It's been a long winter. It's been five and a half months since the MotoGP bikes burnt rubber in anger on a race track, with only the amuse-bouche of the official IRTA Test at Jerez two weeks ago to still MotoGP fans' hunger. And with the winter test schedule curtailed as part of the extensive package of cost-cutting measures introduced after the global economic crisis blindsided MotoGP - along with the rest of the world, so it seems - even the scraps gleaned from testing were fewer and further between.
So the sense of excitement at the MotoGP season finally getting underway at Qatar was palpable, and the buzz of interest echoed around the internet, in bike clubs, on rideouts, and in workshops. Further encouraging the chatter were the myriad changes to the series: New riders had entered the class, as well as an old one, in the shape of Sete Gibernau, making his return to racing after a two-year layoff; New tire rules had been introduced - for the third year running - with Bridgestone now the sole supplier, only 20 tires and two compounds available for each rider, and no more special, sticky qualifying tires; Other rules had also been changed, with the Friday morning practice dropped, and the remaining sessions cut from 60 minutes to just 45, effectively halving practice time, and a minimum engine life to be enforced in the second half of the season.
Anyone wondering how the changes would affect the weekend saw their question answered immediately. Within seconds of the pit lane opening, a whole gaggle of riders took to the track, eager to maximize every second of setup time available to them. It looked a lot less like MotoGP practice and more like a 125 session, where the short practice sessions - and large grids - guarantee that there is always some action on track somewhere. But after the two free practice sessions, MotoGP looked remarkably familiar: Casey Stoner had shot to the top of the timesheets from his first full lap out of the pits, and barely relinquished his spot there. Valentino Rossi was the only rider capable of getting close to Stoner's times, while the Yamahas of Jorge Lorenzo and Colin Edwards were the best of the rest.
The only person missing from the front was the man who had swapped last year's #2 plate for #3, Dani Pedrosa. The diminutive Spaniard had fractured his wrist and reopened an old knee injury in a monster highside testing at Qatar in February. Since then, his knee had been immobilized, and Pedrosa himself estimated his fitness at "70, maybe 80%". But he had not come to Qatar to win, just to limit the damage in what promises to be a very tough championship race indeed. After two sessions, Pedrosa was gaining strength and speed, and looking more competitive than expected.
Qualifying was the next big mystery. Before the super-sticky qualifying tires were scrapped, the qualifying practice always played out to a set script. The first half hour would be spent on setup, then the first qualifiers would start to go on, until the final 10 minutes turned into a hectic dash to set a single hot lap. With only race tires available, that would surely change, right?
Not quite. Bridgestone had brought two different compounds to Qatar: a medium and a softer one. From early in the first practice session, it became clear that the harder tire would be the one to use in the race, so after spending the first half of practice on race setup, teams starting throwing in the softer tires to try and move their way up the grid.
Though the script was the same, the outcome as subtly different. On a qualifying tire a brave - or perhaps, foolhardy - rider could push right to the limit, and snatch grid positions ahead of riders less willing to risk it all ahead of race day. On the softer race tires, everyone went faster, but the differences were smaller. The grid ended up as a reflection of the fastest riders in practice - Casey Stoner on pole, with Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo beside him on the first row, while Andrea Dovizioso headed up the second row, with MotoGP veterans Loris Capirossi and Colin Edwards alongside.
On Sunday night, as the bikes lined up on the grid, MotoGP's long winter of discontent was nearly at an end. The time for talking was over, and the time for racing had arrived. Unfortunately, it had arrived at literally the same time as an unusually rare desert rainstorm: The grid cleared for the start of the warm up lap just as the heavens opened, the pit crews rushing back onto the grid as fast as they had deserted it for the start of the race.
Under normal circumstances, this would only be a minor inconvenience. The bikes would be rolled into the pits, fitted with full wet tires, and the race would be restarted as a wet race 10 minutes later. TV schedules would remain unchanged, and the fans appetites would be sated, though the race might turn out a little different than they expected. But Qatar is a night race, and the penalty for staging what is truly a technological marvel is that even a relatively small amount of rain can leave the track surface shiny enough to make racing impossible.
The floodlights which illuminate the track have been ingeniously position to avoid dazzling the riders as they pass, based on lighting specialist Musco's years of experience in North America. When it rains, all that work goes to naught, as the lights reflect off the water on the track, blinding the riders and making it impossible to see where the track ends and trouble begins.
