2013 Qatar MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Starting Like A Champion, And Qualifying Strategy

If you have aspirations of winning the championship, the first qualifying session of the year is your first chance to stake your claim. Qualifying is the moment you stake your claim, show everyone what you have, and what they are up against. The rest of the year, pole position is nice, but the most important thing is to be on the front row, and get a good start. But at the first qualifying session of the year for the first race of the year, you need to send your opponents a message: This is what you are up against. This is what you face if you wish to beat me.

Champions know this. At Qatar, the champions made their presence felt, and announced their intent to the world. In MotoGP, the defending champion - and the man who starts the year as favorite - set a pace that none could follow, robbing upstart Cal Crutchlow of what would have been his first pole. In Moto2, Pol Espargaro made a mistake, crashed, and corrected his error as soon as his bike was rebuilt, pushing hard to take pole in the dying seconds of the session. And In Moto3, Luis Salom took his first ever Grand Prix pole by putting it on the line when it mattered, seeing off all-comers in the final moments, while Maverick Viñales gritted his teeth to ride through the pain and grab 2nd on the grid.

While Salom's qualifying lap was outstanding, the performance of Viñales should not be underestimated. The Calvo KTM rider lost the top of his finger just over two weeks ago, in a big crash at the final Jerez test, and has struggled all weekend. But he has slowly made his way forward, from 10th in FP1 to 7th in FP3, getting 2nd in qualifying, and then taking first in the warm up session. (Calling it a warm up session, when it is run last thing at night, with nearly a whole day before the riders will actually race, is something of a misnomer, but Qatar's insane schedule forces that upon both the Moto3 and the Moto2 classes.

Can Viñales win it tomorrow? Fighting through the pain in practice is one thing, knuckling down over 18 laps is quite another, but the Spaniard has shown he is made of stern stuff. A Spaniard looks destined to win, with Salom on pole ahead of Viñales, and a rapidly maturing Alex Rins on the outside of the front row. Rins has been thoroughly impressive this weekend, and in just his second year, he is going to cause Viñales and Salom, the two title candidates, some real trouble. And then there's Jonas Folger, the young German on the Mapfre Aspar Kalex KTM, who will be right there at the front, and likely to spoil what the Spanish call a 'triplete', a clean sweep of the podium.

In Moto2, it's hard to look beyond Pol Espargaro. Though Takaaki Nakagami has been impressive throughout the weekend, Espargaro has been there when it counts. His Tuenti HP 40 teammate Tito Rabat could also be in the mix, while Scott Redding appears not to be suffering as much coming onto the long straight as he did in previous years, now the combined weight rule has been introduced. But it's a fair old drag to the finish line; Redding will need to start from well in front of anyone coming out of that corner, if he is not to lose out on the last lap.

As for MotoGP's new qualifying system, Jorge Lorenzo summed it up succinctly: It's like having qualifying tires again. Go out, push very hard, come back in again. Go out one more time. It makes for an intriguing spectacle; reaction was almost universal approval, with the two extra QP2 berths available in the QP1 session motivating riders to push that little bit harder, and then QP2 turning into a straight battle over pole. But it also adds a touch of strategy: 15 minutes is not long enough to spend time waiting around for a tow, and so you have to act decisively, and choose the right time to go for a lap.

Jorge Lorenzo timed it perfectly, his mind still clearly in that clockwork mode that won him the championship last year. His strategy had been simple: "Just start practice in first position, this is my routine," he said. Leaving pit lane first gave him a clear track ahead of him, for both of the two runs he put in. The second run produced what he needed, grabbing pole position from Cal Crutchlow - "QP2 is too long," Crutchlow joked, "If it was just 10 minutes, I might have had pole."

Lorenzo starts from pole, but with a distinct advantage. He has the best race pace of the field, clearly a couple of tenths faster than anyone else. Above all, his consistency shows: in the final session of free practice - the only real free practice session in the old sense of the world, with nothing at stake, now that FP1 through FP3 now decides which QP session you get to compete in - Lorenzo once again strung together a sequence fast laps of mind-boggling consistency: 1'56.2, 56.2, 56.2, 56.9, 56.4, 56.3, 56.1, 56.1. Both Marc Marquez and Cal Crutchlow can lap at that speed, but the question is for how long. Jorge Lorenzo can run those laps all day long, or until his tank runs dry and his tires collapse.

