Press releases from the teams after the MotoGP race at Qatar:
Casey Stoner keeps reigning in Qatar
The first race of the season hasn't even happened yet, but the Honda story is already starting to get old. The headlines are writing themselves, the only thing that an editor has to do at the moment is cast a cursory glance over the wording to check whether it was Casey Stoner or Dani Pedrosa who spotted the fastest time.
Despite the disparity with the rest of the field, qualifying actually turned into a pretty exciting spectacle. It was a race of two classes - the two lead Repsols matching each other's times, while the rest of the field battled valiantly for the rest of the places on the two front rows, but it still gave the viewers something to get engrossed in.
Stoner's 1'54.137 is a spectacular improvement over last year, cutting the best part of a second off his pole time from 2010. And it was the first time we got to see Stoner really pushing, starting to sling the Repsol Honda around like he used to muscle the Marlboro Ducati around in 2010. He admitted in the press conference that he had been a lot closer to the limit than he had been so far during practice, saying he had even managed to get close to tucking the front at one point. The bad news - at least for the competition - was that he had not been that comfortable on the softer tires, and felt he had better pace on the harder race tires.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams from Saturday at Qatar:
Stoner sets scorching pole position for the Qatar Grand Prix
Honda's seamless shift gearbox has been the talk of the MotoGP world since it first debuted at Sepang, with journalists on a quest to chase down exactly what it is and how it works. The only response you receive from HRC or Honda riders about the gearbox is that it is "better" and that it is "smoother". The best guess about its operation so far has been that it is either based on or very similar to the Xtrac Instantaneous Gearshift System, which allows two gears to be engaged simultaneously, while driving only one.
Since the introduction of the system, speculation has been rampant as to exactly how much advantage Honda's gearbox confers. Wild guesses were doing the rounds, with the highest guess being that it would give an advantage of 0.9 seconds a lap, an absolute eternity. According to one of the journalists over at GPOne.com, Filippo Preziosi said he believed that Honda's gearbox was probably worth around 0.2 seconds a lap.
A long time ago, when I worked at a software company, we had a timekeeping system that consumed hours of our productive time as we tried to keep track of the projects we had worked on every week. One member of our team was smarter than the rest of us, however. He figured he knew roughly what projects he would be working on for the next couple of months, and would fill in his timesheets about 6 weeks in advance. He saved himself a whole heap of time doing that, while we struggled.
Compare and contrast the lot of a MotoGP headline writer. The way things are looking so far, we could fill in the headlines for all of the practice sessions and races for the next three or four MotoGP rounds well in advance, and get about 90% of them absolutely spot on. Put the following words in any order: Stoner, Repsol Honda, Pedrosa, Dominate, Clean Sweep. Throw in a couple of conjunctions, and you are set to go for quite some time.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams after the second day of practice at Qatar:
Edwards and Crutchlow thrilled with progress
During winter testing, there was a great deal of mystery surrounding Ducati's so-called "flexi-package", a selection of parts designed to produce more flexibility and response in Ducati's carbon fiber chassis. The package had been aimed at improving the front-end feel of the Ducati, and it had been tested by Vito Guareschi and Franco Battaini, and taken to Sepang for the Marlboro Ducati riders to test during the MotoGP tests.
After that, the story became more confusing; it was reported that Nicky Hayden had tested the package, but discarded it in favor of the standard package first tried at Valencia. The reports said that Valentino Rossi had never even bothered testing the softer package, preferring instead to concentrate on finding a setup for the standard package.
So we're finally racing again, after what seemed like an eternity. Even though we were here just a couple of days ago for the final test of the year, walking through the paddock on Thursday was like being in another world. If a racetrack during a test on is a cold, desolate place, come race weekend, there's a completely different vibe.
There was of course much focus and talk about the ongoing disaster in Japan, everyone enquiring of Japanese friends and colleagues how things were in their hometown. As a mark of respect and to show their (and our) concern for Japan, Dorna announced there would be a minute's silence before the MotoGP race, and just about all of the MotoGP teams are carrying some form of Kanji text wishing everyone in Japan well on their bikes or leathers somewhere.
Despite the obvious concern about Japan, the overwhelming feeling in the paddock was a buzz of excitement, everyone glad to have the long wait over and to be racing again. All those hours of hard, tiring but necessary work busting out laps to prepare for the season are finally over, and now those laps actually mean something.
With less than 24 hours to go until practice starts for the MotoGP season opener, here's a few more previews from the MotoGP teams:
Bautista ready for the season opener
Here's the first round of press release for Qatar for the MotoGP teams and riders:
MOTOGP TO STEP BACK INTO THE SPOTLIGHT AT LOSAIL
What a difference a day makes. On Sunday, the desert was calm, temperate, really quite pleasant overall, at least until the temperatures started to drop and the dew came. Monday was a different proposition altogether; Twitter was ablaze with reports of a sandstorm blowing over the Losail circuit.
As we drove to the circuit ourselves, it turned out that "sandstorm" was a bit of an exaggeration. But not by too much: winds were very strong, with plenty of gusts, and the air was laden with dust. We didn't expect to see too much action tonight, but when the horn sounded for the start of the five-hour session, bikes started to trickle out onto the track, despite the wind.
The wind would be a key player, and expose the weakness of a champion. In his daily media debrief, Jorge Lorenzo fulminated against his bike, complaining that they couldn't get a setup for the bike, they'd gone backwards, and that if they had had to race tonight, he would have been running 1'57.2s and watching the Hondas disappear doing 1'56.0s. "Even my grandmother would have been faster than me on a bike with a good setup," Lorenzo quipped.