2017 Qatar MotoGP Sunday Round Up: New Stars Shine, Old Stars Fade

Race day in Qatar would turn into a microcosm of the entire weekend. The hopes and fears of fans and riders alike were both realized and averted. The idea that any kind of plan could be made to deal with this weekend went out the window pretty quickly. And yet at the end, three great races (or rather, two fantastic races and one interesting race) happened, and everyone got out more or less in one piece.

Stars were born on Sunday, some prophesied, some appearing out of the blue. It felt like the beginning of the new era we had been hoping for. MotoGP – once it got underway – was as topsy-turvy as expected. In Moto2, favorites performed as they needed to, while new stars emerged from behind. And in the Moto3 class, last year's rookies matured, and produced a heady brew of thrilling racing.

The weather conditioned it all. Spots of rain ahead of the Asia Talent Cup – like the Red Bull Rookies Cup at European races, the most frenetic racing of the weekend – soon dissipated, the sun soon breaking through. Fine weather prevailed for most of the evening, but as the Moto2 bikes rolled back into pit lane at the end of the race, the rain once again made its presence felt. Lightly at first, and quickly disregarded, but a little heavier as 9pm, the scheduled start of the MotoGP race, approached.

Hurry up and wait

The rain sent the grid into a frenzy of inactivity. There was an awful lot of nothing happening, and hordes of people frantically ensuring that inactivity and indecision ruled the day. The track was pretty much bone dry in most places, but very wet at Turns 14 and 16. The riders did a sighting lap. The start was delayed. MotoGP safety officers Franco Uncini and Loris Capirossi went out for a hoon in the BMW X5M Medical Car to test conditions. They returned, and everyone on the grid argued with each other.

It rained a little more, then stopped. The riders did another sighting lap, several running wide at Turn 14. The start was delayed again. Uncini and Capirossi went for another spin, stopping this time to check the state of the kerbs. They returned once again, and yet more argument ensued. Some riders joined in vociferously, others sat stoically on their bikes waiting for a decision to be made. One or two slipped back to the pits, presumably to answer the call of nature. Or possibly to finish a level of Candy Crush.

A decision was made. The race length was cut by two laps, to twenty, and an extra warm up lap was added. By this time, it was getting on for 9:40pm. If they didn't start racing soon, the race would be going deep into the condensation witching hour, the time between 10pm and 11pm where dew starts to form invisibly on the ground, rendering the track surface treacherous. The race would start.

Hard choices

That delay would have a significant impact. The Honda riders need to use the hardest of the front tires available, to avoid the tire overheating as a result of the punishment the riders have to subject it to under braking, as they seek to make up the ground lost in acceleration. Falling temperatures and the threat of dew meant Michelin counseled Marc Márquez, Dani Pedrosa, and Cal Crutchlow to use the medium front tire. The teams went along with that choice, the riders more or less reluctantly.

They found themselves in a bind. "I was with the hard front tire, and after all these things I had some doubts," Márquez said after the race. "The Michelin guy said you are the only one with the hard, be careful, you can crash. And so I said, OK I go to the medium. It was a mistake." But he only knew it was a mistake after the race was over. "After the race, I think with a hard I was able to fight for the victory until the end. But maybe I was also able to crash! Because the hard in the end gives less warnings, and maybe I put the hard, I'm more competitive, but I crash."

Cal Crutchlow was a lot less sanguine about the situation. When asked if going with the medium instead of the hard front had been the wrong decision, he replied, "I didn't make the wrong choice..." It was not the choice he wanted to make, he insisted. "I don't ever see my tire choice as a gamble, I'm normally completely adamant on what I do, and today, I had it taken out of my hands. And it was the wrong choice. And then, when I started to change my mind, they were already halfway through changing it, so I couldn't go back, because we never had enough time. And Marc got forced to change his as well."

The Flying Frenchman

Márquez' tire choice would only play out in the later part of the race. In the first few laps, all eyes were elsewhere. Johann Zarco quickly got to the front of the pack, then took a commanding lead. The Frenchman looked in total control of the race for five laps, making good on the promise he showed in Moto2 and during testing. He was quick and comfortable, but a small mistake at Turn 2 proved to be immensely costly. He got fractionally off line, and crashed out of the lead.

"It was a good start, a good first braking into the first corner, and I could see that I was feeling good compared to the other riders," Zarco said afterwards. "I’m happy that I could overtake the riders and then take the lead and try to go away. The feeling was good. I didn’t want to push more but it means that I was close to the limit and just a little bit wide in corner two. I crashed. It’s a shame for sure." He felt that a podium could have been possible. And with the way he was riding, who could argue with that?

Zarco is a slightly eccentric individual, and his very eccentricity is what allows him to be as fast as he is. He took heart from the first six laps of the race. "For the first race, starting in this way is good for the mind, good for the confidence. I could see how they are riding, how they can control and be clever during the race. It’s a good lesson for me."

The value of intelligence

It wasn't only Zarco that got a look at the fastest riders in the world, they also got a good look at him. The Frenchman and his Monster Tech 3 Yamaha teammate Jonas Folger had been the bane of Valentino Rossi's life during testing, and now he had a chance to study him at close range. "I expect Zarco to be in front, but not like this. Also it was my nightmare during the winter test because he was always in front!"

Rossi had been warned about Zarco by Franco Morbidelli, one of the riders in the VR46 Academy. "I was curious about his performance with the MotoGP because we always worked with Franco Morbidelli last year and he said that he did something special with the Moto2, especially in the last 10 laps. And he always said to me, pay attention, because he will be fast also with the MotoGP."

