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It has been a long, long stay for the MotoGP paddock in Qatar. The first group arrived in the first days of March, for the first MotoGP test starting on March 5th. Then another three-day test starting on March 10th. Then the Moto2 and Moto3 tests, from March 19th to 21st. A week later the first Grand Prix weekend, and the first races on March 28th. And finally, on Sunday, April 4th, the second round of the season at Qatar. The MotoGP riders have spent 11 days riding around the Losail International Circuit. The Moto2 and Moto3 riders a "mere" nine days.
Everyone is very, very over being in Qatar. There is nothing left to learn at the track, despite the incredibly fickle nature of the conditions created by the (media- and PR-driven) need to hold the race at night. For some teams and riders, there was very little to learn there in the first place. Was there anything KTM had learned that would be useful in Portimão and Jerez, I asked Miguel Oliveira. "Nothing. It was simple and clear," the Red Bull KTM rider responded, clearly interested only in going home after so many weeks away. He wasn't the only one.
The first race of the 2021 MotoGP season produced much food for thought. Too much to fit into one foreshortened evening, so here are a few initial thoughts for MotoMatters.com subscribers after a fascinating season opener at Qatar:
- Does winning in Qatar mean anything?
- The two ways of going fast
- Top speeds in practice don't mean as much as you might hope
- The transformation of Maverick Viñales
- Winners and losers
- Franco Morbidelli: When holeshot devices go bad
- A tale of two rookies – Bastianini vs Martin
- Cameron Beaubier passes his first test in Moto2
The veteran crew chief knows better than anyone the work that went into Sam Lowes’ title challenge in 2020. The Frenchman speaks to Motomatters.com on keeping his approach simple and giving his rider the freedom to work on himself.
Sam Lowes at the Qatar Moto2 test - Copyright Marc VDS/Mirco Lazzari
On the eve of the 2021 season, it’s fair to say Sam Lowes’ hopes for round one are quite different compared to a year ago. Recruited to Marc VDS’ slick operation after two tough seasons in Moto2, the Englishman’s 2020 got off to the worst possible start when he suffered a fracture-dislocation of his right shoulder in a testing spill. It meant the Lincolnshire rider was forced to sit out the first race of the year despite riding in Friday’s sessions.
The turnaround from there was impressive and surprising in equal measures. From joining the Marc VDS team, Lowes worked on himself off the track, visiting a sports psychologist and reworking his approach. He worked on himself on the track, too, smoothing out his riding style and adapting his braking method. The results spoke for themselves. But for a free practice spill at the penultimate race, it is no exaggeration to say the 30-year old would have been entering this year as a reigning champion.
Not to worry. A productive, if short, preseason sees Lowes start 2021 as one of – if not the – preseason favourite for Moto2. He topped the times on the final night of testing in Qatar and showed a searing rhythm to boot. Marco Bezzecchi, surely another contender in this year’s fight, claims Sam is the “super favourite.” And after the end of a turbulent 2020, who could argue with the fuzzy-haired Italian?
Feels like a long time since we had any real racing, I am sure you will agree? We would have been well past the first round of any recent WorldSBK season by now but I am sure you don’t need me to remind you we do not live in normal times.
Being first out of the global gate compared to MotoGP, or almost any other major two wheel (or even four-wheel) hydrocarbon-based competition, was one of the attractions of modern day WorldSBK.
In most other years the majority of the Superbike paddock would have already recovered from post-Phillip Island jet lag back in Europe by now, just as MotoGP and F1 were getting ready to set their sights on round one. But, here we are in mid-March and still mired in the 2021 phoney war no-man’s land.
Particularly frustrating for all given that we have had enough pre-season rider reshuffles and new bikes on the blue horizon for us to feel the need to row out hard and fast to meet the latest WorldSBK dawn at full ramming speed. As it stands, WorldSBK will kick off in the high plateau of the Aragon region in Spain, between 21-23 May. I mean, we have to wait until very nearly the end of May to even get started…