2018 Qatar MotoGP Sunday Round Up: Closer Than Ever

You might call that a good start to the new season. There were four races held on Sunday at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar: three Grand Prix classes and race two of the Asia Talent Cup. All four would become titanic battles between riders, ending in searing duels to the line. Three of the four would be decided by less than three hundredths of a second. The fourth – Moto2 – would be decided by just over a tenth. The combined winning margin for MotoGP, Moto2, and Moto3 is just 0.162 seconds. Add in the Asia Talent Cup, and that takes the grand total to 0.175 seconds.

It seems fair to say we were treated to some insanely close races at Qatar. In Moto2 and Moto3, three riders broke away to contest victory among themselves. In both classes, an incident – a crash in Moto3, a technical problem with the rear brake in Moto2 – saw the trio whittled down to a duo, the race going all the way to the line.

The MotoGP race was even tighter, the closest finishing group ever at Qatar, with first place separated from seventh place by just 4.621 seconds, and from eighth by 7.112. The top three finished within a second, the top two by 0.027 seconds – a numerologically pleasing gap, given the race-winning machine.

This was the closest race in MotoGP that I can remember. The leaders streaked across the line to complete 22 laps on Sunday night, and on 11 of those laps, the gap between first and second was less than a tenth of a second. On another seven laps, the gap was between one and two tenths. On the remaining four laps, the gap was always under three tenths.

There was nothing to choose between the leaders, the winner impossible to identify even up until the final corner. It looked for all the world as if someone had tried to organize a MotoGP race, and a Moto3 race had broken out. A freight train of riders chased each other round the track for 22 laps, and at the end, two men fought it out in the last corner, with an entertainingly predictable outcome.

2017, Redux

The 2018 race was like a condensed version of the 2017 season. Johann Zarco led the way in the early laps, the Monster Tech3 Yamaha rider repeating his feat from last year's race, though he held on for a good deal longer than in 2017. Tech3 team boss Hervé Poncharal sat watching the race on pit wall strung tight as a bow, his nerves slowly easing up once Zarco got past the six lap mark at which point he had crashed out last year.

Zarco looked like finally cracking his first MotoGP win for seventeen laps, but as he swept through the final corner and onto the front straight, his fate was sealed. Behind him, Andrea Dovizioso was winding up the Ducati GP18 ready to hit the nitrous button down the front straight. Zarco led across the line, but was immediately swamped by the Ducati as Dovizioso used his 10 km/h top speed advantage to take the lead.

Unfortunately for Zarco, Marc Márquez knew that he could not let Dovizioso get away. The reigning world champion got in the slipstream of the Ducati and wildly waggled his way past Zarco, touching the Frenchman, struggling to stop his fishtailing Honda RC213V, and nearly running wide in the attempt. It came close to ending in utter disaster for Márquez, but the Spaniard's outrageous skill just held it all together. It would not be the last time in the race.

"My target was try to control Andrea, because he was the fastest one," Márquez explained in the press conference. "My problem was when he passed Zarco I went behind him. It doesn’t matter when or where. He overtook Zarco. I just was behind him. I was on the limit, all in is what I said." It had been an insanely close call. "When Andrea overtook Zarco, I was just behind, but then I start to lose the rear. I touched Zarco. I released the brakes. I took the slipstream of Andrea. Then I couldn’t stop the bike. I went wide, but I stay on the corner. That was the key of the race, was the key point."

Tire troubles

From that point on, Zarco was finished, and dropped through the field like a stone. Not because he started going so much more slowly – the Frenchman kept doing low 1'56s, the pace he had been lapping at for a few laps – but because the rest of the field found a sudden burst of speed. Dovizioso, Márquez, Valentino Rossi, Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci all suddenly started slamming in low 1'55s, gapping the Frenchman in the space of a couple of laps.

Afterwards, Zarco revealed that he had been hampered by a problem with his front tire. "I wanted to keep fighting for the rest, but with this front tire problem, I could not fight and then from this moment five laps to the end, I had to accept to take what I can," the Frenchman explained. "I got the best I could, I did what I could do, and when I have a technician from Michelin and also on my team saying that something has been wrong, it means that OK, the rider's job is done, then when you are doing this kind of sport, this can happen. I keep smiling, and anyway, eighth position when you have a problem, it means you are competitive. And I was leading the race, maybe I was slow but nobody overtook me, which means I was good today."

