2018 Qatar MotoGP Friday Round Up: Winter Is Over, And Silly Season Is Here

Winter is officially over. Though meteorological winter ended on 1st March, and the astronomical winter will end next week on 20th of March, the long MotoGP winter came to an end at 12:50 local time in Qatar, when Moto3 rolled out for their session of free practice. After World Superbikes got everyone warmed up at Phillip Island in February, the advent of the Grand Prix classes means that racing is back again in earnest.

It is also back in weird way, as is to be expected at Qatar. The schedule remains a curiosity, the latest iteration merely shuffling the weirdness around. For MotoGP, the first session in the blistering heat, the second in the relatively cool of the evening. Track temperatures in FP1 were hitting the mid to high 40s °C, whereas in FP2, they had dropped into the mid 20s. In essence, FP1 is as good as useless for finding a setup. Times dropped by a second between FP1 and FP2, a good indication of the difference in track grip.

The riders had talked about the schedule in the Safety Commission meeting, hastily scheduled for the end of the day after the riders decided against doing it between FP1 and FP2. "In my opinion, it's a special weekend, and we know that," Marc Márquez told us. "Of course FP1, you ride, you feel it's the same layout, but it's for nothing. You cannot try the setup for the race. It's a special weekend, and it will be impossible to find the best schedule. If you want a GP of five days, yes, because then we start on Wednesday, but for me it's OK."

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2018 Qatar MotoGP FP2 Result: The Ducati Takeover

In a more familiar sight, the night had truly set in by the time the premier class hit the playground one last time on Friday. The fight heated up in the final five minutes, Danilo Petrucci the first man to make his mark and put nearly half a second into the competition, only to be robbed by Dovizioso one lap later. Ducati’s lead Italian kept his name at the top of the timesheets as the checkered flag waved, with Petrucci a mere six thousandths of a second behind and Rins breaking the Ducati hegemony another tenth behind.

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2018 Qatar Moto2 FP2 Result: The Marquez Method

With the sun having set, the famous bright lights of Losail coming to life and the temperature starting to drop, the timesheets for the intermediate class changed configuration somewhat from what the afternoon offered.

After narrowly missing out in the first session, Alex Marquez exerted his revenge and set camp at the top of the timesheets early on once again, improving his time by one second and showing mighty pace throughout his run, as well as the occasional highlights reel twitch.

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Lin Jarvis On Keeping Rossi, Losing Tech3, And How Yamaha Caused The Rider Market Explode

It has been an eventful couple of weeks for Yamaha. Apart from the expected hectic period of preseason testing, Yamaha agreed a new two-year deal with Valentino Rossi. There was also the surprise announcement by Jonas Folger that he wouldn't be racing in 2018, and working with Hervé Poncharal to find a replacement for the Tech3 team. More significantly, they also had to deal with the surprise announcement that Tech3 will be leaving Yamaha at the end of this season, and swapping to become a satellite for KTM from 2019 onwards.

So journalists had plenty of questions for Lin Jarvis, the head of Yamaha Motor Racing, and Qatar was the first opportunity to ask him. In a session with the media on Thursday night, Jarvis answered questions on all these subjects and more, offering an insight into the way Yamaha are thinking. The departure of Tech3 could see Yamaha rethink the way they have been working in the past.

Obviously, the re-signing of Valentino Rossi was a big topic of conversation. What was the main reason for keeping Rossi, Jarvis was asked. "There are so many reasons, it’s difficult to give one," the Yamaha boss replied. "Because of everything he brings to Yamaha, and the sport, and the team, because of who he is. That’s the motivation. But I would also like to add that he is still highly competitive and absolutely a top rider capable of winning."

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2018 Qatar Moto3 FP2 Result: Runaway Martin

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.

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2018 Qatar MotoGP FP1 Result: Dovizioso Prepares The Battleground

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.

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2018 Qatar Moto2 FP1 Result: Baldassarri Reborn

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.

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2018 Qatar Moto3 FP1 Result: Bestia Leads The Way

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.

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2018 Qatar MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Making A Weird Weekend Even Weirder

Qatar is always a strange place to kick off the MotoGP season: a windswept circuit in the middle of the desert (though not for long, as the suburbs of Doha are rapidly approaching the track), racing under the floodlights, around a circuit with just a single grandstand a VIP pavilion. It is an odd location with a weird atmosphere. The race feels surreal, part of a science fiction spectacular, an impression reinforced as you drive back to Doha afterwards, the huge Blade Runner-esque skyscrapers awash with ever-shifting patterns of blinking lights.

You would think that the season opener couldn't get much odder, but series organizer Dorna has found a way. In response to complaints of dew forming after 9pm in the evening, rendering the track treacherous (and incidentally, buying room to run the race later at night should a rain shower threaten to upset the apple cart), the race times have been shifted. MotoGP is now the only class that runs in the dark, with FP2, qualifying, and the race all taking place after sunset. Moto2 and Moto3 will both practice and race during daytime.

