Jorge Lorenzo

2019 Qatar MotoGP Race Round Up: From Masterful Management To Youthful Recklessness

For a place which 95% of the paddock hates going to, Qatar certainly knows how to make us want to come back. The area between Doha and the Losail International Circuit has been a mixture of noisy construction, omnipresent sand and dust, and an ever-changing and convoluted road system (the route to the track regularly and literally changing overnight) ever since I first went to a race there in 2009. But once at the circuit, the track layout serves up some of the best racing in the world.

Fittingly, the title sponsor for the Qatar round of MotoGP was VisitQatar, the Qatari tourist office aimed at stimulating inbound tourism to the Gulf peninsula. To be honest, the best thing VisitQatar could do to attract visitors to the country is just play all three of Sunday's races on a loop. In the Moto3 race, the first eleven riders all finished within a second. The first five riders in MotoGP finished within six tenths of a second. And the winning margin in all three races was five hundredths of a second or less. These were races decided by the width of a wheel, the winner in doubt all the way to the line.

The MotoGP race was a thrilling affair, a close race from start to finish, with wild passes as far as the eye can see. Riders jockeyed for position, vying to make their contesting strategies pay off. Yet it still left some fans feeling empty, with the impression that they were being cheated of an even better race if the riders has been willing and able to go flat out as soon as the lights went out all the way to the end.

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2019 Qatar MotoGP Friday Round Up: Explaining New Tech, Viñales' New Crew, And Not Moving The Race Start

And so hope and expectation meet reality. On Friday, we could stop fantasizing about just how good this season might be, and see for ourselves just how close the field is in the premier class. Well, how close it is outside Marc Márquez' insane record-crushing lap in FP2, made following Maverick Viñales around and using him as a target. It may only be Friday, but Márquez beat Johann Zarco's pole-setting lap record from last year by three tenths of a second. And they will only be going faster again tomorrow.

Any concerns that Marc Márquez might ease himself back into MotoGP, nursing the shoulder he had operated on last year until it was back at 100%, were laid to rest. "No, I ride full attack. I am riding full attack, I am pushing," Márquez said.

Viñales, who knew that Márquez had been following him when he made his fastest time, joked about it being a magnanimous gesture towards a weakened rival. "Yeah, I knew he was there, but I know he is injured, so I tried to help him a little bit... " the Monster Energy Yamaha rider joked. "Maybe I helped him too much! But it was important to see where our competitors are, so at the moment, we have to put the head down and work, work, work. They are ahead at the moment, some tenths ahead, so we need to keep working really hard."

From development to practice

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Crunching The Numbers: Is Marc Marquez Really Risking His Career By Crashing So Much?

Marc Marquez coming over the hill at Mugello in 2018

On October 21st, 2018, at Motegi, Marc Márquez wrapped up his fifth MotoGP title in six seasons, with three races to spare. He did so despite having suffered his 18th crash of the season so far during FP4, the front washing out as he released the brakes in Turn 7. He led the MotoGP class in crashes at Motegi, and would continue to do so through the final race in Valencia, amassing a grand total of 23 crashes at official events throughout the 2018 season.

He had gone one better in 2018 than he had the year before, finishing second to Sam Lowes in 2017, ending up with 27 crashes to Lowes' 31. In 2016, he was a lowly third in the crash rankings, ending the season with 17 falls, behind Cal Crutchlow and Jack Miller with 26 and 25 crashes respectively.

That propensity to crash has caused many people to question just how long Márquez can keep taking the risks that he does. Former triple world champion Wayne Rainey, in a recent interview with Motorsport.com's Gerald Dirnbeck, voices a concern felt by many. "If Marquez falls down over 20 times again next year, maybe Marquez beats himself," Rainey said. "When you are off your bike, sliding across the grass at 200km/h, maybe you're OK for the first two meters, but then if you start flipping across the track, anything can happen. I'm hoping Marquez can find a way to be more consistent. He needs to stay on his bike more. It's not very healthy to make mistakes like that."

