The final practice session for the intermediate class did not seem like it would make a big impact on the combined timesheets for qualifying, given the conditions, but a few riders did manage to upset the hierarchy in a final time attack. Rookie Aron Canet was the first of those men and he topped FP3 despite being quite a way off Joe Roberts’ best time from Friday. Fabio Di Giannantonio in second position brought another Speed Up to the forefront and into direct Q2 spots, with Enea Bastianini climbing into third in the session and eighth overall.
Day 2 of the season got underway in the heat of Losail but FP3 did not feel like the best use of track time for the lightweight class, given how much slower the pace was compared to FP2. Riders stood little chance to get a Q2 worthy time but that didn’t stop them from dawdling on track looking for a slipstream. Raul Fernandez had no issues securing a ticket to Q2, as the Spaniard topped both the session and the combined standings with his Friday time.
The night had truly fallen by the time the intermediate class basked in the floodlights of Qatar and it placed the spotlight firmly on the American Racing team. Joe Roberts, who had already showed fine speed in the first practice session, went on to improve the all time lap record in FP2, dropping to the mid 1:58s and remaining unchallenged for the rest of the session. Teamwork made the minor dream work for the Sky Racing crew as well, Marco Bezzecchi and Luca Marini riding together into the second and third positions, although a quarter of a second slower than the leader.
After the late change of schedule, the lightweight class got all the best views while the sun was retreating at Losail. However, with one eye on the provisional top 14 ahead of qualifying day, there was little time to enjoy the views. Raul Fernandez ended Day 1 as the fastest rider after dropping his laptime to mid 2:04s, one tenth of a second faster than Darryn Binder. FP1 leader Sergio Garcia kept close to finish the day third, with Ai Ogura also at the top end of proceedings after leading the action early on.
The intermediate class was in such a rush to get the season underway that much of the early action was concentrated in the run-off area at turn six, where some fairly experienced names like Xavi Vierge, Enea Bastianini and Jorge Navarro got some early tumbles out of the way. Once the dust had settled, Tom Luthi set camp at the top of the timesheets and could not be moved until the checkered flag. Jorge Martin was back in action after a troublesome winter and proved that his speed didn’t go anywhere, the Spaniard trailing the Swiss rider by less than two hundredths of a second.
After all the obstacles in its way, the 2020 season has finally and officially started with Doha gleaming in the backdrop of shiny new Moto3 machines. Straight off the back of a serendipitous test, the lightweight class got up to speed real fast, with Tatsuki Suzuki leading most of the first practice session of the season. The pace hotted up even more for the final five minutes, when a tentative time attack saw Valencia victor Sergio Garcia take over the top of the timesheets.
Eerie. That was how a Dutch colleague described the MotoGP paddock at Qatar. Using the English word, after which we both struggled to find the right Dutch word to describe the same atmosphere. That is the joy of language, of course, that one language can have a word that perfectly encapsulates an emotion, an atmosphere, a concept, where others need half a sentence or more. In this case, English came up with the goods.
Lost. That was another word that was used. "We are all feeling a bit lost," Red Bull Tech 3 KTM team boss Hervé Poncharal said, as he stood outside the garage of his MotoGP team, where staff were busy packing bikes and equipment into flight cases and packing boxes. A couple of hundred meters further down the paddock, the Red Bull Tech3 KTM's Moto3 team were preparing for the start of the season, the riders suited up and heading to the grid for the traditional class photo, which marks the formal start of the 2020 season.
The contrast was stark, and a little confusing. MotoGP packing up, bikes and equipment stored ready for shipment to the next race, wherever that may be. Moto3 and Moto2 teams buzzing with excitement, eager to finally get down to work, go into battle after the phony war of winter testing.
With the MotoGP class absent from the first round of the MotoGP series, Dorna were forced to draw up a new schedule for Moto2 and Moto3 to fill up the space vacated by the premier class. The changes come down to Moto2 moving up to take over the slot originally scheduled for MotoGP, with Moto3 moving up to take the place of Moto2.
What it means in practice is that both classes will practice in daylight, but for the Moto3 class, FP2, and qualifying will be held at 5:05pm, shortly before sunset, while the race starts at 4:20pm. Moto2 holds FP2, qualifying, and the race at 6pm, after the sun goes down and under the floodlights. The Asia Talent Cup is also holding its opening round of the season at Qatar, with two races.
On Sunday, at 6pm, the desert night will erupt in a cacophony of sound, as Grand Prix motorcycle racing gets underway for the start of the 2020 season. But it won't be the vicious bellow of MotoGP machines which will shatter the desert silence; instead, the more modest howl (118 dB compared to 130 dB of the MotoGP bikes) of the Triumph triple-engined Moto2 machines will scream away from the lights and around the floodlit track.
It wasn't meant to be that way, of course. The Moto2 machines were supposed to race an hour and forty minutes earlier, their original start time planned for 4:20pm local time. Now, it will be the Moto3 riders starting their race at that time, and not the 3pm slot originally scheduled. The MotoGP machines will be sitting in packing crates, waiting to be shipped to the next race.
As I write this, it is not entirely clear where that will be. It might be Austin, Texas, unless the US authorities impose further restrictions. It might be Termas De Rio Honda, in Argentina, unless the Argentinian government changes its mind about allowing entry from Italy, or Japan, or anywhere else. It might even be Jerez, if international air travel is subject to sudden and extreme restrictions.
The Qatar and Thai MotoGP Grands Prix have been cancelled due to the Coronavirus outbreak but this isn't the first time when MotoGP has been affected by world events
Motorcycle racing and other sports are bubbles – microcosms of life that allow competitors and fans to invest themselves in something wonderful but ultimately trivial.
When working in the paddock during a MotoGP weekend it’s possible to forget that the rest of the world exists. All that matters is who steps onto the box and pops the prosecco at 3pm on Sunday afternoon.