2018 Qatar MotoGP Friday Round Up: Winter Is Over, And Silly Season Is Here

Winter is officially over. Though meteorological winter ended on 1st March, and the astronomical winter will end next week on 20th of March, the long MotoGP winter came to an end at 12:50 local time in Qatar, when Moto3 rolled out for their session of free practice. After World Superbikes got everyone warmed up at Phillip Island in February, the advent of the Grand Prix classes means that racing is back again in earnest.

It is also back in weird way, as is to be expected at Qatar. The schedule remains a curiosity, the latest iteration merely shuffling the weirdness around. For MotoGP, the first session in the blistering heat, the second in the relatively cool of the evening. Track temperatures in FP1 were hitting the mid to high 40s °C, whereas in FP2, they had dropped into the mid 20s. In essence, FP1 is as good as useless for finding a setup. Times dropped by a second between FP1 and FP2, a good indication of the difference in track grip.

The riders had talked about the schedule in the Safety Commission meeting, hastily scheduled for the end of the day after the riders decided against doing it between FP1 and FP2. "In my opinion, it's a special weekend, and we know that," Marc Márquez told us. "Of course FP1, you ride, you feel it's the same layout, but it's for nothing. You cannot try the setup for the race. It's a special weekend, and it will be impossible to find the best schedule. If you want a GP of five days, yes, because then we start on Wednesday, but for me it's OK."

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2018 Qatar MotoGP FP2 Result: The Ducati Takeover

In a more familiar sight, the night had truly set in by the time the premier class hit the playground one last time on Friday. The fight heated up in the final five minutes, Danilo Petrucci the first man to make his mark and put nearly half a second into the competition, only to be robbed by Dovizioso one lap later. Ducati’s lead Italian kept his name at the top of the timesheets as the checkered flag waved, with Petrucci a mere six thousandths of a second behind and Rins breaking the Ducati hegemony another tenth behind.

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2018 Qatar Moto2 FP2 Result: The Marquez Method

With the sun having set, the famous bright lights of Losail coming to life and the temperature starting to drop, the timesheets for the intermediate class changed configuration somewhat from what the afternoon offered.

After narrowly missing out in the first session, Alex Marquez exerted his revenge and set camp at the top of the timesheets early on once again, improving his time by one second and showing mighty pace throughout his run, as well as the occasional highlights reel twitch.

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Lin Jarvis On Keeping Rossi, Losing Tech3, And How Yamaha Caused The Rider Market Explode

It has been an eventful couple of weeks for Yamaha. Apart from the expected hectic period of preseason testing, Yamaha agreed a new two-year deal with Valentino Rossi. There was also the surprise announcement by Jonas Folger that he wouldn't be racing in 2018, and working with Hervé Poncharal to find a replacement for the Tech3 team. More significantly, they also had to deal with the surprise announcement that Tech3 will be leaving Yamaha at the end of this season, and swapping to become a satellite for KTM from 2019 onwards.

So journalists had plenty of questions for Lin Jarvis, the head of Yamaha Motor Racing, and Qatar was the first opportunity to ask him. In a session with the media on Thursday night, Jarvis answered questions on all these subjects and more, offering an insight into the way Yamaha are thinking. The departure of Tech3 could see Yamaha rethink the way they have been working in the past.

Obviously, the re-signing of Valentino Rossi was a big topic of conversation. What was the main reason for keeping Rossi, Jarvis was asked. "There are so many reasons, it’s difficult to give one," the Yamaha boss replied. "Because of everything he brings to Yamaha, and the sport, and the team, because of who he is. That’s the motivation. But I would also like to add that he is still highly competitive and absolutely a top rider capable of winning."

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2018 Qatar Moto3 FP2 Result: Runaway Martin

With the sun setting throughout the lightweight class’ second session of the day, photographers might have been more entertained than most of the grid once Jorge Martin was unleashed. FP1 was a mere warm up for the Spaniard, who set the bar high from the off in FP2 and left his rivals with one second to make up.

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2018 Qatar MotoGP FP1 Result: Dovizioso Prepares The Battleground

After a long winter of resting and testing, the sound of MotoGP engines got us all out of hibernation with the first practice session of the 2018 season in the premier class. New season but a familiar picture in Qatar, with the championship runner-up Andrea Dovizioso the first to dip into the 1:55s and then consolidate in his position as race favourite by topping the session.

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2018 Qatar Moto2 FP1 Result: Baldassarri Reborn

The intermediate class had no trouble warming up after a long winter in the thirty odd degrees of Qatar and one name who definitely benefited from a change in scenery is Lorenzo Baldassarri. The Italian made the jump to the Pons team after an underwhelming 2017 campaign and the first signs are extremely encouraging, Baldassarri consistently in the top five of FP1 and leaving it late to sneak ahead of his challengers and grab the headlines by two tenths of a second.

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2018 Qatar Moto3 FP1 Result: Bestia Leads The Way

The Qatar sunshine finally gave us the first appetiser for the 2018 season in the shape of a hot track full of eager youngsters running in bright daylight. The 32 degrees air temperature didn’t seem to intimidate them much after a long winter break and the lightweight class started off with a low key session, a handful of crashes and the key protagonists shining through.

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2018 Qatar MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Making A Weird Weekend Even Weirder

Qatar is always a strange place to kick off the MotoGP season: a windswept circuit in the middle of the desert (though not for long, as the suburbs of Doha are rapidly approaching the track), racing under the floodlights, around a circuit with just a single grandstand a VIP pavilion. It is an odd location with a weird atmosphere. The race feels surreal, part of a science fiction spectacular, an impression reinforced as you drive back to Doha afterwards, the huge Blade Runner-esque skyscrapers awash with ever-shifting patterns of blinking lights.

You would think that the season opener couldn't get much odder, but series organizer Dorna has found a way. In response to complaints of dew forming after 9pm in the evening, rendering the track treacherous (and incidentally, buying room to run the race later at night should a rain shower threaten to upset the apple cart), the race times have been shifted. MotoGP is now the only class that runs in the dark, with FP2, qualifying, and the race all taking place after sunset. Moto2 and Moto3 will both practice and race during daytime.

The unfortunate side effect to the new schedule is that MotoGP now has two radically different sets of conditions. FP1, FP3, and Warm Up all take place around 3pm, when the sun is still hot and the track is scorching. FP2, FP4, qualifying, and the race all take place after dark, once air and track temperatures have dropped by a significant margin. It is not quite as bad as Moto2, however: the intermediate class holds FP2 and qualifying after dark, but will race at 5:20pm, 25 minutes before sunset. They will start the race in sunlight, finish it in the dark, and heaven knows what the difference in track temperatures will be between the start and the end of the race.

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Valentino Rossi Signs On For Two More Years At Yamaha, Will Race Through 2020

Valetnino Rossi will race for two more years with the Movistar Yamaha team in MotoGP. At Qatar, Yamaha announced that they had signed a new deal with the 39-year-old Italian which will see him racing through 2020. 

The only surprise about the announcement is that it took so long to announce. Rumors of Rossi's imminent signing had been doing the rounds of the paddock since the Sepang test, but it took until the eve of the 2018 season to make the new contract public. 

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