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Interviewing Honda's Bosses: On The Triple Crown, Spec IMUs, Signing Lorenzo, Moto3, And WorldSBK

The following is an interview which leading Japanese MotoGP journalist and friend of MotoMatters.com Akira Nishimura conducted with the heads of Honda's racing program Tetsuhiro Kuwata, and Shinya Wakabayashi. Nishimura conducted the interviews in Japanese, and translated them into impeccable English. I then edited them in English for style. Any inaccuracies or errors are therefore mine. - David Emmett

In 2018, Honda secured the triple crown, with Repsol Honda's Marc Marquez winning his third consecutive MotoGP title, bringing his total to five, Honda winning the constructors title, and the Repsol Honda team wrapping up the team championship. Everybody thought it was a perfect season for Honda, but what was the reality for them? At the beginning of January, we visited the HRC laboratory in Asaka, Saitama Prefecture and spoke to Tetsuhiro Kuwata, General Manager of Racing Operations Management Division and Shinya Wakabayashi, the boss of Technology Development Division for 90 minutes on how they saw Honda's 2018 season, and what they expect for 2019.

Q: In 2018, you won the triple crown again. Do you think it was a perfect season for Honda?

Kuwata: Not at all! Because the battle between manufacturers was very intense, like always. In 2017, we fought for the championship until Valencia, so when you compare this year to that, maybe you think 2018 was perfect for us. But it was not the case because our competitors were always very strong. We tried to pull away from them, but it was just impossible. To be honest, it was a very tough season, like in 2017.

Wakabayashi: After the middle of the season, we had an advantage in some points, but we also had a disadvantage in other points. We tried to improve our weak points to catch up with our competitors, but it was difficult to reduce the gap.

Q: What was the advantage and disadvantage you had?

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2019 Qatar MotoGP Test Sunday Notes: Rins Rocks It, Quartararo Surprises, Yamaha's Dilemma, And The End Of Testing Is Nigh

The Qatar MotoGP test is turning out to be more intriguing than we dared hope. The track in the desert is a very different beast to the tropical Sepang, and throws up different challenges. That produces different winners and different losers. And that leaves us, the neutral observers, with much to chew on.

Some of the names at the top of the timesheets are the same: Alex Rins and Maverick Viñales have been fast all preseason, and the second day at Qatar was no exception. But seeing Fabio Quartararo in third is quite a surprise; at Sepang, the Petronas SRT Yamaha rider was way down in sixteenth, 1.2 seconds off the pace at the front.

Quartararo's secret? "Today has been the first time that when I put the new tire in, I disconnected my brain to say, OK, now it's time to make a time attack," he joked. So disconnected was his brain that he didn't even realize just how fast he was going. "The first lap time I made was a 1'55.0, and I didn't realize it was a 1'55.0. I thought it was a 1'56.0, and I said, 'I need to be faster!' The next lap, I made a 1'54, so the lap before was a 1'55!" He was happy that it was three quick laps in a row, proving that it wasn't just luck.

It is interesting to compare the fortunes of Quartararo and Pecco Bagnaia. At Sepang, Bagnaia was the rookie making all the waves, while Quartararo languished down the field. At Qatar, the roles are reversed, with Quartararo third, and Bagnaia down in fifteenth, over a second back.

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Repsol Honda Launch: A Dream Team, A Youthful Dream, And Fear of Injuries

If you looked very carefully at the Repsol Honda 2019 livery, you could see a difference. A touch more black under the tail. A dash more white on the tank, and a different line here and there. But other than a large sticker celebrating 25 years of collaboration between Repsol and HRC, the differences were almost impossible to see.

And why should they change? In the previous 24 seasons together, Repsol and Honda have won the premier class championship 14 times, a strike rate of nearly 60%. Marc Márquez, Mick Doohan, Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner, Nicky Hayden, and Alex Crivillé have all become world champions wearing Repsol colors. Repsol Honda riders have a combined 168 wins, 427 podiums, and 177 poles between them. So why ditch that in pursuit of novelty? The Repsol livery is proven, and it is timeless. And so it stays as it was, no matter how much the crowd bays for change.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - MotoGP’s strongest-ever team is here

Márquez and Lorenzo make the most successful team in premier-class history… shame they’re unlikely to be fully fit for the first race

Most team launches are a bit, well, meh, because the future is like looking for Eldorado: it’s easy to promise all kinds of gold and glory before the journey has even begun.

During every team launch you will hear riders explain why they are looking forward to fighting for the title because they’ve got the best bike, the best team, the best sponsors, the best team-mate, the best of everything… It’s déjà vu-inducing.

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