The Qatar round of MotoGP has always been a tricky proposition. The track and the facilities are remarkable, with a spacious paddock and outstandingly equipped pit garages, but the location of the track - in the desert, in one of the hottest regions in the world - places a great deal of strain on using those facilities. From April to October, daytime temperatures make racing a motorcycle a punishing affair, temperatures only really returning to comfortable levels during MotoGP's winter break.
Switching to a night race was meant to get around these problems, but the nighttime event posed problems of its own. Temperatures drop rapidly throughout the evening, making the surface suddenly very greasy as the combination of humidity and temperature hits the dew point, something which usually occurs just as the MotoGP race is about to begin. Several mysterious crashes during the final test of 2010 led to calls for the race to be rescheduled, and a search for solutions to the problem of the track turning treacherous. With Qatar holding a contract to field the opening race of the season, changing dates was not a realistic option, and racing under the floodlights was the one thing that marked the Qatar MotoGP race out as unique, meaning that the QMMF, the Qatari motorsports federation who organize the race, are reluctant to hold the race in the daytime.
A solution to his conundrum was found late in the summer. A proposal was made to spread the race weekend over four days instead of three, limiting the time window during which the 125cc, Moto2 and MotoGP classes would practice and race, providing a more consistent temperature profile for the teams and tire manufacturers to deal with. Today, it was announced that the four-day schedule had been adopted for this year's Qatar MotoGP round, meaning that free practice for the event will start on Thursday, March 17th, instead of Friday, as is normally the case.
The change to the schedule means that practice has become more splintered, with the 125cc and Moto2 classes running FP1 and FP2 on Thursday, while MotoGP gets only FP1. The MotoGP class gets two sessions on Friday, holding FP2 at the beginning of the evening, and FP3 at the end, with the 125s and Moto2 holding FP3 in between. Saturday sees all classes running qualifying, and then the 125cc and Moto2 classes having their warm up, while MotoGP holds its warm up session on Sunday, directly before the three classes race.
As confusing as it has become, the new schedule is an improvement over previous attempts. Of course, the race is still threatened by rain, as all action has to be cancelled on a wet track, with the floodlights causing too many reflections when there is water on the track, as we saw back in 2009, when the race had to be moved from Sunday to Monday due to rain. The ideal solution - for many fans at least - would be for the race to be brought forward to the end of February or early March, and run during the daytime, making for a longer season, and a shorter winter break. Unfortunately, the Qatari federation want to show off their floodlights, and so a return to racing during the daytime is unlikely to happen any time soon.
Below is the announcement of the new schedule from Dorna:
We inform you the schedule for the first Grand Prix of the season taking place in Qatar will be different and will have its FP1 on THURSDAY to make sure that all sessions will be at night.
The schedule of the Commercialbank Grand Prix of Qatar will be as follows
|Thursday March 17th|
|18:00-18:40||125cc||Free Practice 1|
|18:55-19:40||Moto2||Free Practice 1|
|19:55-20:40||MotoGP||Free Practice 1|
|20:55-21:35||125cc||Free Practice 2|
|21:50-22:35||Moto2||Free Practice 2|
|Friday March 18th|
|18:00-18:45||MotoGP||Free Practice 2|
|19:00-19:40||125cc||Free Practice 3|
|19:55-20:40||Moto2||Free Practice 3|
|20:55-21:40||MotoGP||Free Practice 3|
|Saturday March 19th|
|Sunday March 20th|
|19:00||125cc||Race (18 laps)|
|20:15||Moto2||Race (20 laps)|
|22:00||MotoGP||Race (22 laps)|
Time schedule in local time.