The Numbers Game - Why Rain At Qatar Is More Likely Than You Think

Clouds in the sky at the Losail track before the Qatar MotoGP race

After the rain-soaked debacle of the postponed MotoGP race at Qatar, any MotoGP fan worth his or her salt will be able to recite one statistic by heart: It only rains in Qatar for eight days a year, on average. And so staging a night race under the floodlights there, in the certain knowledge that the race must be canceled if it starts to rain, seems like a pretty safe bet. After all, 8 rain days out of a total of 365 means that there is only a 2.2% chance of the event having to be called off, right?

It seems like an obvious conclusion, but as with so many other conclusions drawn from statistics, it is completely incorrect. Human beings are notoriously bad at math, and this is just a typical instance. Just why this conclusion is incorrect is obvious when viewed logically, so let us look at it in more detail.

The key term to understand here is "average". It may well rain for 8 days a year on average, but that does not mean that those 8 days are spread evenly throughout the year - after all, the average temperature of the Earth is 14º Centigrade, or 57º Fahrenheit, but tell that to someone in Nuuk or Furnace Creek Ranch and they'll laugh in your face.

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Qatar MotoGP Race Rescheduled To Monday 9pm Local, But Riders Displeased

As news, rumor and speculation seep out from Qatar, with news stories contradicting each other appearing almost every minute or so, there is only one thing that we know for sure about the 2009 MotoGP Grand Prix of Qatar at Losail: That it wasn't run at its scheduled time. The latest state of affairs is that the race is to be run on Monday, at 9pm local time - though by the time you read this, that may have changed.

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MotoGP Qatar Race Delayed, Cancellation Looking Increasingly Likely

Rain at Qatar MotoGP race

Just as happened to the 125cc race, rain has disrupted the MotoGP race. But luckily for the MotoGP riders,  the rain started to fall before the race started, and before the riders had a chance to get hurt. Just minutes before the race was due to start, as the track was cleared ready for the warm up lap, rain drops got heavier, then started to fall in earnest, prompting race direction to delay the start of the race. The rain then started in earnest, drenching the track and making the race look very unlikely.

The problems with the race point to the absurdity of running a race at night. Environmental aspects aside, the threat of rain always meant that the events were susceptible to disruption, as the reflection of the light off a wet surface reduces visibility to zero and makes racing impossible. Having moved the start of the season back to April, so that the temperature would be warmer during the night races, after complaints that the track was too cold and starting to get damp in the colder temperatures of March, perhaps it is time to reconsider, move the race back to March, and just run it during the day. If it rains during the day, at least the race can continue as normal, the riders using wet tires as at every other track.

The lighting at Qatar is remarkable achievement, and the running of the race under the floodlights a triumph of technology. But it is also unnecessary and pointless, serving no purpose other than doing so because we can. As is so often the case when human hubris gets the upper hand, nature is quick to slap us back into place. Better to be practical, and run during the day, rather than try to solve a problem that doesn't really exist in the first place. 

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Rain Stops Play At Qatar - 125 Race Red-Flagged

A sudden deluge has put an end to the 125cc race at the MotoGP season opener at Qatar. Normally, rain is not a problem for the bikes, and the race would be restarted once the bikes had been fitted with wet tires. But the problem with the Qatar race is that it is a night race, run under the spotlights. And despite Musco lighting's remarkable and ingenious lighting system, once the rain starts falling, the light reflects off the surface water, the reflections start dazzling the riders, making it very difficult to see, let alone race.

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2009 Qatar 125 Warm Up Result - Simon Does It Again

Result of the 125cc Warm Up at Qatar:

PosNo.RiderBikeTimeDiffDiff Previous
160Julian SIMONAPRILIA2'09.303  
229Andrea IANNONEAPRILIA2'09.4440.1410.141
318Nicolas TEROLAPRILIA2'10.0220.7190.578
433Sergio GADEAAPRILIA2'10.0940.7910.072
538Bradley SMITHAPRILIA2'10.1560.8530.062
611Sandro CORTESEDERBI2'10.6611.3580.505
793Marc MARQUEZKTM2'10.6661.3630.005
844Pol ESPARGARODERBI2'10.6721.3690.006
945Scott REDDINGAPRILIA2'10.6971.3940.025
1094Jonas FOLGERAPRILIA2'10.8051.5020.108
1117Stefan BRADLAPRILIA2'11.1421.8390.337
1224Simone CORSIAPRILIA2'11.3072.0040.165
1373Takaaki NAKAGAMIAPRILIA2'11.4212.1180.114
146Joan OLIVEDERBI2'11.8012.4980.380
1514Johann ZARCOAPRILIA2'12.0142.7110.213
1635Randy KRUMMENACHERAPRILIA2'12.0482.7450.034
1777Dominique AEGERTERDERBI2'12.1542.8510.106
1812Esteve RABATAPRILIA2'12.1852.8820.031
1932Lorenzo SAVADORIAPRILIA2'12.2042.9010.019
2099Danny WEBBAPRILIA2'12.2242.9210.020
218Lorenzo ZANETTIAPRILIA2'12.4263.1230.202
2216Cameron BEAUBIERKTM2'13.0633.7600.637
237Efren VAZQUEZDERBI2'13.3084.0050.245
2453Jasper IWEMAHONDA2'14.1874.8840.879
2569Lukas SEMBERAAPRILIA2'14.2084.9050.021
2671Tomoyoshi KOYAMALONCIN2'14.6985.3950.490
275Alexis MASBOULONCIN2'14.8375.5340.139
2887Luca MARCONIAPRILIA2'14.8665.5630.029
2988Michael RANSEDERHAOJUE2'15.4796.1760.613
3010Luca VITALIAPRILIA2'17.1417.8381.662
3166Matthew HOYLEHAOJUE2'17.9328.6290.791

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