Cal Crutchlow had previously ascribed the success of Zarco and Folger to the fact that the Yamaha M1 is one of the easiest bikes on the grid to ride. Rossi also backed that theory. "The bike that they have is maybe a bit more easy to ride and is at a very high level: Yamaha I think is a great bike for arriving in MotoGP because it is a bike that is a friend of the rider. After in the race, with the pressure, they need time and experience, but they did a great job."

When Zarco crashed out, it looked like he had handed the race to Andrea Dovizioso. The factory Ducati rider was positioned perfectly to take advantage, and the Ducati is strong at the circuit, at least in the hands of riders with experience of the bike. But another Yamaha rider was quickly gaining speed. Maverick Viñales had started off steadily, not wanting to risk too much in the conditions early on after a couple of scares.

Surgical steel

As he gained confidence, he closed in on the leaders, quickly catching them. The question was, would he be able to get past them? Despite his victory at Silverstone, there had been question marks over Viñales' ability to take the fight to other riders. Viñales dispelled those doubts in the most powerful manner imaginable. Facing a battle with Dovizioso, he knew he had to get past early in the lap, or the Italian would simply use the extra horsepower of the Ducati to power past along the straight.

Viñales dealt with that with fearsome precision. His pass on Marc Márquez had foreshadowed what was to come, holding the Repsol Honda rider off on the brakes into Turn 1. But the passes he put on Andrea Dovizioso were ice cold and surgical. Four times he had to worm his way past the Ducati through the flowing rear section of the track. Four times he found a way past, making inch-perfect passes earlier each time.

Turn 10 wasn't early enough to gap Dovizioso before the straight, and prevent being passed back. Neither was Turn 8, nor Turn 6. Finally, a textbook move at Turn 5 on the penultimate lap left him enough room to pull a gap Dovizioso was unable to close on horsepower alone. Viñales then put in his fastest lap of the race on the final lap to seal the deal. Viñales joins a small but illustrious group of riders who had won on their first outing after switching teams. The last time two times it happened was when Casey Stoner joined Ducati, and then again when he switched to Honda.

How should we assess Viñales' performance? Moving to Yamaha is the easiest move in the paddock, the bike the easiest to ride. But riding isn't enough: to extract every last ounce of performance from the bike is as hard on the Yamaha as it is on any other MotoGP machine. The journey to the peak may be less strenuous, the Yamaha's rideability offering a gentle slope to the top. But the peak itself is just as rarefied a place as on any other bike. Getting there may be easier, but staying there still demands an almost supernatural talent.

Does this mean that we can start to carve Viñales' name onto the trophy? It is way too early for that. Viñales' performance may have earned him Alien status, but there were mitigating factors at play. Marc Márquez was the absent elephant in the room. The Repsol Honda rider crossed the line in fourth, nearly seven seconds behind Viñales. But he did so after using the wrong front tire, and being unable to keep up at the front after half distance.

The hidden Honda

Márquez' problem (and the problem all the Honda riders have) was illustrated again and again coming onto the front straight. No matter who they were up against coming out of the final corner, they would always end up losing out. The Ducati was obviously destroying any motorcycle which had the temerity to approach, but the RC213V was being humiliated by every bike they encountered.

Márquez lost out to Andrea Iannone on the Suzuki GSX-RR. He lost out to Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi on the Yamaha M1. Dani Pedrosa even ended up struggling to match the speed off the corner of Aleix Espargaro on the Aprilia RS-GP. Espargaro is twenty centimeters taller, and as many kilos heavier than Pedrosa. Yet it was Pedrosa losing out in acceleration to Espargaro. Strange days indeed.

This will not always be so, however. Márquez has repeatedly said during testing that the Honda is in better shape than it was at the same time last year. The Honda still lacks acceleration, but the new engine itself appears to be a sounder proposition than the monstrous screamer engine they used last year. The trouble is that changing firing interval from screamer to big bang has changed the engine character so radically that HRC have basically had to start all over again with the spec electronics.

The thing is, they have done this once before. Last year, it took them until the summer break to figure out how to get the best out of the Magneti Marelli system. With a year of experience under their belt, the process should be much quicker. The Honda RC213V won't always be this difficult to ride. Once the acceleration of the bike is addressed, the Hondas are going to be a much tougher package. By about Mugello or Barcelona, Marc Márquez is going to be an even more formidable opponent than he already is.

An embarrassment of riches

With all these focus on the unfolding duel between Maverick Viñales and Marc Márquez – Qatar did nothing to dispel the notion that the championship will be fought out between these two – it is easy to overlook the performance of the other riders on the podium, and further down the grid. That does them, and the race, a disservice. A lot happened.

To put Andrea Dovizioso's performance down solely to the Ducati's horsepower is to understate the outstanding ride the Italian put in. Dovizioso grows along with the Ducati he has played an important part in shaping. The bike is powerful, but it is also excellent on the brakes. Dovizioso could brake later on the GP17 than he could on last year's bike. But it still does not turn as well as the Yamaha, which is what allowed Viñales to so thoroughly dissect him through the back section of the Losail circuit.

Ten is a magic number

As for Valentino Rossi, he was as surprised as anyone else to find himself on the podium. It had been a difficult weekend up until the race: old problems from testing had resurfaced on Thursday, which practice on Friday had only partially helped solve. The loss of all action on Saturday had been a blow, which the extra track time during warm up had not helped fix.

But the cooler temperatures and tricky conditions helped solve some of the problems he had. That, and a fix to the front end of the Yamaha allowed Rossi to brake a little better, rendering him competitive. Despite taking a knock at the start – Cal Crutchlow clipped the rear of Rossi's bike, damaging his rear camera, though the touch was merely the result of the typical first corner frenzy, rather than carelessness on the part of either rider – Rossi was quickly at the front after starting from tenth on the grid.