The problem was a lack of grip from his front tire, Zarco said. "It was sliding. Just sliding. You go into the corner and instead of turning, you go wide. Or if you want to turn you can crash. It was this kind of problem." He had had a few warnings early on in the race, but it got worse as the race went along. "It was much worse at the end of the race, but I had some alerts maybe after seven, eight laps," he said.

But Zarco took comfort in knowing that he was not that far away, despite his precipitate slide down the order. Leading the race had helped build his confidence, give him the belief he will need in races to come. "That's why I want to lead races," he explained. "The more I can do, the more it is becoming normal, and I think compared to last year, I was much more under control. So that was a great feeling. I was almost feeling slow, but as I say, if I am staying in front and nobody passes me, it means that we are not so slow, so happy for that."

Episode on repeat

The last five laps played out like they had twice last year. Andrea Dovizioso led, laying down a murderous pace which Márquez could follow, but not easily attack. Behind Márquez, Valentino Rossi had latched onto the leading duo, unsure he would be able to pass, but certain of taking advantage should it all end in tears.

It didn't, but on the final lap, it came very close. Unable to deny his nature, Márquez pushed to the limit to hunt Dovizioso down, launching an attack in the final corner of the last lap. In a carbon copy of the Red Bull Ring and Motegi last year, Márquez attacked, ran wide, and left the door open for Dovizioso to calmly sweep inside and drive away to the line to take victory.

"It was like deja vu," Márquez joked in the press conference. "Last corner with Andrea, I go in, go wide, he goes inside, and he wins the race." Yet Márquez was far from despondent at going three to nothing down in last corner battles with the Italian. "On the other hand, it's true that I lost this last lap, last corner battle in the worst circuits for us. Red Bull Ring, Motegi, here. So, if it is like this in the future, it will be okay. But then on the strong circuits, on my favorite circuits, then I need to attack there. I knew that I was on the limit, but I try. Now I can sleep well this night. If not, I cannot sleep."


That last corner battle is becoming something of an archetype, for both men. Márquez lunges wildly, Dovizioso parries calmly, having expected it all along. His description of the race bore out the inner calm which the Italian carries. "Our bike works very well in this track. Better than last year," he said. "I was able to play with the bike in a good way. I didn’t take any risks at the beginning. I saved the tire. Most of the time I wasn’t so close to the rider in front of me because I didn’t need to be."

"I was able to take every decision in a relaxed way and prepare everything for the last part of the race," Dovizioso continued, "Because everybody at the moment was saving the tire, there wasn’t a special rhythm in that moment. We did 1'55.2 at the end of the race and that time we arrived 1'55.6, 1'55.8 at the beginning of the race. So this means that everybody was going faster, but nobody can ride with that lap time, because nobody was able to finish the race in a good shape. I knew that and I managed the situation in a good way."

But Márquez' improved pace and the obvious improvement to the Honda was cause for concern, not just for Dovizioso but for the entire grid. The bike is clearly better than last year, easier to ride and consequently easier to manage. "I think this is the reality," Dovizioso opined, using a favorite phrase of his. "I think we confirmed we are more competitive than last year, but this race I think Honda’s riders confirmed they are also better than last year. Looks like that in the first round, so we will see."

Ducati team boss Davide Tardozzi was delighted with the win, the garage erupting with joy when Dovizioso crossed the line to take victory. "We are very happy about Dovi’s attitude," Tardozzi said. "He wants more. He has demonstrated that he is really not only a talented guy but a clever guy. He managed the race in a perfect way. That’s why we call him Professor Dovi. We are very happy."

Fast is better than safe

Valentino Rossi's third place was just rewards for a gamble that paid off for the Italian. He and his team had decided to scrap the idea of saving the tires, and chosen a setup for outright performance instead. "Yesterday in qualifying I was not very happy about the balance," Rossi said, "because we try some modifications to save the front tire. Yes, we can save the front tire, but then we lose the speed."

Forced to make a decision, Rossi erred on the side of speed rather than endurance. "Today I say, we try everything to go fast. After if the tire will last, it lasts. If not, ciao. We make a good step this morning. We improve the traction exit from the corners, and also I think that we work well also with the electronics. The good and the bad is that from one track to the other, the difference of the bike will be big also this year. So, nobody knows what will happen in Argentina."