This had already happened to the 125 class. The evening had started with drops of rain disrupting the start of the first support race, growing in intensity until the race was red-flagged after the 4th lap, as racing became outright dangerous. After an enforced period of inactivity, until the skies and the track cleared, the 250s then ran a severely shortened race, in an attempt to get the MotoGP race back on schedule, and ready to hit the TV window so carefully prepared for it by a swathe of European broadcasters.
It was not to be. The rain came just as the commentators were warming up for the start. Race direction's "race delayed" signed chased the teams and riders to the shelter of the garage, and the ensuing downpour made it clear that no racing would be taking place in the next hour or so, if not longer. A series of meetings followed, between Dorna, the teams, the manufacturers, the QMMF (who run the event), the FIM, and the rumors about the race flew. The first rumor was that it was to be canceled, and then postponed. Loris Capirossi suggested it be moved to the slot vacated by the cancellation of the Hungarian Grand Prix, in mid-September, whilst others were for a quicker attempt, at 6am the following morning.
Debate, sometimes heated, rumbled on, and facing a logistical nightmare - an army of trucks stood by, ready to take the freight containers off to a cargo plane, to be flown to Japan for the next round at Motegi - it was agreed to race the next day. But what time? Arguments now broke out about whether to race during the day (the riders' preference) at the same time, or earlier in the evening. In the end, it was decided to run the race two hours earlier on Monday night, and in the wee hours of the morning, everyone headed off to bed.
As the rain fell, the cameras continued to run, showing the growing pools of water on the track. The sight, shown live on the video feed of the official MotoGP.com website prompted one internet wit to comment, "Motogp.com feed still running, I can only hear 2 guys speaking Arabic about the weather machine sent from World Superbike working perfectly." With the World Superbike season off to a thrilling start while MotoGP was yet to begin, such a conspiracy seemed almost conceivable.
This Time For Real
And so, 22 hour later, the riders finally lined up on the grid, ready to race, and with no sign of the rain that could put a permanent end to the event. Much to the relief of the riders, it has to be said. The riders had been left fired up and frustrated at being pulled off the grid at the last moment. Valentino Rossi summed it up best: "It was like making out with your girlfriend, then having your mother walk in on you." On Monday, the coitus was not to be interruptus.
As the red lights dimmed, and the eighteen-strong grid released two days of pent-up energy through the last of their Bridgestone tires, MotoGP's winter finally came to an end. The 2009 season started the way that the 2008 season ended, with Casey Stoner howling his Ducati GP9 off the line and leading the pack into Turn 1.
Having followed Stoner's progress at first hand during testing, Valentino Rossi knew he couldn't afford to let the Australian out of his sight if he wanted to have a chance of beating him. Fortunately for the Doctor, the loss of the qualifying tires have improved his chances of starting from the front row, with no one-hot-lap specialists to get between him and Casey Stoner.
Unfortunately for Rossi, he is still not the world's best starter. As the pack headed into Turn 1, the Italian found the powder blue of Loris Capirossi's Rizla Suzuki blocking his way, and the Fiat Yamaha of his team mate Jorge Lorenzo snapping at his heels. Coming out of Turn 3, Lorenzo was even closer, and as the two team mates entered Turn 4, it was Lorenzo who had the inside line. Rossi may have been ahead, but he could not close the door on Lorenzo: the Spaniard already had his foot firmly wedged there. Stuck with the outside line, Rossi then had to watch Lorenzo lever the door open, and pass in the second of the double right handers, taking third and forcing Rossi down into fourth.
Rossi didn't need this. He may have counted on his team mate putting up some resistance later in the year, once Lorenzo was fully comfortable with the new tires, but not yet. To make things worse, both Casey Stoner and Loris Capirossi were considerably quicker than Lorenzo, Stoner streaking ahead while Capirex chased as hard as he could. With Stoner leading, Rossi could waste no time. Pushing the Spaniard all the way round the second of the Losail circuit's three "fingers", he lined Lorenzo up on the exit of the tight left of Turn 10, then ran hot and wide through Turn 11 ready to snatch the inside line into Turn 12. Lorenzo had no answer, and Rossi was free to chase the leaders.
He had a lot of work on his hands. Rossi was already over 2 seconds down on Casey Stoner, and had Loris Capirossi between him and his main rival. The Doctor set about his disposing of this first obstacle, chasing his veteran compatriot down on lap 2, arriving on Capirossi's tail as they reached the start of the straight. Though the Suzuki has been vastly improved over the winter, its one weakness remains top speed, and down Qatar's kilometer-long straight Capirossi's chances were minimal. Into Turn 1, Rossi was out of the draft and off chasing Stoner.