Strategy - either strategy, or timing, or a mixture of both - is now clearly important in qualifying. Lorenzo aced it, as did Crutchlow, while Dani Pedrosa, Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi were all victims of traffic. Rossi's problems were of his own making, he said afterwards, explaining that on his first fast lap on his second tire, he ran on at turn 1, losing 15 seconds in the process. Those 15 seconds dropped him back into traffic, preventing him from taking another shot at improving his best time. It would be a costly mistake: Rossi starts from 7th on the grid, and with so much traffic ahead of him, it will be hard to negotiate his way forward. That is a shame, as Rossi's race pace is strong. But as Cal Crutchlow discovered last year, a strong race pace when you are already three seconds behind the leaders is never going to make up for lost ground.

Pedrosa, too, made a tactical error, and again, it was one of his own making. The Repsol Honda man found the speed he had been missing once he got into qualifying mode, and was quick on his first run. On his second run, he felt he had too much traffic behind him, so he decided to back off - almost causing Marc Marquez to run into the back of him - and find some clear space that way. By worrying more about what others were doing, and not about what he could do, Pedrosa may have missed out on an even better position. Whether he has the pace outside of qualifying is another matter: though Pedrosa avows that they have fixed the worst of the problems, the Repsol Honda man has been off the pace all weekend.

And what of Marc Marquez? Raw speed, he has plenty of, but how that translates to a 20 lap race is another thing altogether. Marquez has used others to help with his pace, following Rossi around in free practice to move further up the board. He can also do the laps on his own, but can he do that consistently? Given his extremely physical style on a bike, fatigue will surely be an issue, but can he last the distance. Clearly, Marquez is something special, but he may take a few races to get back up to speed.

Most surprising of all was Andrea Dovizioso, the Italian taking 4th on the Ducati, and seven tenths faster than he was last year, on the Tech 3 Yamaha that was supposedly easier to ride. A change to the electronics - Dovizioso had noticed that the wind had changed direction from the day before, meaning that where previously, he was having trouble keeping the front wheel down, now the wind was working in his favor. That meant he could use more power in some corners, which helped bump him up the grid.

Can Dovizioso take the Ducati even further? A podium is a little bit too much to ask, the Italian's race pace not quite there yet. On new tires, the Ducatis are great, but once the tires drop off, so does their pace, and so the question is how long Dovizioso can run near the front for. But the improvement is itself significant; in some ways, Dovizioso and Nicky Hayden are benefiting from the design changes which Valentino Rossi and his team had pushed for throughout the Italian's two-year stay with the factory.

Most of all, though, Ducati is benefiting from not having Valentino Rossi any more: without the unimaginable pressure which the fans and the media - especially the Italian media - put on Ducati to change the bike to suit Rossi, work can proceed at Ducati Corse in a calmer atmosphere. The immediate need to provide something that will win now is now gone, and that is what had created such a stifling atmosphere for Ducati Corse, with the design rushing headlong forward into what appeared to be a few blind alleys. Now, in more peaceful waters, engineers can work with less interruption, and start to provide real benefits.

Likewise, Andrea Dovizioso is in a totally different situation to Valentino Rossi, in part due to Rossi's departure. When Rossi arrived at Ducati, he quickly realized that being competitive on that bike was unrealistic, and so he operated in a constant pressure cooker environment. Rossi came to Ducati to take the place of Casey Stoner, who had won three of the last six races on the bike. To do anything other than win would be considered a failure.

Dovizioso comes to Ducati as the successor to Rossi, and whatever he achieves, he can only come out a winner. If he fails, then Rossi's failure at Ducati is vindicated, and the failure is down to the bike. If he succeeds, then he has done better than the legendary Valentino Rossi, and so his stock can only grow. The reality is, as always, a lot messier and more complicated than that, but the natural narrative means that both Dovizioso and Ducati are operating with less stress. It shows, in Dovizioso's results, and in the atmosphere in the team.

Will the races live up to the promise shown during qualifying? Moto3 looks like being a thriller, and Moto2 could well turn into an Espargaro runaway. MotoGP is a fascinating prospect. Though the most likely outcome is that Lorenzo runs away at the front, there will be plenty to watch even if he does so. As Nicky Hayden always says: "You never know what's gonna happen. That's why we line up on Sunday."

Back to top


Disappointed that you attribute Dovi's success to Rossi development. How about Dovi's success being his own. The bike is still what it was and it is only Dovi's attitude and courage to ride it hard that is producing results. The same attitude and courage that was lacking the last 2 years.

