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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Michelin's return to the MotoGP paddock has been nothing if not eventful. Since taking over from Bridgestone as official tire supplier to MotoGP, Michelin has had both spectacular success and highly visible failure. Lap records (and more importantly to Michelin, race time records) have been broken, but there have also been delaminating tires, compulsory pit stops, and at the start of their time, a lot of crashes as the riders, teams, and Michelin all struggled with the front tire.
It is hardly surprising that the first two years of Michelin's return did not go entirely to plan. Having been out of MotoGP since 2009, it was predictable that Michelin would run into unexpected problems. The spate of front end crashes which marred the first Valencia test was quickly remedied as riders learned to fathom the different nature of the Michelins, teams adapted the geometry of the bikes, and Michelin changed the profile of the front tire to improve the contact patch. The extreme tire wear was dealt with by using harder compounds, which Michelin then slowly adjusted back in search of the right balance.
By the end of their second year in the class, Michelin had a much better understanding of the demands of MotoGP, and tires had become much less of a talking point. That is something of a double-edged sword according to Piero Taramasso, head of Two-Wheel Motorsport for Michelin. "We want people to speak about the tires, but in a good way," Taramasso joked to reporters on the final day of the Qatar test. "But I know this is not the case, I know that when we do well, nobody speaks about the tires, when something goes wrong, everybody speaks about the tires, this is the way it is since forever."
The phony war is finally over. The last MotoGP test has finished, with riders completing their final day of testing at Qatar. The next time the MotoGP grid assembles, it will be for something of real value: race wins, and world championship points.
Did the last day of the test offer any clear indications as to what might happen in two weeks' time? Plenty, though they were as confusing as all of testing has been this year. Johann Zarco managed to be both blisteringly fast and worryingly slow simultaneously. Danilo Petrucci managed to do exactly the same, though in a diametrically opposite manner. Valentino Rossi managed to impress both in terms of race pace and a single fast lap, but he was still worried whether his pace would last race distance. Maverick Viñales was terrible for the first six hours of the test, then brilliant in the last forty minutes, after basically wasting a day and a half.
Underneath the surface drama, the two biggest winners of the preseason just got on with their work. Their headline times were great but not breathtaking, but the race pace of Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Márquez was impressive. They reinforced their status as the title favorites going into the first race of the season through sheer consistency. While others raced up and down the timesheets like hyperactive kittens from day to day and hour to hour, Márquez and Dovizioso were always there or thereabouts, just getting on with business.
There were others, too. Cal Crutchlow has been repaying HRC's faith, especially with a phenomenal long run on Saturday. Alex Rins has shown every sign of growing into the rider we thought he could be. Rins' Suzuki teammate Andrea Iannone (absent due to illness on Saturday) may have been quicker, but Rins has shown the kind of consistency that puts him in the top five just about everywhere he goes.
Press releases from the teams after the final day of the final MotoGP test at Qatar:
Movistar Yamaha MotoGP Wrap Up Pre-Season Testing with Positive Results
Johann Zarco was the fastest rider over all three days at Qatar, his time on Saturday a quarter of a second faster than the man in second, Valentino Rossi, while Andrea Dovizioso was third fastest. As everyone except Andrea Iannone (who didn't ride due to illness) and Taka Nakagami set their fastest times on Saturday, the combined standings are very close to the times at the end of Saturday. Iannone's quick time from Saturday put him in fifth overall, just ahead of Marc Marquez.
Johann Zarco leaves the final MotoGP test of the season as fastest overall after having set a scintillating lap in the final couple of hours of Saturday. The Monster Tech3 Yamaha rider was a quarter of a second faster than anyone else at Qatar, and posted a respectable long run during the final day.