I'm Coming To Get You
The delay had proved costly. Just three laps in, and Rossi was already 2.8 seconds down to the man who had proven he was the fastest man on a motorcycle race after race for the past two years. That was a very big gap, but not impossible to overcome, and Rossi set about chipping away at Stoner's lead. Over the next six laps Rossi gained a tenth here, a tenth there, slowly clawing the gap back to under 2 seconds. On lap 10, Rossi's forward progress ceased and the gap stabilized.
It would not stay that way for long. Seeing Rossi too close for comfort, Stoner cranked up the pace, taking back the time lost since lap 3 in just two laps. A couple of laps later, and the difference was up to 3.5 seconds, the largest it had been all race. With the three quarter mark approaching, Rossi had to react now if he was to catch Stoner. Pushing hard, he took back two tenths in one lap, but next lap, he could only hold station. Time was running out.
Behind Rossi and Stoner, another duel with a history was playing itself out. After being passed by Rossi, Loris Capirossi quickly fell back into the clutches of Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo. Dovizioso had already wormed his way past Lorenzo on lap 4, and was quickly gaining ground on Capirossi. A lap later, Dovi was past, and another lap on, Lorenzo had joined him. Little was left of Capirex' fast start, the Rizla Suzuki man now going backwards quickly. Two laps later, just as Capirossi fell back into the clutches of Colin Edwards, Dani Pedrosa and Chris Vermeulen, the Italian crashed out, losing the front pushing to keep the chasing trio behind.
After getting past the unfortunate Rizla Suzuki man, Lorenzo had set about chasing down Andrea Dovizioso. The Italian had used the opportunity presented by passing Capirossi to put some space between himself and Lorenzo, and by the time the Spaniard got through, Dovi had a second and a half on him. But Lorenzo was warming to his task, and was right on the tail of the Repsol Honda within two laps, and past going into Turn 1 at the start of lap 8. The Fiat Yamaha man was now in his stride, and was clearly quicker than Dovizioso, putting 7/10ths a lap on the Italian almost every time he crossed the line.
In The Court Of The Crimson King
As fast as he was, his pace was no match for the two men at the front. Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi were on a different planet, half a second and more faster than the rocketship Lorenzo. Out at the front, the battle-at-a-distance had seesawed to and fro between Stoner and Rossi, but after the Italian had closed the gap on Stoner, the Australian shifted from another planet to another galaxy. From lap 16, Casey Stoner dropped the hammer, holding his pace while Rossi dropped back, his tires starting to cry halt.
Stoner's advantage started to increase by half a second, then a second a lap, and by the time he crossed the line to take the win, Casey Stoner had nearly 8 seconds over Valentino Rossi, including a celebratory stand-up wheelie out of the final corner and across the line. Stoner had dominated the weekend from start to finish, with only a very few minutes when he hadn't been the fastest man on track. He had capped the practice performance by leading from the moment the bikes left the line, his lead only ever briefly under two seconds after the end of the first lap.
After the race was over, Stoner revealed just how utter his domination had been. The bike had had a fuel consumption problem in the early laps, Stoner told the press, and he'd had to use a different style to compensate. Once sure he was going to make it, Stoner reverted to his natural style, and crushed all before - or rather, behind - him. This is now the third race in a row that Casey Stoner has won here at Losail, and though the track certainly suits the Ducati, the way Stoner attacks the track is awe-inspiring. The opposition has been warned.
Valentino Rossi understood that warning all too clearly. Though he, too, managed a wheelie across the line, it was a very half-hearted attempt, Rossi obviously unhappy at having been forced to settle for second. And throughout the TV interviews in parc ferme, as well as the podium ceremony and the official post-race interviews, it was clear that Rossi was putting on a brave face, and underneath his expressions of joy was a deeply worried man.
Rossi had suffered tire problems at the end of the race, which left him unable to match Stoner's pace at the end, but realistically, he had lost the race in the very first yards. Getting caught behind Loris Capirossi going into the first corner had allowed Stoner to build an unbridgeable lead by the time Rossi could start to chase the Australian. Last year, Rossi learned that he needed to be on the front row of the grid if he was to challenge Stoner for the win. At Qatar, Rossi learned that he needs to get into the first corner together with Stoner if he is to stand a chance of beating him.