Becuase it is what it is. This bike is the result of 12 months of development from the bike that rossi rode in qatar 2012. Dov has had some of that time for development, Rossi and team have had the majority - so far.

Nicky has had more time than both, yet his performance is worse than last year.

A few more sessions is important to rank Dovi and his work on the duke in the real sense.

Never mind in a race - and race consistency has failed Duke for years, even with Casey (post '07). Sure he could win, but to win championships you need to win week in, week out. The duke has not really allowed *anyone* to do that.

I am not suggesting that Dovi has developed the bike at all. The bike has had nothing thrown at it.

What I am suggesting is that Dovi has not benefited by any bodies development. He has just gone out and used his skill and courage and had a bloody big crack at it. The bike is a POS. Rossi did nothing to improve it. Hayden has done nothing to improve it. You just have to use what you have and wring its neck. That is what Dovi has done and deserves 100% of the kudos for it. What I am disappointed in is that a portion of the success is attributed to Rossi.

Rossie/hayden have not developed the bike in the last year, but Ducati have - the 1000's have only been racaing for 12months.

Dovis time is in the ballpark of haydens time from last year. So far he has realistically had a lap.

Once he shows consistency, then kudos shall be given,

"But the improvement is itself significant; in some ways, Dovizioso and Nicky Hayden are benefiting from the design changes which Valentino Rossi and his team had pushed for throughout the Italian's two-year stay with the factory."

He attributes, at most, a small part of Dovi's success to Rossi's development.

Nicky Hayden isn't doing any better on it than he was prior, so it does not look like the developments they made improved the bike. It looks to me that Dovizioso is doing rather well on it so far. Time will tell how far he can push it. Kudos to Dovi for pushing it and putting in some fast laps. Dovi isn't known for qualifying so this says a lot.

I can't tell you how happy I am that your disappointed, it's great to see agenda fans getting it where it hurts.... I can say with total authority that you have no idea whats going on at ducati or what parts they are using suffice to say that it has been widely reported over the last year or so that they are continuing with centralising the mass and improving the electronics and engine response. Whether you believe that is work started last year or yesterday is down to your blinkers. Well done Dovi! great work. Nicky's time would suggest the majority of the performance is from yourself . No doubt Presiozi moving on has had an effect on ducati also.. Can't wait for the race.
Delete as and when necessary.

Dovi's improvement is in small part due to Rossi's development work, but in much larger part due to the failure of Valentino Rossi to be competitive on the bike. Throughout Casey Stoner's time at Ducati, they believed the bike was basically fine, and the failure of the other riders was down to the riders. They had it exactly backwards: Stoner succeeded despite the bike, not because of it. 

When Rossi got on the bike, Ducati could no longer blame the rider. This was a bike that only a very special, and a very particular kind of rider can ride. That must be reckoned a failure, as you are relying on something as mercurial as a remarkable talent to ride it. Such a talent comes along rarely, and when it does come along, then you have to be able to persuade such a rider to sign for you. Rossi's failure on the Ducati made them understand that it was the bike which was flawed.

This has driven them to make changes to their internal  processes, and to work through some of the suggestions which Rossi and his team made to Ducati. There is a very good chance that Stoner told them exactly the same thing, but he would never tell us journalists what those suggested changes were, despite my pressing him for it a number of times. He'd told Ducati what needed to be done, and it was up to them, he said.

Dovizioso certainly deserves credit for riding the bike well, but he is not riding it anything like Casey Stoner did. He is being his usual, analytical, methodical self. And as I wrote, he is not Valentino Rossi, so the Italian media (especially) are giving him space to develop, and to work his way through things on the bike. The combination of these two things means that Dovizioso has a much, much better chance of succeeding on the bike than Rossi did.

I don't know if you watched the same practice sessions as I did, but it sure looked to me (18 years roadracing experience) that Dovi was jamming the sh*t out of the bike. I was amazed, that someone with a reputation for being so smooth and methodical could radically change their style to fit the bike. I'll speculate that Dovi looked at Stoners data and has adapted his style to mimic it.

How on Earth could Dovi look at Stoners data? The present bike is NOTHING like the one that Stoner rode...? (except for understeer)
Something has clicked with the Dovi/Duke combo and it's good to see something positive from them. Only time will tell what is really going on in the red team.

