscriber Notes: On Different Types Of Speed, The Transformation Of A Winner, And A Rich Crop Of Rookies

The first race of the 2021 MotoGP season produced much food for thought. Too much to fit into one foreshortened evening, so here are a few initial thoughts for MotoMatters.com subscribers after a fascinating season opener at Qatar:

  • Does winning in Qatar mean anything?
  • The two ways of going fast
  • Top speeds in practice don't mean as much as you might hope
  • The transformation of Maverick Viñales
  • Winners and losers
  • Franco Morbidelli: When holeshot devices go bad
  • A tale of two rookies – Bastianini vs Martin
  • Cameron Beaubier passes his first test in Moto2

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Qatar MotoGP Saturday round Up: When Is Fast Too Fast, And Why The Race Is Wide Open

Saturday was a day for smashing records in Qatar. First up was the top speed record, Johann Zarco hitting 362.4 km/h at the end of the front straight during FP4. Not just the top speed record for Qatar, but the highest speed ever record at a MotoGP track, the previous record 356.7 set by Andrea Dovizioso at Mugello. To put that in to context, it is 100.666 meters per second. Or put another way, it took Johann Zarco less than one second to cover the distance which takes Usain Bolt 9.6 seconds. It is a mind-bending, brain-warping speed.

It is not necessarily the highest speed ever reached on a MotoGP machine. Years ago, there were rumors of Dani Pedrosa hitting 365 km/h on data at Mugello. Nobody would comment about it on the record at the time, though engineers would tell you privately that it might be an overestimation. At the end of the straight at Mugello, the bikes are still accelerating and over the crest the rear can get light and start to spin. That cost Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi their engines in 2016.

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Qatar MotoGP Friday Round Up: Quick Ducatis, Early Qualifying, And The Quest For More Holeshot Devices

The normal build up to a MotoGP weekend sees the teams and riders spend FP1 figuring out which tires they think will work, then FP2 working on setup and then chasing a preliminary spot in FP2, leaving themselves plenty of work for Saturday, especially in FP4.

But Qatar is not a normal weekend. For a start, MotoGP arrives here after a total of five days of testing (well, four days, strictly speaking, as the last day of the test was lost to strong winds and a sandy track). Setups have already been found, tires have already been chosen.

Qatar's peculiar time schedule simplifies tire choice even further: the hard tires are built to handle the heat of daytime practice, and are too hard for the cooler evenings when qualifying and the race happen. So the choice is merely between soft and medium, and that choice, too, was largely made during the test.

So the teams arrive with less work to do, and can get straight into perfecting their setup and chasing a spot in Q2. That turned FP2 on Friday into a more frenetic affair than usual, the dash made even madder by the fact that the track is a second or more slower during the day than it is in the evening. If you missed out on Q2 in FP2, the chances of making it through during FP3, held in the afternoon heat, are slim indeed.

Q0

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2021 MotoGP Preview: How History Conspired To Create The Closest Grid Ever

Can the 2021 MotoGP season match the weirdness and wildness of 2020? The circumstances are different, but the path which led to Qatar 2021 has laid the groundwork for another fascinating year.

2021 sees two trends colliding to create (we hope) a perfect storm. There is the long-term strategy set out after the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 by Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta, with support and backing from the many bright minds in Dorna and IRTA. After Kawasaki officially withdrew at the end of 2008, and Honda came within a couple of board meetings of pulling out of MotoGP, Dorna threw their weight behind the teams.

With the grid dwindling (Suzuki pulled out at the end of 2011, after being down to a single rider), the MotoGP class was switched back to a maximum engine capacity of 1000cc, and four cylinders, while the CRT class was introduced as a second tier inside the premier class. Payments to teams were gradually increased, and over time, Dorna, with the backing of the teams, pushed through restrictions on electronics, introducing a spec ECU and then spec software to run it, and a price cap on satellite machines.

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2021 MotoGP Preseason Review: Aerodynamics, Shapeshifters, And The Meaning Of The Qatar Timesheets

The preseason is over. Preparations have been made, new parts tested, bikes, bodies, and brains readied, though not necessarily in that order. MotoGP is on the verge of starting another brand new season.

There was less to develop, test, and prepare this year, the aftermath of rules imposed during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic introducing freezes on engine development and limiting aerodynamic updates.

The four factories who did not have concessions in 2020 – Ducati, Honda, Suzuki, and Yamaha – will all be forced to use the engines they homologated for their riders last year for the 2021 season. KTM, who lost concessions thanks to a phenomenally successful season which included three victories, have been allowed to design a new engine for 2021, but must freeze it at the first race in Qatar.

Aprilia, the only remaining factory with full concessions, will be allowed to continue to develop their engine throughout 2021, and will have nine engines to last the season, instead of the seven the other factories have to try to make last the year.

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Andrea Dovizioso To Test For Aprilia - Why Did He Say Yes Now?

It might be an exaggeration to call today's news that Andrea Dovizioso is to test the Aprilia RS-GP MotoGP bike at Jerez from April 12th to 14th a bombshell, but it certainly raised a few eyebrows. The Italian had previously turned down the offer of a full-time ride with the Noale factory for 2021, despite Aprilia extensively courting his services. So for Aprilia to offer a test ride is no surprise. For Dovizioso to accept is certainly interesting.

The press release announced by Aprilia states very clearly that this is not an audition for a permanent ride. "It will not be a ‘trial matrimony’ but an opportunity to turn some laps together without any binding commitment for the future," Aprilia Racing CEO Massimo Rivola is quoted as saying. But the fact that Dovizioso accepted the offer suggest that may change in the future.

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