To an extent, the same could be said of Jorge Lorenzo. Once past Dovizioso, the Spaniard was too far behind the leaders to offer any kind of opposition, and rode a lonely race to come home third. But even if Lorenzo had not been held up by Dovi, it is unlikely that he would have been able to match the pace of Stoner and Rossi. Lorenzo has made a huge step forward in adapting to the Bridgestone tires, but is still coming up just short in comparison to the two favorites for the title. As the season progresses, Lorenzo will close that gap, and his rapid progress so far suggests that moment will come sooner rather than later.
Being passed by Lorenzo would not be the last of Dovizioso's woes. As the Italian's pace began to drop, he fell back into the clutches of Colin Edwards, the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha man cementing his practice form with a rock solid race. Edwards had been crowded down to 9th place at the end of lap 1, but had fought his way forward, dispatching first de Puniet and Vermeulen and finally Dovizioso to take 4th place. Like Rossi, if it hadn't been for that poor start, Edwards could have conceivably had a chance of a podium, if only a slim one. The crew chief debacle which played out over the winter in the Tech 3 garage has worked out well for the Texan, and as the third Yamaha in the top four, he certainly has the equipment to get the job done.
A mixture of equipment and a lack of experience left Andrea Dovizioso to finish in 5th. With Dani Pedrosa missing much of testing due to injury, and this the first time Dovizioso has been on a factory team, development on the Repsol Honda RC212V is definitely lagging. At Qatar, it showed, and the Honda continues to struggle with rear grip just as Valentino Rossi's Yamaha did when he made the switch to Bridgestones for 2008. As the bike improves - which it surely must, given the might and ingenuity of HRC - so will Dovizioso's fortunes. First, though, his patience will be tested waiting for those improvements.
If the race had been rather processional at the front, the battle for 6th had been far more interesting. Colin Edwards had been the first candidate, but soon checked out to chase Dovizioso. This left Dani Pedrosa, Chris Vermeulen and Alex de Angelis in prime position, with Pramac Ducati's Mika Kallio closing from behind. Pedrosa, only just recovered from serious knee surgery which saw him immobilized for four weeks and barely able to bend his left knee, put up a valiant attempt at hanging on to 6th spot, but by lap 10 his position was looking precarious indeed.
Next time round, Chris Vermeulen came though into the hairpin at Turn 6, forcing Pedrosa wide. As the Spaniard ran on to the rumblestrip, de Angelis seized the sliver of a chance to squeeze past too, ramming into Pedrosa's already injured knee as he used all the track, including the part occupied by Pedrosa's Repsol Honda. Miraculously, Pedrosa managed to stay on board, but the incident knocked his confidence and saw him go backwards from that point on.
Seemingly oblivious to the incident, Alex de Angelis set off after Vermeulen, and a couple of laps later was past the Australian too. The man from San Marino held a comfortable lead to the line to take a creditable 6th place. Worthy of mention here is that he did so on a standard satellite RC212V, beating the other two factory-spec bikes belonging to Pedrosa and de Angelis' Gresini Honda team mate Toni Elias. His 6th place finish proved once again that on his day, Alex de Angelis is fast. But the incident with Pedrosa proved that he is also still reckless.
Unable to stay with de Angelis, Chris Vermeulen took the #7 Rizla Suzuki home to 7th. Still lacking in outright power, 7th is respectable finish on the Suzuki, and Capirossi's early pace and Vermeulen's decent finish show there's plenty of potential both in the bike and in the riders. At circuits where top speed is less of a necessity, the Rizla Suzuki could prove to be a formidable factor.
Beast Of Burden
Behind Vermeulen, there were signs of hope for Ducati. Ever since the 800cc Ducati Desmosedici hit the track, it's been a complete mystery why extremely capable riders such as Loris Capirossi, Alex Barros and Marco Melandri should have struggled so badly on it, while Casey Stoner has destroyed the field on the same bike. During winter testing, the 2006 World Champion Nicky Hayden has been mid-pack at best. But at Qatar, class rookie Mika Kallio put on a convincing display of fighting through the field from 12th at the end of the first lap, to finish the race in 8th place. Kallio has also set the occasional fast time in practice and in testing, and so far, looks like he might just be getting a handle on the bike. Ducati may not have to rely on just one man for their results in the medium term any more.