The unfortunate side effect to the new schedule is that MotoGP now has two radically different sets of conditions. FP1, FP3, and Warm Up all take place around 3pm, when the sun is still hot and the track is scorching. FP2, FP4, qualifying, and the race all take place after dark, once air and track temperatures have dropped by a significant margin. It is not quite as bad as Moto2, however: the intermediate class holds FP2 and qualifying after dark, but will race at 5:20pm, 25 minutes before sunset. They will start the race in sunlight, finish it in the dark, and heaven knows what the difference in track temperatures will be between the start and the end of the race.

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Valentino Rossi Signs On For Two More Years At Yamaha, Will Race Through 2020

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. 

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Guest Video Blog: Freddie Spencer Answer's Questions And Reviews Preseason Testing

MotoMatters.com, in association with Motor Sport Magazine, is proud to feature the rider insights of 1983 and 1985 500cc world champion Freddie Spencer. Every week after each MotoGP race, Fast Freddie will share what he saw and learned from the race.

A new season means another season of video blogs by the legendary 500cc champion Freddie Spencer. In this blog, Fast Freddie answers a number of questions sent in to Motor Sport Magazine podcast he did with Mat Oxley, then goes on to examine the state of play in MotoGP after preseason testing. He runs down the different manufacturers, how Honda have started strong, how Jorge Lorenzo has been up and down, and how Yamaha have lost their way.

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The Comprehensive, Cover-All-The-Bases 2018 MotoGP Preview: Yes, It's A New Golden Age

It seems safe to say we are living in a new Golden Age of MotoGP. The stomach-churning tension of 2015 was followed by an unimaginably wild 2016 season, the racing turned on its head by the combination of Michelin's first season back in MotoGP and the switch to fully spec Magneti Marelli electronics. 2017 saw the surprises keep on coming, with new and unexpected names such as Andrea Dovizioso and Johann Zarco becoming serious factors in the premier class. The field got deeper, the bikes more competitive, domination a thing of the past.

All the signs are that this trend is going to continue in 2018. Preseason testing has shown that there is now little to choose between four or maybe five of the six different manufacturers on the grid, while the sixth is not that far off being competitive as well. Where we once regarded having four riders capable of winning a race as a luxury, now there are ten or more potential winners lining up on a Sunday. This is going to be another thrilling season, with the title likely to go down to the wire once again.

Once upon a time, winning a championship meant being on a factory Honda or Yamaha. The balance between the two bikes shifted from year to year, as one of the two would find an incremental improvement the other couldn't match. One year, Honda would find more top speed which the Yamaha couldn't compensate for. The next, Yamaha would add stability on the brakes, which allow its riders to match the Honda going into the corner, then leave it for dead on the way out. It was a game of small steps, the championship swinging one way then the other.

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Former 250cc Star Ralf Waldmann Dies

Ralf Waldmann, former superstar of the 250cc class, has died at the age of 51 years of age. The immensely popular German rider was found dead near his parents home after apparently suffering a heart attack. 

Waldmann was one of the best 250cc racers never to win a title. The German was a ferocious competitor throughout the 1990s, taking on such greats as Max Biaggi, Loris Capirossi, Daijiro Katoh, Tohru Ukawa, Tetsuya Harada, and Olivier Jacque. Waldmann never managed to win a title, though he finished runner up to Max Biaggi twice.

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Subscriber Feature: The Revolution Which Will Shake The 2019 MotoGP Grid Up Beyond Recognition

At the start of this year, I made three predictions for the 2018 MotoGP season: that Marc Márquez would win more races this year on his way to the title than he did last year; that Valentino Rossi would sign a new contract with Yamaha; and that this year's Silly Season would be a disappointingly tame affair, with most riders staying where they are.

Three months into the year, and it looks like one of those predictions will be right, as Rossi is already close to signing a new contract already. It's too early to judge the Márquez prediction, with racing still to start, though the Repsol Honda rider has looked very strong in preseason testing.

But I am starting to believe that my final prediction, that Silly Season would turn out to be something of a dud, will be proved completely wrong. After three MotoGP tests and a whole lot of talking, the rumor mill is running at full tilt. And what it is saying is that this could be the season where the grid is turned upside down. Though at this stage, much is still just gossip and rumor, it looks like the only factory team to remain unchanged will be the Movistar Yamaha team.

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Gino Borsoi: "Maybe We Will Sit Down With Yamaha At Qatar"

The Tech3 team's decision to switch from Yamaha to KTM sent shock waves through the MotoGP paddock. Few had been expecting Tech3 to abandon a relationship of 20 years and give up a bike which a proven track record of success. Simultaneously, the shock waves Tech3's announcement triggered a reaction among the other teams in the paddock: with two Yamaha M1s up for grabs, other satellite teams not already locked in are weighing their options. After Tech3, who's next?

The names being bandied about to replace Tech3 as a satellite Yamaha team are self evident. Marc VDS have been strongly linked to the rides, with the Angel Nieto Team a close second, though Avintia are also in the fray. With suggestions that Suzuki and Aprilia are also examining the possibility of supplying bikes to a satellite team, it seems there is much to play for.

At the Jerez Moto2/Moto3 test, I spoke to Gino Borsoi, team director of the Angel Nieto Team, who was there to oversee the test for the team's Moto3 riders, Andrea Migno and Albert Arenas. The subject was of course whether the team had any interest in taking over the Yamahas which had been freed up by Tech3, and their plans for 2019 and beyond.

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