Does this mean that Rossi can make a run for a tenth Grand Prix title? He can make a run at one every year he is competing. But it doesn't get any easier each season. The Qatar race showed that 2017 has thrown up a new set of challengers. His teammate is getting on better with the 2017 bike, and other riders are dealing with the 2017 Michelin tires better. It won't be easy, and first he has to start winning races. Fortunately for the Italian, next up is Argentina, a track he loves.

Suzuki's strengths

Andrea Iannone had originally been part of the lead group, but he too had crashed out of the race. It was not entirely his own fault. He misjudged the slower corner speed of Marc Márquez' Honda, and found himself just a little too close. His front wheel touched the rear of Márquez' bike, and down Iannone went. Iannone's performance revealed that the potential of the Suzuki GSX-RR is high.

Where would he have been if he had not crashed? "I think we have a very good chance to fight for the podium," Iannone opined. "I think we could have finished very easily in third position." The strength of the bike lay in high corner speed it could develop, he said. "When you arrive at the angle the bike was unbelievable. It’s very fast turning and very fast with high speed." He hadn't felt comfortable on corner entry, and he was losing on corner exit, but he kept emphasizing the potential the bike has for improvement.

Alex Rins also demonstrated the strength of the Suzuki. The Spaniard won the battle of the rookies – at least, he did after Johann Zarco crashed out – finishing in ninth, just behind Jack Miller in eighth and fourteen seconds off the pace of the winner. He just beat Jonas Folger to the line. Both rookies excelled on their debut, up against stiff competition.

You win some...

Perhaps the most remarkable ride of the day went to Aleix Espargaro. On his first outing on the bike, the Spaniard took Aprilia's best result in MotoGP, crossing the line in sixth. He battled Dani Pedrosa for much of the race, beating him sometimes, losing out at others. But it is clear that Espargaro has bonded with the Aprilia RS-GP. It allows him to ride the bike the way he wants to, pushing the front aggressively. The Aprilia has come on in leaps and bound over the winter, and is close to being a genuinely competitive bike.

It is better in the race than during practice, according to Espargaro. "It's a real 'Sunday bike'", he said. "When the traction drops, the Aprilia is fantastic. This is something that is good, in every single track when it's very hot, and no one is able to go with the soft, I am able to go with the soft, so we'll have some advantage."

Espargaro's result saw him appear in Parc Fermé, as the best rider from an independent team. That rather exposed the bizarre situation that Aprilia are in. Because they did not enter separately, but came in in partnership with Fausto Gresini, as the Gresini Aprilia team, IRTA (who decided these things) regard them as an independent or private team, despite them being a factory effort. It behooves IRTA to put an end to this travesty. At the rate they are going Espargaro will be appearing in Parc Fermé by right, as part of the top three finishers.

… And you lose some

If there were a lot of positives to take from the weekend, there were also a few negatives. Not least the performance of Jorge Lorenzo on his first outing on the Ducati. To cross the line in eleventh, twenty seconds behind the winner and his teammate, is not the start Lorenzo will have had in mind. "Disappointing for sure," he said. "This was not the dream debut."

Lorenzo shouldered the blame for his result. He had made a mistake in Turn 4, coming in way too hot and running wide. He left the track in eighth, rejoined in sixteenth, and took his time to get up to speed again. He was capable of being fast for five or six laps, but once the tires dropped, he struggled. His fast laps were good enough to match the pace of the front. Lorenzo's problem was that he could do only six laps at that pace. After that, he dropped into the 1'57s and 1'58s.

When asked to compare himself with his teammate Andrea Dovizioso, Lorenzo highlighted his own weak points. "Especially the big difference is with old tires," Lorenzo said. "When the rear tire starts to drop, he is able to ride much better, probably using more the rear brake, or riding differently. With this bike, when I start losing the rear grip, I lose so much performance."

How does this bode for the rest of the season? The situation is probably not as bleak as it looks on paper. Going from the Yamaha to the Ducati is probably the most radical switch you can make. To go from a bike that is on rails, that requires smoothness and precision, to one which needs a lot more physical input to move around the track, and which has a propensity to move and wriggle underneath the rider, needs a totally different mindset. That transition is going to take Lorenzo a while to manage. But it is too early to say that it is beyond him.

The future is bright

There is much to write about in Moto2 and Moto3 as well, but that will have to wait for another day. The MotoGP race offered the promise of an outstanding season. The duel between Viñales and Márquez is unfolding as we might expect, with the added bonus of the fact that Márquez starts the season with just 13 points, trailing his younger compatriot by 12 points. Ducati have made a step forward, and Dovizioso is more than capable of holding the for until Lorenzo arrives to take up the challenge. If he manages to.

The MotoGP rookies are as sensational as hoped, at least the three on proven bikes are. Johann Zarco led his very first MotoGP race, and looked more than capable of winning it, such was the comfort with which he led. The fact that he didn't should not surprise us, it is one thing to lead, it is another to lead the last lap.

In Moto2, Franco Morbidelli made good on the promise he showed during the off season, beating Tom Luthi and Taka Nakagami easily. Miguel Oliveira took the brand new KTM Moto2 bike to fourth in its first outing. Meanwhile, further back, rookie Fabio Quartararo made an outstanding debut, wrapped in a duel with Luca Marini, the Italian also showing some real promise.