Another rider to get a poor start was Toni Elias, slipping from 12th on the grid to 15th at the end of lap 1. But Elias pushed his way forward, to end the race in 9th place. Elias is having the same problems with an overly aggressive engine response that the other factory riders are suffering with, and has the added problem with the spec Bridgestones. Because of his size - barely larger than Dani Pedrosa - the smiling Spaniard is finding it hard to get heat into the front tires. Previously, Bridgestone used to make a special tire with a softer carcass for Elias, which would deform and heat more easily. But the single tire rule put an end to that, with the two different tires available both having the stiffer construction favored by Rossi and Stoner. Elias will have to find a solution to these problems, and find it quickly: His fight through the field may have been valiant, more will be expected of Elias now that he has a factory spec RC212V at his disposal.
In 10th place, Randy de Puniet rode an unremarkable race on the LCR Honda - not sponsored by Playboy, as the bike will be for the next two rounds, much to the chagrin of much of the male-dominated paddock. On the same bike as Alex de Angelis, and starting from 7th on the grid, the Frenchman should have been capable of more.
Fortune Favors The Brave
After coming close to being knocked off by de Angelis, Dani Pedrosa slipped back through the field, finally to finish in 11th spot. Taken at face value, an 11th place finish for HRC's #1 rider is not good at all, but considering the condition in which Pedrosa entered the weekend, it was a gutsy and clever performance. Pedrosa had got gradually quicker over the weekend, slowly building up speed, and until the incident with de Angelis had been running pretty well. Having a bike slam into his bad knee and nearly knocking him into the dirt must have shaken Pedrosa's confidence, as well as causing him a great deal of pain. Bringing the bike home in one piece to score some valuable points despite serious injury, while not the ideal start to the season in which he is under pressure to deliver the title, was a strong exercise in damage limitation.
Pedrosa was lucky to hang on to 11th, though. After an utterly disastrous weekend - electrical and clutch problems in FP1, a blown engine in FP2, followed by a huge highside during qualifying - Nicky Hayden ended the race better than he started. While the pace of the rest of the field tailed off throughout the race, Hayden - battered and bruised, and with a cut on his chest - got faster, setting his fastest lap in the final lap of the race. In the process, he almost caught Pedrosa, a sight which surely spurred him on to that final fast lap, but eventually came up just a third of a second short.
Hayden is still struggling to comprehend the Ducati, and has been among the most vocal critics of the reduction in practice and testing. The jury is still very much out on whether Hayden will actually manage to tame the GP9, but even if he doesn't, it won't be for want of trying.
At least Hayden finished ahead of two of the other Ducatis. Sete Gibernau was the next man home, finishing 13th, after struggling with his fitness. The shoulder Gibernau injured in the huge crash at the start of the 2006 Catalunya Grand Prix continues to cause him problems, and after the race, the Spanish superstar confessed he was pleased at just having been able to complete the race. With this many problems still so early in the season, it is entirely possible that Gibernau won't be able to see the year out. Though you have to admire Gibernau's determination in wanting to make a comeback, you may well doubt the wisdom of it.
From one questionable return to another. Many people wondered what Marco Melandri had to gain from coming back to ride a bike which was universally considered pretty awful. But at the tests here a month ago, the Hayate team found some solutions to the rear traction problems which have plagued the Kawasaki for years, and at both the IRTA test at Jerez and the practice sessions, Melandri looked entirely capable of finishing well inside the top ten.
And if it hadn't been for an overly optimistic entrance into Turn 1 at the beginning of the second lap, that might well have happened. After running off into the gravel, and losing 23 seconds on the leader Casey Stoner, Melandri rode a strong race, fighting his way back past three riders who had a 10 or more second advantage over him, to finish the race in 14th place, and score points. Most importantly, Melandri is cheerful about the whole affair, and comfortable on the bike. Marco Melandri is going to cause one or two upsets this year.
The same can't be said for Yuki Takahashi. The Team Scot Honda rider came up to the MotoGP class after a strong season aboard the underpowered Honda in the 250 class. But unlike Andrea Dovizioso, the man whose footsteps he is following, Takahashi is having a good deal more difficulty adapting to the MotoGP bikes. Losing the extra time in testing and practice isn't helping, but the single point Takahashi scored for his 15th spot may be one of just a handful the Japanese rider will accumulate this year.