Stiffer is better

Rossi's teammate had made an even more radical change which had worked out remarkably well. After a miserable time in the tests, where he was fast one day, nowhere the next, Maverick Viñales finally managed to persuade his crew to make the bike stiffer, fitting harder springs. It had transformed his ability to go fast on the bike, and he fought his way through from twelfth on the grid to finish sixth, and within a sniff of fourth, and perhaps even the podium.

"We didn't focus on the electronics for the race, we focused to find the setup. And actually it works," Viñales said afterwards. "We took the opposite direction to the test, we went harder in the front, stiffer on the rear. Something I really like and something I asked many times to do. Finally, we did it here and it's a good way."

The change also helped manage some of the wheelspin he had been suffering during testing. "For sure, it gets much better entering the corner and less shaking on the bike," he said. "So it's something I like. The bike is more stable and I can attack a little bit more the apex of the corners. A little more corner speed but also with the brakes. So I didn't make a lot of problems in the acceleration [area] because I gained in the middle of the corner. It's something I asked for many, many times. But we did it here on the race weekend."

It felt like he had wasted the entire off-season of testing over the winter, Viñales explained. "For me looking back it's like I lose three months because now the bike is totally different from the test. Chassis is the same but the way the setup is totally different. In the other direction. So still I need more confidence but the strongest point of the bike from last year comes again, which is the fast corners, and I'm quite happy."

Tire choice

Tire choice proved to be the difference between the podium and missing out for both Cal Crutchlow and Danilo Petrucci. Crutchlow had gone with the medium front rather than the hard front favored by the Repsol Honda riders. "I knew I would be able to manage the hard front in the race, but I didn't know what the result would look like," Crutchlow said. "If Dani and Marc use this tire, then I can usually use it. But I went with the medium. Maybe I could have finished one place further forward with the hard front. But I don't think so."

Petrucci had chosen the soft front rather than the medium front, the Ducatis capable of running much softer front tires than most of the other bikes on the grid. But the soft front had been a bridge too far, the Italian acknowledged. "I think I was the only one on the soft front, and it worked well in the race simulation, but in the race, I got overtaken a few times, because I had not so much turning power, and especially on braking, I was not as strong as always," Petrucci said.

The Italian was especially disappointed after finishing fifth. "I'm a little bit disappointed, because yesterday I said my target was top five, and I reached that," he said. "But I said top five because I didn't want to say the podium, but in reality I thought that Márquez and Dovi had something more, but I said, maybe third position is OK. I stayed in third position all weekend, had a good pace."

Blue is the color

Overall, the Qatar MotoGP race was full of promise. Suzuki went very well during the race, at least until Alex Rins crashed out, and Andrea Iannone was no slouch either. Rins was in the battle with the front eight, towards the latter half of that group, struggling to win a braking duel with Danilo Petrucci, but also soaking up the knowledge of the new GSX-RR.

"I’m happy because we learned a lot from this weekend," Rins said. "All the time we were on the top and put the Suzuki there. But in the race everything changed. I was starting from sixth position – my best result. Then the feeling with the clutch was not so good on the start. We missed a bit on the first lap. Then when I was with Dovi I was following him easy – well not very easy, but easy. Then when he started to overtake on the straight it was impossible for me to overtake him on brakes. I wasn’t competitive on the brakes today."

Rins had no real answer for why he struggled on the brakes when it was one of his strong points during the test. "Maybe the track wasn’t in the best condition. The feeling was not the same than in the test that we did here. We tried to put the bike in a perfect set up but today in the race with a full tank I didn’t feel really good."

Track? Tires? Temperature?

The question is whether the changing track conditions are actually responsible for the tire problems a number of riders reported. Johann Zarco blamed his precipitate fall on a problem with the front tire he had been given by Michelin. Dani Pedrosa believed a similar problem halted his chances of a good result, the Repsol Honda finishing seventh after he suffered spinning with the rear tire, which saw him drop from third after the first few laps.

"Unfortunately the rear was spinning a lot," Pedrosa said. "I couldn't really do better, I was losing a lot in corner 3 and the long left going up and some other corners in sector 4. Everybody was getting by me, and it was difficult. Lucky that I had the front so I could go hard on the front to keep the pace, but, you know, unfortunately yesterday I had one not so good tire in the qualifying, and one today in the race."

Was it really the tire, or was it the change in track temperature, grip, and feedback, as conditions changed radically between practice sessions and between days? Without having access to each rider's data, it is impossible to tell. We do know that Michelin occasionally has concerns over quality assurance, but that is something the French tire maker is constantly working on.

But it is also undeniably true that the track underwent considerable changes as the weekend went on. The wind changed direction completely from Friday to Saturday, a strong tailwind turning into a strong headwind down the front straight, dumping a sprinkling of sand onto the track into the bargain. Track temperatures varied from 42°C in FP3 to 23°C during the race, with the Moto2 race having deposited a nice layer of rubber on the track for the MotoGP bikes to use.

Pedrosa and Zarco were not the only people to complain about things not working the way they did on previous days. Alex Rins said the bike felt different on Sunday, though he had no complaints about the tires. Petrucci's tire didn't work as well during the race as it had during qualifying. All this highlights the complexity of tracking down a performance problem with a tire. There a dozens of factors which could be involved in a tire having reduced performance, only one of which is the tire itself.


If the MotoGP season looks like it might be heading for another Dovizioso/Márquez showdown, the support classes saw the title candidates immediately sifting the wheat from the chaff. In Moto2, Pecco Bagnaia got his first victory, finally living up to the hype which has surrounded him. Bagnaia, Lorenzo Baldassarri, and Alex Márquez got away in the early stages of the race, and were preparing to do battle over the podium places. But while Márquez and Baldassarri were battling over second, Márquez suffered a problem with his rear brake. The brake jammed on, slowing the Spaniard on his charge, and he could only pick up his pace again once the rear brake effectively ceased functioning. A brave effort saw Márquez retain third despite a valiant effort by Mattia Pasini to catch him.

In the Moto3 class, it was Jorge Martin's chance to show just how good he is. Martin escaped from the pack with Aron Canet and with Enea Bastianini. Bastianini crashed out, leaving Canet to take on Martin on his own. Try as he might, Canet simply could not get close enough to launch a proper full-on attack. The calmness with which Martin won the race was impressive. The young Spaniard still has a way to go.

Premature conclusions

What conclusions can we draw from the season opener? Firstly, that Andrea Dovizioso because the first Ducati to win the Qatar race since Casey Stoner in 2009, though the bike is unimaginably different between then and now. Dovizioso won by 0.027 seconds, a fitting tribute to Stoner's racing number, though the Italian certainly did so without any knowledge of it.

More worrying, we know that the Hondas are in excellent shape: no longer are they struggling to get into the top five, they are starting to go very well at tracks where they have traditionally had problems. If Marc Márquez is losing out to Andrea Dovizioso by less than three hundredths of a second at a track where the Honda is weak, just imagine what will happen once MotoGP gets to Austin. The consolation here is that Ducati has made a clear step forward as well.

The Suzukis are strong, as Alex Rins (and to a lesser extent, Andrea Iannone) demonstrate, but Rins is still catching up on the races he missed through injury last year. The GSX-RR is a radically more competitive bike than last year's machine, Suzuki's rivals have been warned.

The Yamaha situation is a complicated one. The riders are capable of overcoming some of the problems they have identified, though Qatar remains a very strange first race. Rossi's gamble on chasing performance over endurance paid off, though it is still far from certain this will work at every track.

Maverick Viñales is engaged in a battle of wills with his crew, but above all, with himself. He got his way to go back to a much older setting, making the bike a good deal stiffer than had been found during testing. They had fooled themselves during the preseason tests, Viñales said. "In testing, we fixed for a few laps, you know. With new tires, no fuel and crazy laps. But for the rhythm I've never felt like FP4 and the race." It sounds like Yamaha have found a way to give the nut between the handlebars a firm tweak, and that has delivered serious consequences.

But the main lesson we learned at Qatar is that MotoGP is closer than ever, and it was already ridiculously close. I have a feeling that we are in for another magic season. There is no reason to believe my hunch will not turn out to be right.


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A MotoGP race roundup without a single word on Jorge Lorenzo ? Wow, Ducati management must be realy adamant to keep him on the payroll for next year!

I agree. The whole situation is strange. Yesterday on the starting grid there only three riders that have actually demonstrated that they can win a MotoGP championship (several in fact, just to be sure that they are no fluke) as opposed to being talented/exciting/calm and collected/whatever: one came second, one third and the the third one has been completely erased from the picture like he does not exist. Such a waste! I do not understand what Ducati are playing at - surely they should be able to provide him with a bike that can finish all of the sessions in a weekend without breaking down. I understand that he is not liked/loved at Ducati like Dovi is, but given the amount of money you are paying him at least give him a bike that is not trying to kill him and see what he is capable of ...

Had him in my notes, forgot to include him, and as it was 6am when I finished, was too tired to go back and include him.

Will be adding a little bit more later this week on things I missed. Lorenzo and Ducati will be a big part of that. 

Sorry about that. 

Apologies David for letting my fanboy insecurities spill over in frustration :-) My comment about him being erased was not specifically directed at him not being part of your summary. The field is so tight, there are so many extremely talented riders on sorted, proven bikes, plus exciting new comers that it is difficult enough to find space to talk about the riders that finished the race, never mind about those who didn't! 

I guess that i am frustrated that such a talented rider, top team and proven bike are not delivering.

Maybe someone could write a book on what is the secret of a succesfull formula when combining rider talent, ability of the team to deliver a winning bike and luck/circumstances by looking at champions that changed manufacturers/teams in the recent past: Rossi, Stoner and now Lorenzo.  

> "I guess that i am frustrated that such a talented rider, top team and proven bike are not delivering."

Understandable, but one would be naive to believe that a rider can hop on a radically different bike and achieve the same results. There are very few riders throughout history that have achieved this, and more often than not the bikes in question have been very similar.

Not long ago, the Ducati was known at the "dream crusher". Many talented riders had their MotoGP careers destroyed by its untameable nature. 

We know that Dovi and Iannone were the only riders capable of extracting the maximum performance from the bike in recent years, with Petrucci a close third. Miller looks like he's taken well to it, but it's too early to tell.

Rossi proved that regardless of your talent, not every rider can form a winning union with every bike. I had expected Lorenzo to struggle, particularly because of his unique riding style which was perfectly suited to the easy to handle, high-cornerspeed yamaha. As Dovi himself said, riding the Ducati is a workout because it's a very physical bike to tame. And as we've seen, only Dovi appears to have what it takes to master it at this point in time.

In conclusion, it is wishful thinking to believe you can take a winner and throw him onto a radically different machine and expect him to continue winning business as usual. 

Lorenzo told the italian press he had a brake problem on lap 2 and he couldn't stop the bike effectively, without that he could have been on the podium. 

Giovanni Zamagni of moto.it made an intresting comparison between Rossi's and Lorenzo's times before Jorge's fall:

8th lap: Lorenzo 1’55”767, Rossi 1’55”751. 
9th lap: Lorenzo 1’55”854, Rossi 1’55”752. 
10th lap: Lorenzo 1’55”794, Rossi 1’55”715. 
11th lap: Lorenzo 1’55”825, Rossi 1’56”932 (missed brake point with Zarco).
12th lap: Lorenzo 1’55”908, Rossi 1’55”851.

On lap 13 he was 10th with a 3”689 gap from Zarco.

So probably without the brake problem (assuming he really had it from lap 2 as he told) he could've been a good deal faster than Rossi and probably on the podium. 

The new factory Ducati rear brake was getting a workout all weekend, they are using it more to keep pumping down. This may have something to do with losing a pad - the caliper may have been affected.

Lorenzo sounds optimistic re a podium. He may be showing that he is feeling pressure. Oddly though, when he makes claims that he can do better he is sometimes is pressuring himself to which he responds with excellence. Interesting bloke.

Petrucci could have done more with a different tire choice. Jorge has his work cut out, and so does a fantastically motivated Petrucci. Great subplot. And then it has a segue into the same for Iannone at Suzuki, their bike, and it getting a 99 on it for a reasonable fee.

Strong excitement as the lights went out eh? Zarco did what I thought Rossi would, and vice-versa. Or is it Rossi's electronics geeks did what I thought Zarco's right hand and strategy would and vice-versa? Great job on both their parts really. Good that Yamaha could do that. Vinales finished quite well. But grip/conditions were in the normal range for the race. Jury still out for lower grip situations.

Suzuki's motor looked on par with the Yamaha, fantastic! Ducati had something extra still. The Honda looks strong. Despite repeated self reminders of "will you look at how many riders are together at the front!" I still sat in disbelief. Incredible.