In Moto3, Joan Mir won the race in the same manner as Brad Binder, controlling the race throughout, and then striking at the end when he needed to. John McPhee took a commendable second place, the Scotsman paying off the faith placed in him by Dorna and the British Talent Team. Jorge Martin had a great start to the season, and Romano Fenati came back with a bang.

It is going to be a good year in Grand Prix motorcycle racing.

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Vinales has made great start by winning the 1st race. But, can he win championship to Yamaha and fill the void left by Lorenzo, who won 3 times for them between 2010 and 2016. Lorenzo made the decision to swtich to Ducati after looking at their initial results. Now, it seems a greater gamble than he initially thought it to be.

While not (ever) a Yamaha owner or particularly a Yamaha fan I think that this seemingly endless commentary about how much easier the Yamaha is to ride, than most other bikes, is a little tiresome if not just a bit of learned helplessness. Seriously, do Yamaha have magical ears when listening to rider feedback? Does their engineering team have some supply of myrrh to inject into their component manufacture? Perhaps the other team riders need to toughen up on the feedback. While Yamaha riders across the grid seem able to ride to their limits, those on Ducati and Honda seem to have expend as much energy in adapting to the inadequacies of their ride. One view expressed in this forum is that some riders have encouraged their teams into a performance backwater with their feedback. Whether this is true or not, the fact is that the relative ride-ability of the bikes is a huge factor in building the campaign of any given rider. Yes you can luck out with a Stoner or a Marquez, but you have to wonder if that is making the thing more controllable might just be the better idea in the first place. Witness the fantastic performance of the Aprilia in this race and the overall more credible performance of Yamaha for many seasons now, and you have to wonder why it is so hard to for the other engineering outfits to design for the rider that is in the battle. 

I always think back to Colin Edwards in (I think) "Fastest." I'm paraphrasing, but he said something along the lines of, "A MotoGP bike is so finicky. One millimeter here, one millimeter there, you come back in and it's like 'I can't ride the thing.'" It just seems to me that, at this level, you have to think in relative terms. Everything is tiny fractions, stuff that wouldn't matter or even be noticed on streetbikes, because when you're on the absolute limit that's what makes the difference.

Or, to paraphrase another quote from that documentary, this time Jeremy Burgess: "If we could just make the bike easier to ride, why wouldn't we do that all the time?" 


Why is it that the anglosaxxon media hasn’t offered much credit to Zarco? Comments like “Zarco is a slightly eccentric individual » make me wonder what is going on. Is he riding around on a unicycle wearing women’s clothing during his off days? There always seems to either be a few jabs at his quirkiness or at best a backhanded compliment towards him. Its take away from his on track skills. I think it’s a shame.

If a British, Aussie, American, German or even Spanish/Italian rider would have cleared the field for back 2 back MotoGP titles, including he rivals saying he’s riding in a special way, you’d be seeing nonstop rave reviews about this ‘special’ talent coming up. With Zarco we’ve heard slight praise, at best, mixed with comments about his personality. I think it’s a shame. Is it because he’s French? Is it a cultural stigma? Does the anglo-media think he practices being a mime during the week? Because he enjoys reading books that are not petrol-head related? Or is he a complete asshole off the track? Do his French pears think he’s this strange? Or deserves mediocre praise? Is it his accent? His passport? His shyness? I'm genuinely confused. Maybe I'm not seeing it well.

Think about it…. A SATELLITE ROOKIE rider in is FIRST ever motoGP race led the FIRST 5 LAPS !! Against the best MotoGP talent (both machinery and rider skills) in the entire history of the sport. This blew my mind!!!

can you imagine Bradly Smith would have done this in race 1 of his career? Or Cal Crutchlow? The future of the sport would have been born! Or even Rins, who is on a factory seat in which they booted Zarco off to replace him with. Rins lost to Zarco (twice) in Moto2. Imagine he bolted off to lead the first 5 laps as a rookie on that Suzuki (but crashed due to hitting the dusty off line of the notorious turn 2). You would be reading headlines today about Rins being the next Vinales and how in a few years he’s destined to be on a factory Honda or Yamaha. How come now one is talking about this with Zarco? Imagine Zarco on a factory Yamaha? Listen, I’m a Canadian, and I love motomatters. I have no French bias. I really really respect David and love his work. It’s just a general comment for all forms of media. Help me out guys, am I missing something?? :-)

I can’t help but think that this kid isn’t really getting the hype that someone else after such a moto2 career and start to his GP quest. Makes me root for him even more I guess.

anywho…. Feel free to comment. Keep up the good work David. I will even pony-up to be site supporter, don’t worry. Cheers

I don't disagree.  As a matter of fact, I'll be pulling for Zarco every weekend.  I do believe his race, before he crashed out, was one of the most impressive, if not the most impressive aspects overall.  

However, the realistic side of me (some would say pessimistic) couldn't shake the fact that he was out on softs.  Front and rear, I believe.  As I watched, I kept thinking, "OK...you're good now.  What happens after lap 10?"

Regardless, mega impressive from Zarco.  I'll really be looking forward to seeing what he does throughout this season.  

Great MotoGP race, all in all.  

At least 9 riders were on soft rears and Zarco & Bautista had soft both front & rear. I could not find the tyre selection anywhere so picked it up from the start of the commentary. Commentators were also focusing on the soft rear holding up (which Dovi almost won on!) rather than Zarco's soft front choice.

Otherwise, I agree with all of these comments: if ANY other rookie had led this race they would have had huge accolades. What I found suprising was how the commentators (on MotoGP.com) were saying he didn't know anything about tyre life, etc. Give me a break. They have to worry about tyre life in Moto2 as well!

