Losail, Qatar

2018 Provisional MotoGP Calendar Released: Thailand Added, British Venue Uncertain

The provisional calendar for the 2018 MotoGP season has been released, and as expected, there are few surprises. The schedule has been expanded to 19 races with the inclusion of the Chang International Circuit in Thailand, which has a contract to host a race through 2020. 

The addition of Thailand hasn't altered the schedule much. The 2018 schedule is almost identical to this year's calendar, with just a few minor variations. The season kicks off a week early in Qatar, and to accommodate that earlier start, the time of the race is to be changed to 7pm local time. Starting earlier will mean that MotoGP avoids the evening dew that can render the track so treacherous.

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2017 MotoGP Season Review: The First Nine Races, A Wild Ride

Can part two of the (melo)drama which is the 2017 MotoGP season live up to part one? It has been a wild ride so far, but like any great fairground ride, we have ended up more or less back where we started. Just five points separate Marc Márquez and Maverick Viñales at the top of the championship, and Valentino Rossi in fourth is only ten points behind Márquez, with Andrea Dovizioso in between a point behind Viñales. If Márquez does not win the Czech Grand Prix at Brno on Sunday, there is every chance the championship will have a new leader. If there is, it would be the fifth time the title lead had changed hands so far this year. It has been a wild ride indeed.

So how did we get here? Through a mixture of rider swaps, tire changes, weird weather, and changing track conditions. Add in a healthy dose of spec electronics, the loss of winglets for this season, and a brace of astonishing rookies, and you have an explosive mixture. At Mugello, perhaps the nearest thing we have had to a normal MotoGP weekend this year, the gap from the winner, Andrea Dovizioso, to Jack Miller in fifteenth was 30.7 seconds, with 50 seconds covering all 20 finishers. In 2015, 30 seconds covered just the first eight riders. In 2013, only five other bikes finished within half a minute of the winner. Those kinds of gaps have been the rule for most of the modern era. But the old rules no longer apply.

Michelin can take much of the credit, or shoulder much of the blame, depending on your perspective. In their second year back in MotoGP, the French tire manufacturer have been a much more stable force in the series, the tires changing less this year than in 2016. But that has not stemmed the complaints: there have been a string of riders muttering that the Michelins are not up to scratch, that they change too much from one race to the next, and even from one day to the next. Are their concerns valid? Michelin deny it, of course, and give a long list of entirely plausible reasons for the tires to react differently from day to day.

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Qatar MotoGP Time Schedule Under Review

Discussions are currently underway to review the schedule of the MotoGP event at Qatar. The current time schedule, with all three classes taking place after sundown, creates significant headaches for the class, as was apparent at the opening race of the 2017 season, when rain caused qualifying to be canceled and threatened to postpone the race to Monday.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Why Rossi must reinvent himself once again

Rossi’s third-place finish in Qatar suggested he has fixed the front-end problem that haunted him during testing. Or was the result just a desert mirage?

Despite the lack of a refreshing gulp of Cava, no man on the Qatar GP podium was happier than Valentino Rossi. Maverick Viñales and Andrea Dovizioso had fully expected to be there, but not MotoGP’s ageing veteran. A miserable pre-season test programme followed by a lowly 10th place in practice had some people muttering in Losail’s pit lane: is this the beginning of the end?

Of course it wasn’t.

Rossi is nothing if not a Sunday man. From 1.1-seconds behind Viñales in practice, he finished the 20-lap race 1.9-seconds behind his team-mate.

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Qatar To Be Moved To February, Resurfaced, Substrate Heating Added

As many of you will have spotted, this was in fact an April Fool's story. While the Losail International Circuit is indeed due to be resurfaced after thirteen years of use, as yet, no contract to do so has been agreed. No plans exist to fit underfloor heating, as far as I know, and given the astronomical cost involved, it seems very unlikely to happen. Normal service has now been resumed... 

The Losail International Circuit is to be resurfaced, with the aim of moving the opening race back to February. The question of resurfacing came to a head after last week's season opener MotoGP round at Qatar, when light rain caused the start of the MotoGP race to be delayed, raising concern among the riders over the evening dew, which starts to form on the track surface at around 10pm. There were serious concerns that the track would become too treacherous to race on, if the race were to be delayed for too much longer.

The surface and condition of the Losail circuit was a talking point all weekend. The asphalt itself is nearly fourteen years old, as the track has not been resurfaced since it was first built. Because the MotoGP race runs at night, the evening dew makes the track slippery, but the dew patches are impossible to see. And the fact that the race runs at night means that the event is in peril if it rains.

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Grand Prix Commission Scraps MotoGP Penalty Point System

The MotoGP penalty point system is no more. The system, introduced for the 2013 season, whereby Race Direction could punish rider infringements with penalty points, which would accumulate throughout the year and could result in a race ban, has been scrapped at the latest meeting of the Grand Prix Commission.

The penalty points system had been introduced in response (at least in part) to a number of incidents involving Marc Marquez through the 2012 season. There were complaints from the fans, but also from teams and other riders, that Race Direction was not being even-handed in applying existing penalties to riders. It was sometimes hard for Race Direction to explain why one rider had been given a particular punishment, but another rider who had done something apparently similar had not.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - MotoGP: in the lap of the gods

The Qatar GP very nearly didn’t happen on Sunday. Might it be time to admit that Losail’s floodlit folly is no more than a dazzling definition of more money than sense?

Man makes his plans and the gods laugh. All the way through the four days and nights of the Qatar Grand Prix you could look to the heavens and see the weather gods sitting atop their clouds, laughing loudly as several thousand frail little human beings rushed hither and thither around a paddock thrown into disarray by one biblical downpour after another.

The weekend schedule melted to nothing in the rain and remained fluid throughout. No one knew what was happening, except the rain gods, who spent the weekend puncturing the hubris of the billionaires and their floodlit vanity project. It had cost these megalomaniacs – who live above the world’s largest gas supplies – 44 diesel generators at 30,000 euros each, 500 kilometres of electrical cable and 3000 tonnes of concrete to turn night into electrical day. Surely they had defeated nature?

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2017 Qatar Extra Notes: Zarco's Exceptionalism, Morbidelli's Maturity, Moto3 Madness

We need to talk about Johann Zarco. For a rookie to lead his very first race on a MotoGP bike is not just unusual, it has never been done before. To do so for six laps is beyond remarkable, and a sign that something rather special is happening.

To put this into perspective, it is worth noting that not only did Zarco lead the race, but he also set the fastest lap in his first race. The last rookie to set the fastest lap during their first race? Marc Márquez, Qatar 2013. Before that? Valentino Rossi, Welkom 2000. And before that, Max Biaggi, Suzuka 1998.

Zarco's downfall came at Turn 2 on lap 7. Quite literally: he got a little off line, hit a dirtier part of the track, and down he went. There is no shame in crashing out of your first MotoGP race. Valentino Rossi crashed out of his first premier class Grand Prix too. On the other hand, Marc Márquez, Jorge Lorenzo, and Dani Pedrosa all finished on the podium in their MotoGP debut race. Max Biaggi actually won his first 500cc race at Suzuka.

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