Remember when people used to talk about Stoner and race pace, and how hard he was on tires. Now remember Stoner identifying Marquez as a perfect replacement. I think tomorrow we are gonna see some of that essence of CS27 through that new kid on the block.

VR I feel will make a strong first lap tomorrow and make up at least 2 positions by the end of the first lap, that's just how he races.

champions don't make these kind of mistakes...... it will be hard for him to get ahead of the folks in front of him....they're all extremely competitive and hard to pass - not a good start for VR (and I say this as a big fan of rossi).

I like the new format - I wish it were 20 minutes or longer - there's absolutely no wiggle room put you best lap down or suffer the coincequenses....

Lorenzo had a plan, Rossi just seemed to stroll out. I am sure somebody jumped Lorenzo, as he seemed to be sitting at the lights waiting, the guy switches green and somebody shoots past behind him - bt he pushed majorly from the get go to maintain his position, leaving him with a clear track to work with. Fantastic effort.

Crutchlow had a plan too, let everyone else go out, wait a bit and then have a clear track to set a couple of good lap times. Worked for him and Lorenzo's plan worked as well. Well done to both of them.

Hope Cal can get away quick and maintain his pace for the full race.

Rossi's Race craft speaks again - I don't think he's lost anything - in fact I think he's regained the hunger (not sure that he lost it).

Great race - more of the same please:-)

The new qualifying system isn't so different to the previous system except CRT are now excluded from the last fifteen minutes. Consequently they get their own 15 min session which sees the free practice aspect of the session reduced from 45 mins to 30 mins.

Once the riders figure out how to not run into each other (hint only a few riders can take the Lorenzo approach of starting practice in first position if they all act that way you get what happened last night a bunch of riders racing each other but qualifying poorly) the last 15 mins will return to business as usual. Which is fine as there was never an issue with the end of qualifying under the old system it was always the uncompetitive first 45 mins which was the problem and that has now been reduced to 30 mins. So I guess it's an improvement. But I think once the first race of the year novelty wears off people who previously skipped the start of the session only to tune in when the grid is determined will continue to do so.

Sorry, but, I'd rather have a simple series of FP with a 1hr QP. What we have now is neither one thing nor the other. Every session has been turned into a qualifying session and that's going to bite a major player some time in the year. And the final shootout doesn't have the building tension of the WSB/BSB format. And this strikes me as just typical of Dorna. They take half a look at other championships, and then decide that MotoGP must emulate but not copy what works to try and deal with a perceived but non-existent problem in MotoGP. And the end result has unintended consequences because they failed to either leave alone or just copy something that works.

If we had to have this, then I'd rather we had the three stage 21-15-9 devil take the hindmost approach.

I did find it surprising that with only 12 riders on a 1m56s track, people still found ways of getting stuck in traffic or stuck behind a slower rider. And even in a short session like that, there were still people wandering about on the track at sub-qualifying speeds. It's a long time since any of these riders were in a national teens championship and they really should have grown out of that by now.

On Italia2, the channel broadcasting Motogp in Italy, Rossi claimed he also wasted time at Q2 when he gave up an attempt to a fast lap after seeing Pedrosa, Marquez and another Honda rider I can't recall, were close behind him. He said he didn't want to give them a free tow. He unintentionally took one for the team..

On the same programme, now regarding Ducati Corse, the commentators noticed that Dovizioso's bike had smaller than usual fairings.
Vitto Guareschi confirmed adding that the smaller fairings help turning the bike and overall front end feeling.

Carlo Pernat, manager of several Motogp riders, claimed that Loris Capirossi back in 2006 requested smaller fairings as a solution to the bike problems but Corse thought otherwise.
Confirmation bias or another open criticism to Ducati stubbornness and reluctance in trusting riders feedback?

Aerodynamics and wind tunnel tuning is (was?) a very sensitive issue for Ducati. I can imagine any requests for a smaller fairing to get turned down fairly quick. If they have got out of that mentality it's a nice step forward, looking at it from my arm chair.

However, that can only be a very small part of their current apparent progress. Dovizioso and his team have made the difference right now, just like Hayden and his team pulled off a similar feat at Qatar 2012. Look where Hayden is right now.

Unfortunately Dovi is going to face a big learning curve...

Burgess has a strict policy - fix the race pace and then, only then, go after the qualifying pace. Dovi's team is currently a bit focused on softer tire performance, so that will work against them in the race. I think we might see Hayden coming through while Dovi falls back.