A bit of difference between managing your tyres on a 140hp Moto2 bike and on a 260hp MotoGP bike - that's what the commentators were referring to.

All the testing in the world won't reveal how your tyres will hold up in an actual race. You have to go out and race to find out for yourself.

Ask Troy Bayliss about getting to understand how a set of tyres you've never done a race on will work out...

Also, Zarco is not exactly being ignored - his performance was the talk of the various moto groups I am involved in. He does however have to wait his turn when it comes to the mainstream moto media, he's not yet at the level of the media headliners regardless of how he went at Qatar. That's cold hard reality. Stoner was in the same boat in 2006.

I think you're way off the mark... I don't think that the media is being negative in any shape or form when they describe the character of an individual, especially as eccentric, many of the brightest and most brilliant people who have ever lived have been labelled 'eccentric'.

He's quirky, eccentric, whatever you want to call it, and the media discuss this because it builds the character, it brings us (the reader) closer to the rider. It helps generate that picture of a person.

People have been discussing Zarco's fantastic performance across all sites I visit and hailing it as arguably the best ride of the evening (Aleix being the other name mentioned with regularity). I think you're mistaken with believing he's being skipped over... you don't become double Moto2 WC by chance and everyone who has any knowledge believed he was this capable.

Your comment regarding 'a pain in his heart'... as an Englishman, I totally understand that it meant he was gutted by the race finishing in the manner that it did, I think the interpretation of his words is very endearing and again, beautifully shows his character.

I totally agree with your opinion on this. Zarco is the first rider to backup in M2, and did it in style. The first frenchman to win two Titles, EVER. He is the thinking mans racer. Apart from his tangle with Lowes last year, he rarely makes mistakes.

He has shown ability to control a race for the distance, and his skill on worn tyres at the end is second to none. He also wins regularly in the wet. Hes a total package and a nice guy. I have heard him get bagged for too many words in an interview, and trivial rubbish like that. He says it how it is and tells the story straight. What more do they want?

What a debut 5 laps. He was doing a 'Lorenzo' to the field. Rocket start, carved turn 1 cleanly with the best in the world, made a pass on the leader and rode away. Shame to see him fall. There is more to come from this man yet. I am impressed. What a season we have to enjoy :)

As a huge moto2 fan it is great to see riders coming up and Zarco looking so good. I do agree with "canadian speed" if Lowes or Rins had displayed such dominance in Moto2 the hype would have been more intense and in your face. We see a similar situation with Keenan Sofuoglu in WSS although he should have moved up already, but maybe with Zarco also is that he is older so people expect more or think he has peaked. Can you imagine if it had been a Japanese rider at the front in Zarcos place in qatar? It may not seem fair to bring race or nationality into racing but commentary bias is somtimes overtly obvious just watch the moto3 race. I have a real appriciation for Zarco (especially for putting that journalist in his place and his come from behind wins) and hope he gets a podium or 2 this year and maybe just maybe we will see a backflip. 

Nothing personal mate, but i think you're projecting a bit into this..

Having listened to the paddock podcast comments and other comments about him, I didn't hear anything that made me think he was being viewed any differently than any other rider. The comment about his personality is just that, about his personality.. Any comments I've ever heard about his riding is that he is a great talent. He himself has stated that Folgar is probaby the more talented of the 2 tech 3 riders this year. Zarco is more like Bradley Smith, in that he takes a bit longer to get up to speed because of a thoughtful and rightfully (for him) cautious approach. Nothing more or less...

He does things in a way that works for him, and the sky is the limit.. great rider!

As a Frenchman, I had hard times keeping my heart from jumping out off my chest :-)

Zarco is a kind and shy guy and he's already one of our greatests riders, if not the best. Having him in MotoGP is going to make this year very exciting to attend.

But no chauvinism here, other riders are great too, and the championship is far from being predictible.

Enjoy the new season :-)

what a great first race meeting of the year it was. we had a little stress when they delayed the start, i tried to watch quali the other day lol
about zarco,
i've seen him come through the lower classes. He is a proper racer and caught my attention (not only by his helmet design) from the start of his world class career when he showed flashes of brilliant racing.
also you forgot to add to the fat part: in tricky conditions
which for me deserves even more exclamation marks!!!

my mate and i were shocked by his performance, we expected something but not this, and whilst one being a Rossi fan, the other a ducati fan, we were both rooting for the french man!
about his person, i don't know him personally but i too remember the press conference in catalunya where he addressed a journo without any filters on. My respect grew even bigger after that weekend.
i hope he can deliver what i think he is capable of, mixing it with the 'aliens'

I was yelling like mad when Zarco went down at this glorious race. Knowing him he'll come back stronger in the next round. I've never heard him comment after the race about how he "pushed" or that he "gave his best" or whatever other cliché. He always gave in depth info about the race even when he won it. How he could be even better. He is one of the most intelligent people in the padock. The only reason why there was no much deserved hype in my opinion is the number of his years. On the other had that could easily be his strongest weapon. Underdog could be a best position in the sea of sharks. Jorge would kill for it right now. I'm from Macedonia and I've watched the race on Sport Klub channel where two Serbian commentators were literally rooting for Zarco as they are truly a MotoGP fanatics. In my opinion that's the reason why I watch this sport. To see amazing achievement. I mean I love watching Rossi, Lorenzo, Marquez... clashing on the asphalt, but to see a guy smashing the whole field in his debut is the real thing. And he definitely deserves more spotlight as it takes a lot of brain, sweat and guts to do it. 2017 could be the best season ever!!!

