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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Michelin after a thriling season opener at Qatar:
Press releases from the Moto2 & Moto3 teams after the first race of the season at Qatar:
Race day in Qatar would turn into a microcosm of the entire weekend. The hopes and fears of fans and riders alike were both realized and averted. The idea that any kind of plan could be made to deal with this weekend went out the window pretty quickly. And yet at the end, three great races (or rather, two fantastic races and one interesting race) happened, and everyone got out more or less in one piece.
Stars were born on Sunday, some prophesied, some appearing out of the blue. It felt like the beginning of the new era we had been hoping for. MotoGP – once it got underway – was as topsy-turvy as expected. In Moto2, favorites performed as they needed to, while new stars emerged from behind. And in the Moto3 class, last year's rookies matured, and produced a heady brew of thrilling racing.
The weather conditioned it all. Spots of rain ahead of the Asia Talent Cup – like the Red Bull Rookies Cup at European races, the most frenetic racing of the weekend – soon dissipated, the sun soon breaking through. Fine weather prevailed for most of the evening, but as the Moto2 bikes rolled back into pit lane at the end of the race, the rain once again made its presence felt. Lightly at first, and quickly disregarded, but a little heavier as 9pm, the scheduled start of the MotoGP race, approached.
Championship standings after the first race at Qatar: