Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Michelin after a thriling season opener 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.
Saturday was the kind of day that makes you question the wisdom of allowing Qatar to be the first race of the MotoGP season, and to hold the race at night. Doing one or the other – either being the first race of the season but holding it during the day, or taking place later in the year and racing at night – is feasible, but doing both is a risk. If it wasn't for the fact that the sanctioning fee the Losail International Circuit at Qatar pays to Dorna for the privilege basically covers the overseas travel budget for the teams for the entire season, the MotoGP season opener would be very different.
It was an entirely wasted day. Or perhaps not entirely wasted: we learned that the Qatar circuit badly needs the drainage fixed. Whatever the decision on racing in the rain, when it does rain, the track and the run off areas just don't drain fast enough. That led to Loris Capirossi, Dorna's representative in Race Direction, trying to explain in increasingly exasperated tones that there was no point trying to test during the day or at night, because there was simply too much standing water in the gravel traps and in certain sections of the track to allow it to be used safely.
Capirossi was speaking at an impromptu press conference organized directly after the qualifying press conference, to explain why all on-track action had been canceled on Saturday. It had started with the cancellation of the Asia Talent Cup, and a revised schedule was issued containing a track inspection, then a twenty-minute session for the riders to go out and see whether it would be possible to ridein the wet under the floodlights. But as each schedule approached, events were delayed. In the end, the entire day was canceled. The track was unusable after such intense rainfall.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams after the second day of free practice:
MOVISTAR YAMAHA RIDERS STRAIGHT THROUGH TO Q2 IN QATAR
Movistar Yamaha MotoGP’s Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi worked their way through a challenging second and third free practice session ahead of the Grand Prix of Qatar. The teammates finished in first and tenth place respectively in the combined times.
DOHA (QATAR), 24TH MARCH 2017
A growing sense of, not panic, perhaps, but certainly concern is enveloping the MotoGP paddock in Qatar. The ever unstable weather is forcing the series organizers to make contingency plans for every possible scenario the conditions in the desert may throw up. Heavy rains which have been sweeping across the peninsula have made it uncertain how and when the race is to be held. It could be Sunday night in the wet, it could be Sunday afternoon, it could even be Monday.
Despite the bizarre weather – hailstones fell in the afternoon, then a downpour flooded the country in the night – practice has been pretty much unaffected. The advantage of rain in the desert is that it dries up pretty quickly when it stops. The track was a little dirtier when the MotoGP bikes took to the track for FP2 at 6pm, but it was still dry when FP3 ended, nearly four hours later.
The downpour only started at 1am, and stopped an hour later. Which suggests that the weather is weird enough for all of the emergency planning being made to be in vain, and qualifying and the race will take place as planned, in the dry, with no disruption. Still, not preparing for the possibility is a sure-fire guarantee that it will rain.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams after the first day of practice at Qatar:
MOVISTAR YAMAHA PUSH THE LIMIT IN FIRST QATAR FP SESSION
The Movistar Yamaha MotoGP Team showed its hand at the first outing of the Grand Prix of Qatar today. Riders Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi took little time to get refamiliarised with the Losail International Circuit, wrapping up the first timed practice session in first and ninth place respectively.
DOHA (QATAR), 23RD MARCH 2017
There is some resistance to talk of there being "Aliens" in MotoGP. Why, fans ask, should we regard these riders as so very different from the other riders on the grid? In previous years, the answer to that objection was simple. Of the 143 MotoGP races held between 2008 and 2015, only two had been won by someone other other than the riders regarded as MotoGP Aliens. In 2009, Andrea Dovizioso won the British Grand Prix at Donington Park. And in 2011, Ben Spies won the Dutch TT at Assen. At both races, the weather conditions were a factor.
2016 put an end to that objection. Last season, there were a record-breaking nine winners in eighteen races. Andrea Dovizioso won his second race (and nearly won a third). Cal Crutchlow won two in the same season, one in the wet, one in the dry. Does that mean there are now more Aliens? Or does it invalidate the term altogether?
2017 is going to muddy the waters on the term Alien even further. Yes, there are five riders who can be expected to win a race every time they turn up at a track. But there are three or four others who are just as likely to spring a surprise and win a race this season. Nobody would expect them to win six or seven races, but neither would anyone be surprised if they were to win one race each. If they are not quite Aliens, what then shall we call them? MotoGP's astronauts?
There were three Ducatis in the top five at last weekend’s final preseason tests – which is why Jorge Lorenzo may just make history next week
The two big questions ahead of next week’s season-opening Qatar Grand Prix: will Maverick Viñales win first time out with Yamaha, or will Jorge Lorenzo win first time out with Ducati?
We already know Viñales will most likely be competitive everywhere, while Lorenzo will probably be fast wherever the Ducati works, which includes Losail, where the bike was in the thick of the fight for victory in 2015 and 2016.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams after the final day of the final test in Qatar:
MOVISTAR YAMAHA MAKE FINAL STEPS IN LOSAIL TEST
Today Movistar Yamaha MotoGP riders Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi completed the third and final day of the 2017 pre-season test. The Factory Yamaha duo were able to enjoy a good amount of track time and concluded the test in first and sixth place respectively in the overall standings.
LOSAIL (QATAR), 12TH MARCH 2017
Testing is over. Sunday was the last chance for the MotoGP field to work on preparing for the 2017 season, to tweak, refine, experiment. The next time bikes take to the track, in two weeks time, there will be much more at stake than pride and a little bit of psychological advantage. There will no longer be anywhere to hide.
The last day of the test meant a busy schedule, though that is a relative thing at the Losail International circuit. For the best part of two hours, nothing stirred on track bar the bored chatter of riders, mechanics and photographers as they waited for the sun to go down, and the track to cool off enough to go testing. Once testing started, riders started grinding out the laps. Temperatures stayed high enough to stave off the dew, and it was possible to ride until the track closed at 11pm without the risk of crashing on an invisible patch of moisture.
Riders didn't need the excuse of moisture to crash, however. In five hours of usable track time, riders crashed fourteen times in total. Some seemed particularly prone, with Sam Lowes going down twice, and Marc Márquez managing to hit the deck three times in a single day. Márquez had a simple explanation for his crashes. "From the first to the last lap, I'm always on the limit," he said. "It try to be in 1'55s, but this is a risk." Márquez paid the price, though he put one crash down to testing a part which didn't work, though he did not specify what.