A new Alien, the best crop of rookies that I can ever recall, 4 manufacturers & 7 or more teams that have a shot at the podium each race, plus Aprilia and KTM creating a trajectory of their own...what a season it's going to be!


The ship has landed, we do indeed have a new alien.  At least one! If Zarco keeps this up....*knock on wood*

Delighted with the potential Folger and Zarco have shown so far, they have been great!  

Things kinda went their way at the weekend though; the start line unsettlement, Zarco not taking himself out with the Redding tangle and Honda's tyre confusion on the grid and the front soft worked for a while.

The 2016 Tech3 Yamaha's are as close to the factory spec just now as they will be for the rest of the season.  By Jerez the Factory electronics will have moved on and the gap will widen.  However, worth noting the 2106 M1's are way better sorted for the Michelin's than the 2015 bikes designed around Bridgestone's Tech 3 had last year.

Argentina is probably the next best chance for the Tech 3 lads to really really shine, by the time the circus gets to COTA normal service will have been resumed, the factories will move away from the satellites and Honda will have fixed their electronics.

Hope to see the rookies up front more, cant see it staying that way though, so enjoy it whilst it lasts.  







I want to reiterate my respect for David and the motomatters team.  It was not just about today’s article.

Another example was CRASH.net today.  The headline says : “Zarco feeling pain in the heart after Qatar”
English is obviously not Zarco’s first language, in French “mal or pic au coeur" – aka. pain in the heart- means you’re sick to your stomach about something.  That’s what he meant.  i.e. The kid feels terrible.

Yet there is always this vague feeling that the media thinks Zarco is fragile soul who cries on his mother’s shoulder after a bad event.  He was just saying he feels terrible (a gut wrenching end to his 1st ever GP) in broken English.

You guys have seen how Rossi always uses the word “Funny” instead of “Fun”.  He’ll often say a race or a battle was “funny”.  Reporters understand he’s ESL and is trying to say it was “fun”.
They don’t put headline that his battle with an opponent was a real “Joke” or that race was a “Joke”.

I really find it weird that Zarco has this following him around.  Unless there is another reason for it? Feel free to help me understand.

Anyways, maybe I need to get back to work.  smiley
thanks for the comments guys.  So happy to have racing back.
Have good day David yes


I will write a lot more about Zarco tonight. Nobody thinks he is fragile. He is, however, not like other riders. Very earnest, polite, and modest, almost. There are lots of stories about him, none bad, but lots which are a little strange. If I had to draw a rather flippant parallel, I would compare him to Luna Lovegood from the Harry Potter stories. The outsider who doesn't care about being an outsider, and who always turns out to be a more powerful figure than the reader expected.

…… and queue that awkward moment when you’re coworker catches you googling « who is Luna Lovegood”. now that that’s over with, I look forward to reading more. smiley

In way he might be a breath of fresh air from the scripted interviews that were monitored by Alberto Puig (remember Pedrosa 8-9 years ago?) haha. Thanks David.

When Zarco lead the race, I thought its the best thing ever happened in the last years in MotoGP.

What made a truly lasting impression on me, was how he put that dumb reporter in place in the presser after Louis Salom died.I think he is a wonderful character that is badly needed in MotoGP and he would make the right calls for sure when he would be member of the leading pack and is asked for his opinion.

right on brother. If that is eccentric  then I will take it every race weekend.

Kudos to A. Espargaro, but it's a tie for both the best result and debut on an Aprillia in MotoGP. Colin Edwards was also 6th on his RS Cube debut in Japan circa 2003.

Things went downhill quickly (and up in flames) for CE from there, but I suspect things will go much better for Aleix.

Where do I start? I'll start with the surprise of the race: ZARCO! I love the guy! The speed and race craft he displayed in winning two M2 titles was stunning, but I didn't see him leading his first MGP race. Yes, I realize he was on the softs, but still..... Who else has ever done that in his first race on a sat team? I was hoping he'd win the race! He can't get enough credit for his race. And no, I'm NOT french. 

2ndly: what the hell has happened to the mighty engineers of HRC? Suzuki was blowing their doors off. How the hell, does a miniscule company like Ducati, build an engine that makes HRC look foolish? Casey said that the entire race team for Ducati would fit in a little corner of HRC. I guess I shouldn't be surprised.....look at HRC's problems trying to 'develop' a competitive engine in F1. David, is there anything on this topic? Its absolutely stunning that this engineering powerhouse has fallen this far. And before I get snipes about their last several WC's, where would they be without two guys named Casey and Marc?

Jorge: gonna be interesting year. 

RE: Ducati's engine:  I believe much of their power advantage is down to the lower friction of the desmodromic valve actuation at higher revs.  Since the valve are closed mechanically rather than by valve springs (mechanical or pneumatic) there's less parasitic drag of cam lobes over the tappet surface.  I'm sure there's more to it than that, but it's one thing that could be significant.

Re: Honda's size:  I've read that long ago Honda was fond of rotating their engineers through all departments of the company; raceing, mini-vans, etc.  I have no idea if that's still true, but given their poor performance in F1 in addition to their frustrating inability to tame their MotoGP engine, one wonders if there's a bit of a committe mentality going on with their race departments as opposed to leadership via guiding vision, such as from Gigi D'Alligna at Ducati or the previously mentioned Masao Furusawa at Yamaha.

In Stoner's second race on a satellite Honda as a rookie, he qualified first and lead some of the race.  In his third race on a satellite bike he finished 2nd.

Lets hope Zarco does just as well! 

Altthough it was the second race of the year back then, still a good effort from a rookie!

