The night race at Qatar is spectacular alright, but it certainly has its downsides. For example, it's ten to four in the morning as I type this, and I've been back at the hotel for about 15 minutes. I'll go to sleep in an hour or so, then be up at some weird time in the afternoon.
Ah, I hear you say, surely the practice was finished by 11:30pm, what took you so long? Well, the journalists start work when the riders finish, and we start the chase around the paddock for interviews with riders, a kind of mad scramble to listen to what riders have to say about the races. Qatar being both a night race and a flyaway, it's doubly bad. For the debrief with Jorge Lorenzo, for example, we were crammed between a fence and the prefab hut which the teams are using as their headquarters at Qatar:
Back in Europe, the debriefs take place in the hospitality units, which is better in many different ways. It means you can hear and understand what the riders have to say without having to lean over other journalists, it means there's room and time for questions, and best of all, it means you can grab a coffee. If this were, say, Jerez, we'd be in the Fiat Yamaha hospitality, with a sound system so we can hear Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi properly, and we'd have the immensely efficient Fiat Yamaha crew making sure our waistlines keep expanding.
All of that is as nothing as to the best thing about Qatar. It means there's actual racing again. No more phony wars and figuring who was running what during a test and what significance to attach to attach to their times, this is for real, and there's nowhere left to hide. There was a palpable sense of excitement throughout the paddock, as if it were Christmas Eve and everyone in the paddock were expecting to get a shiny new bicycle. Or if the paddock's love of gadgetry and all things Apple is anything to go by, a shiny new iPad.
A cabal of Italian journalists discuss 125 practice
The 125s brought a collective sigh of relief from the assembled masses, like the first kiss from a loved one after a prolonged absence. The Moto2 bikes brought admiration and bewilderment, the site of 41 bikes on the track at the same time was astounding, and the development clearly going at warp speed, as riders tried tires, found which of the two compounds they liked and fiddled with settings. Today's timesheet is not particularly instructive, as there were too many factors confusing things. By the end of QP tomorrow, things should have shaken out a good deal more.
Best thing about the Moto2 practice was sound of the MotoGP bikes warming up outside the garages. The media center is directly over the MotoGP pit boxes, and the floor actually vibrated in sync with the roar of the ear-shatteringly loud 800cc bikes. When the bikes did go out on track, the sight of just 17 bikes on track looked positively sparse, after the 41 Moto2 bikes.
Once the MotoGP bikes returned to the pits, to be checked, stripped, cleaned and reassembled in time for tomorrow, the assembled press headed out looking for stories. The throngs and weird and conflicting rider debrief schedules meant I missed out on Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, as I stood chatting to Mary Spies and Herve Poncharal. But this is always the journalist's dilemma, you can go to the rider debriefs and only occasionally learn something of interest, or you can chat to the people behind the scenes, and find out an awful lot of stuff that is fascinating, but mostly unusable, because it was completely off the record. Your time certainly isn't wasted, however, as the information gained allows you to slot various disparate pieces of data together to make sense of the big picture. The careful reader will occasionally be able to read between the lines of the stuff that seasoned journalists write, and figure some of that background info out for themselves.
One of the best people to chat to in the paddock is always veteran US journalist and Spanish TV commentator Dennis Noyes. Noyes has deep roots in MotoGP, and this year, has his son Kenny racing in Moto2. So a chat with Dennis usually turns up hilarious anecdotes, deep technical information and real data from racing. It was almost touching to see Noyes watching the timing screens during Moto2 practice. Journalists always watch the timing like a hawk, trying to work out what is going on, but Noyes was fidgeting and pacing like a caged tiger, the tension clear to see. Father, fan and journalist wrapped into one. After all, we are human too.
A final word about the track and the lighting. The circuit is located about 20km north of Doha, the Qatari capital, and among the flat, featureless landscape you can tell when you are getting near, for you see a forest of poles in the distance. As you approach, it becomes clear this can only be one thing: a racetrack with lights. I'd expected the lights to light up the sky like a beacon, but when you actually see the lights, you understand what a remarkable job the Musco Lighting people have done. The track itself is extremely well lit, but very little of the light is lost, with shrouds and reflectors capturing the light and directing it at the track. It may be a silly idea, but the execution is absolutely flawless.