Of James Toseland, surely much more can be expected than 16th. The Englishman has had a nightmare start to the season, suffering a huge crash at Sepang in early February, then putting in a repeat performance with a massive highside at the IRTA test at Jerez. Little has gone Toseland's way so far, and the race was little different. The Monster Tech 3 Yamaha rider ran into the gravel on lap 7, and was left chasing the rest of the pack. Toseland's team boss Herve Poncharal has already made it clear that he expects results from the Briton this year. A 16th place finish simply won't be good enough.
Last across the line was Pramac Ducati's Niccolo Canepa, a position the Italian is likely to fill for the rest of the season. The Italian youngster is making a massive leap this year, from student and Ducati test rider to competing in MotoGP, and so far, Canepa has been overawed by the experience. A little familiarity with the series, and a return to the tracks he knows a little better may help the Italian's confidence.
Look On My Works, Ye Mighty
At least the fans - the few who were left in Qatar, and the millions who saw the race on TV - saw some racing, something which looked highly unlikely on Sunday night. The rain exposed the weakness of the night race setup, and though the lighting scheme is truly a technological marvel, if racing can be stopped in its tracks by even relatively light rain - though the rain on Sunday night was much heavier - then all that technology goes completely to waste, leaving the teams, riders and fans to twiddle their thumbs waiting for something to happen.
And this single point of failure in a MotoGP weekend is the result of decisions made to address two problems. The race itself is at night, to allow the teams, bikes and fans to escape the searing heat of the Qatari desert, a perfectly laudable aim. But because Qatar has a contract to be the opening round of the season, the race has to be held in the nearest thing the country has to a wet season, and the period when rain could and did cause the event to be postponed.
Because of this contract, and after the experience of last year when cold temperatures saw dew forming on the track during practice, making conditions treacherous, the Qatar Grand Prix was pushed back a month, compressing the season and making an already punishing schedule even more difficult.
The solution to this situation is remarkably simple: Either run the race during the day in March, when daytime temperatures are bearable, even pleasant, and rain wouldn't delay the start of the race, or drop the guarantee of being the season opener, and run the race at night in August or September. At that time of year, night time temperatures are perfect for bike racing, and in the middle of the dry season, the chances of rain are approximately zero rather than just rather small. It's hardly rocket science, but contracts and hubris will leave the opening round of MotoGP at the mercy of the elements for the foreseeable future.
The More That Things Change
Apart from fascinating facts about the weather in Doha, the biggest lesson from the season opener at Qatar was about the effect the new tire rules had on the racing. The loss of the qualifying tire meant that the result of the race bore an uncanny resemblance to the positions riders qualified, with the top three the same, and only minor differences further down the grid. On the one hand, this could be said to be fairer, as the grid is no longer distorted by riders capable of running a single fast lap, but not able to maintain that pace for the entire race. But on the other hand, the element of chance has been removed, and with no obstacles placed in their way, the best riders start at the front and stay at the front.
This is the area which is most likely to see a change, to try and reintroduce some of the excitement - though the qualifying session itself was more exciting than expected. No doubt the powers that be are watching the new Superpole format currently being used in World Superbikes, with an eye to its applicability to MotoGP.
And the single tire rule has had another major effect on racing, and one which its proponents probably didn't expect. Those who hoped that a single tire would make the racing closer have been disappointed, as the race was as processional as last year. But thinking logically about it, this is exactly what you would expect to happen. The argument for putting everyone on equal equipment is that rider skill will be become the sole determining factor in the outcome of the race, rather than the abilities of the engineers.
But what happens when everyone is on the same equipment is that it is easier for the best riders to beat lesser men, and the emphasis on rider skill means the gaps will grow larger, not smaller. After all, a less skillful rider cannot compensate by using the better equipment to his advantage. In effect, you make another Welkom 2004 - where Valentino Rossi beat Max Biaggi on his first time out on the Yamaha M1, a vastly inferior machine to the Honda RC211V - a complete impossibility.
Two Men Enter, One Man Leaves
Most of all, what we learnt from Qatar 2009 was that there are two riders who are streets ahead of the rest of the field. The title battle will come down to Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner in 2009, and it could get very close indeed. But if Rossi is to be able to beat Stoner on a regular basis, he will have to work on his rather poor starts. If Rossi can get in the way of Stoner and disrupt his rhythm, then Valentino Rossi stands a chance. But if the Italian keeps getting swamped going into the first corner, then in his current form, Casey Stoner could quite easily win every race of the season.
Next stop is Motegi. We shall see just how much has changed there.