I was looking at the MotoGP "analysis", which I like to do sometimes, and noticed something interesting:  Vinales was slower than Rossi in T1, T2 and T4 - by a little bit.  Rossi was slower than Vinales in T3 - by a lot.  Excluding the first lap Rossi was .02, .03 and .05 ahead in "his" sectors.  Vinales was an amazing .15 (!!) ahead in T3!  Wow!  T3 is where I believe Lorenzo used to really shine also as it has a long, sweeping left-hander if I read the map right.  Argentina should be interesting indeed.

Great race and couldn't have made up a more exciting and memorable first pole/win on the Yamaha for MAV.

I think that he's riding with a chip on his shoulder because everyone keeps telling him "ohh, well he's going fast because it's Lorenzo's bike and he kept all of his staff, it's all so easy" and my guess is that he's trying to prove everyone wrong.

Before the race I tweeted that I thought the press was too quick to pronounce Rossi as 'old and done', I think people were already claiming that he was going to retire by the end of the year. Superb riding and job by his crew to setup a competitive bike with out enough FP time.

Aleix and the Aprilia - just wow! if the race had gone the full distance, who knows, maybe he might have passed one or both HRCs.

Zarco was also magnificent, he looked in controlled while leading and I belive that Herve said that he was trying to slow down on the lap where he went down. Shame for him but definitively a learning experience


Thanks David for a great round up as always! I felt this way in testing, and this race seems to confirm this: the narrative that the championship is mostly between Vinales and Marquez is, I think, a little premature. Zarco was destroying everyone for 5 laps. He was pulling away, totally checking out. That kind of speed in the first race of the season, from a rookie, on a satellite bike, is ludicrous. If we're saying that this race says a lot about the championship (itself kind of a flawed idea, it's only one race) then Zarco needs to be taken into account. If he can stay on the bike, then he's a title threat. Full stop.

A note on Vinales - it's not nothing that he doesn't start well. We've seen riders lose championships because they couldn't start well. Rossi in particular acknowledged the problems he has had because of his starting and qualifying. Vinales was able to catch up, even in a shortened race, here at Qatar, but it's not always going to work out that way. He needs to sort out those starts by the time Marquez sorts out the RC and Rossi sorts out his front-end setup, or his championship challenge is going to be all uphill. The counterpoint here is that his passes in Qatar were absolutely gorgeous and precision and will make up a lot for the slow starts.

Then there's Rossi. 38 years old, terrible pre-season testing results, doesn't like this year's tires, terrible warm-up session, qualified in tenth. Came in third and for a couple of laps even threatened 2nd or 1st. Contrast that with Marquez. Much younger, solid pre-season testing, not a huge fan of this year's tires but can clearly use them, led the warm-up, qualified in third. Rossi made him look slow, and so did Iannone for that matter. I think we all know the M1 is a better sorted bike than the RC right now, but that can't account for all of that. Surely, Honda will improve the bike, as they always do. We'll see.

To me, specifically based on this race, the title contenders are Vinales, Marquez, Rossi, and Zarco. Iannone has shown too many times that he can't stay on the bike. Dovi is a wildcard, he'll do well if he doesn't get torpedoed. Pedrosa doesn't have it. Lorenzo is not sorting out his style on the Ducati fast enough to be a factor. No one else is close.

A good portion of Marquez's pace was down to his use of the medium front rather than the hard front which was his preference.  I'd call Marquez's performance an anomoly given the abnormal conditions of this race.

Hey David, I understand the riders now have a choice of up to three different Michelin fronts and rears to pick from for dry weather, and one wet-weather choice.  Is that correct?

I would like to put my 2 cents about Zarco. I've had the chance to meet him at Indy a few years back (indeed). He striked me has very articulate, a bit shy but VERY intelligent and very down to heart. Most certainly, not excentric in any way, but I have to concede that, when Zarco was in 125, he certainly had a kind of mental blockage, if you will, that prevented him from acceding to the top step. For excentricity I would point to Laurent Fellon his manager, who from what I heard from various french sources makes some (special) request for his protege, but if it works... who am I to argue. I have great expectation from him and I predict he will do good in MotoGP, maybe not WC. He has a very precise style (a la Lorenzo) so on the Yamaha it should be good. What he did in the winter, namely to get on the bike with worn tires to help him understand the bike was pure genius, then again it might be Fellon's idea who knows! 

thank you David for your article. What a race! so much to process! 

and so disappointing that Dorna has definitely not shown big organization skills. That hour pre race was quite crazy. I'm just glad they did not resolve to a 3 lap race with half points... how silly and unjust it would have been!

But then the race was on, and did i enjoy it. Every second of it. I'm gonna eat humble pie: i did not expect MV to be so clinically precise and perfect and determined and fearless in his passes. I knew he is very good i did not think he had this craft. perfect.

And Zarco... well, i would have never thought of seeing this : impressive and crazy. I read on various posts about his awkwardness... yes it's true, there is something about him - the expression, the eyes, the choice of words,... - that sometimes might sound odd. But he is a very determined hard working person. And he has a very interesting story, that I'm sure you'll write for us very soon. Sad he crashed, but again, with those soft tyres and that speed, i don't think he was gonna go any further than 10 laps before dropping the pace dramatically. Am I right to remember that MV made a remark about his aggressive pass at the start?  Speaking of which who was the "train" (not my words, his...) that hit VR at the start? That camera hanging there: is it safe? Funny, both Yamaha guys got hit at the start but that did not rattle them. I'm glad VR podiumed. more than glad: extremely happy! given the winter tests and the pace until warm up i was certanly not going to bet on him. And the only word i can think of is serendipity: they found something they did not expect to find and it worked! I'm still not convinced it's gonna be easy: he cannot digest those softer tyres. Shame. I find interesting that MM is blaming the tyre choice... hinting that it wasn't entirely his choice: when has he ever done something he did not want to do? I see it rather as a strategy that bit back: he wants to beat MV and thought of outpacing him with softer compound. I think MV might rattle him more than he lets on. And now Dovi : has anyone noticed that his look changed? did I see a glimpse of shadenfreude in his eyes when he saw that his team-mate was over 20 seconds behind? the new joke in Italy is: "Ducati spent 24 millions euros to boost Dovizio's confidence". It's cruel and funny. And there is some truth in it. I don't doubt that JL will eventually get there, sooner than later. But I also think that some of his ungracious comments like "Ducati needs a world champion like me" or "given i'm a world champion and the fastest i can bring that little extra that ducati is missing"... and so on, well, this might have ignited some fierce desire on Dovi's part to teach the fastest of them all a few lessons. I might even put some money on Dovi! not for the WC, but for a serious string of podiums. 

All in all, great race. I so much look forward to Argentina. thank you David for all your hard work



I'm going to pop down to the bookie and put a tener on Zarco to be world champ. Zarco should have got the factory Suzuki ride, not Rins(who is over rated IMO), perhaps in the long run it will prove to be a better decision to go with the Yamaha. We all know that one day soon the GOAT will hang up his leathers and who better to inherit the factory M1 than Zarco.


It is always a problem deciding whether to use literal translations or to "adapt" what you know a rider is trying to say in English into just that. I remember when Kenny Roberts came to Europe he presented a problem for the British journalists. "Backing it in," "pole putting," and several other flat track expressions were a problem but when I read once in quotation that KR has said, "I am rather annoyed by that sort of thing," I understood, "that shit pisses me off." Given the journalistic code of the 70s, I understood and smiled. I told the guys in the garage and for a few days they kept saying that Kenny was rather annoyed. 

Whenever Spanish riders spoke in English language texts, they sounded like Manuel from Fawlty Towers. But when they were interviewed by journalists who spoke both Spanish and English, they were thoughtful, precise and often very funny. I don´t speak French, but journalists who do find nothing strange in anything Zarco says although they do say that he is "complicated."

Although English is the language of press releases and press conferences, journalists should avoid seizing on awkward phrases spoken by riders in their second or third language and, well, ask someone.

I still remember Makoto Tamada after winning the Japanese Grand Prix...I went to see hm and he talked for about a solid minute in Japanese. Then said "I too happy for English."


Sometimes something is gained rather than lost. This instance reminds me of a time many years ago when i was part of a multi-national trip to the Himalaya. After several gruelling weeks in that extraordinary landscape, but still short of our objective, our French member announced his decision to go home. When asked why, he simply said "my heart is full".

We don't really have an equivalent expression, but we knew exactly what he meant. And his way of expressing it added rather than subtracted from the whole experience. As does Zarco's.

Amazing first few laps from hI'm by the way. I hope we see more of the same.

Or maybe Lewis Carroll, things just got curiouser and curiouser as the  pre start devolved into as theater of the absurd. In the end it was enjoyable and entertaining. JZ05 showed his on track skills and inexperience. I like his interviews precisely because he is unscripted. 

The comments of Dennis Noyes are much appreciated re the idioms of each language and the risks of literal translation. My bottom line is this. Qatar is only one race and it's a long season. My guess is that it will be an interesting one and very competitive. At least I hope so. 

I enjoy the " eccentricities" of Moto GP riders. In some way that may be the reason they are able to ride so close to the limit so well. In truth we all wish we could ride like them, but can't. Perhaps the eccentricities give them the mind to be able  to ride at such a stratospheric level so consistently.

Let's hope for more entertaining and baffling occurrences throughout he season. At least it's not boring like F1 where every driver interview has a " handler" present to make sure the driver doesn't t say anything unscripted.

The only predictable thing I trust will continue is the excellent writing of David and the entertaining and interesting comments of those who follow this forum.




There will come a day when he is washed up. That day will be discovered in hindsight, not through prediction.Till then, he is out there to win and remains completely capable of it. Particularly if the young talent engages Marquez and they all drag the each other down(from a points standpoint.) Vale seems entirely capable of a measured Podium spot in every race. Others seem more likely to win it or bin it over the course of the long season.Of course, had this been the case last year, he would be the Defending Champion this year. Uncharacteristic mental miscues clearly cost him the title in 2016 ....Zarco is a true talent, with the mental makeup to succeed.Nevertheless, running away on soft tires does not a race winner make(necessarilly)....Marquez will get sorted.He is the man to beat and the greatest talent with another year of maturity... and he rides a sure to improve Honda....Maverick will be there at the end, an undeniable ability to win races, a larger unknown to capture a Title in this crowded field. . And poor Jorge has a lot to overcome, including the awareness that he has made a very large mistake...I have to agree with those who have felt from the beginning that the Ducati simply does not fit his riding style...If he makes himself competitive, he will have acheived something few would credit him with the ability to do..which is win/compete in less than ideal situations...Cal, Crazy Joe and others will have their days. or at least moments....Going to be a fantastic year to be a Moto Gp fan...

(Out of 10)

Vinales 10
Dovizioso 10
Rossi 9
Marquez 8
Pedrosa 7
A. Espargaro 10
Redding 10
Miller 9
Rins 8
Folger 8
Lorenzo 5
Baz 7
Barbera 6
Abraham 6
Rabat 6
P. Espargaro 7
Smith 6
Lowes 5
Petrucci 5
Iannone 7
Bautista 6
Zarco 9
Crutchlow 4