While it does seem that there have been some inconsistent Michelins, perhaps a few too many riders are indicating that issue rather than the conditions and fearsome pace. Just a few poor performances - KTM would have done better to just save the wear and tear and fuel costs by keeping their bikes in the garage today. Lorenzo didn't endear himself to his ham dispensers. Michelin sure got beaten up given that SO many bikes worked great on different compounds and lap records fell. All three of the podium finishers deserve ample praise. Fun race!

No mention of what happened to Lorenzo? I didn't hear very well what was happening with his engine, he just seemed to veer of track and into the gravel trap. Did he hit a false neutral/neutral gearing down into the turn or was it a gearbox issue?

How does a bike 'lose a pad'?  I assume that motoGP calipers are the same as every other motorcycle caliper I have worked on - and the pads are on pins which run the whole way through the caliper, and are secured with split pins or similar.  Did the pad friction material separate from the backing?  Or did someone in the garage make a huge mistake assembling and safety checking the bike?

The difference between a MotoGP bike and a street bike is that the MotoGP bike is at the very limit of endurance. Carbon brakes and special pads mean they perform under extreme conditions, and are under extreme stress. Parts fail because they are being used to the limit, basically.

that doesn't answer his question.

Carbon brakes or not, there are only a couple of ways a pad can "fall off," right? The lump of compound breaks away from the metal backing plate and disappears, leaving the locating pins holding a naked metal backing plate in place (like riding with a really, really worn out pad); or the whole pad, backing plate and compound both, disappears and the caliper squeezes the piston itself against the disc. The latter would mean the pins either fell out or weren't installed in the first place, right?

Kinda curious....

Great race to begin the season. Very interesting to watch.

For sure, the level was very very tight. As we all expected and as we could expect after 3 days of tests and a full WE of practice. All in stable conditions. With so much time of preparation, riders being so close makes sense in my opinion. I'm not sure it will be the same all year long though. 2017 teached us that with a complex choice of tyres and a few Lost (Rain, dirt, changing weather/temperature, snakes , aliens or whatever miscellaneous reason) pratices, riders and teams can easily lose the way. Argentina is typically a track where dirt and rain can affect the Week-end, let's see there how things will go. 

But there's still a few point confirmed after this first race. 

First of all. Dovi is there. Unsurprisingly. Even more than last year. He managed the Week-end in a perfect way and had a significant margin to play with and control his contenders. But.. it's qatar. Let's see now how the GP18 behaves in Argentina , Texas and especially Jerez where both Ducati and Dovi usually struggled a lot.

Secondly. Rossi... I was thinking he was foxing us during the tests, working on tyre wear and electronics and not really looking for speed he knew he already had with a M1 designed for him. I'm now sure he foxed us. He's one more time a title contender. 

Marquez. He is able to finish second in Qatar. the two other factory hondas were really fast. That should worry everybody. The package is stronger than ever. 

Crutchlow/Petrux. Honestly it's obvious for me they're in the fast rider category but not at the top. Before the race, both had speed, pace and the same bike as Dovi and Marquez. And they somewhat failed during the race and finished 4 and 5 and never really fought for a better position. For me, it means definitevely they're not in the same league than Rossi/marquez and Dovi. They can do podiums, maybe a win but they are out my list of title contenders. 

Pedrosa. Bad rear tyres with no grip ? Maybe. Maybe a tad cooler temperature during the race could explain it as well. Usual Pedrosa issue.  

Rins. Mistake. Usual business with Rins. those mistakes cost him 2016 Moto2 title and a disastrous first season in 2017. It's  a rider I wouldn't put my money on. 

Lorenzo : Quite unlucky week-end for the Majorcan. Looks very much that the relationship between Him and Ducati is kinda toxic and surely a DNF right now is not an appropriate result in a difficult context for him. Pressure from Ducati will crank up quickly.  

Vinales : wow he fixed it... oh wait. Didn't he tell us the same thing last friday ? and the week before ? and 3 month ago ? and 4 times last year ? . Surely he did a great race and our good Dr Vinales is back. Let's wait a bit to see the next race with hotter conditions, less grip, water or drying conditions .. I'm not 100% sure Mr Maverick is not lurking around anymore.  For sure, to see Vinales back on top would add even more spice in an already very promising recipe. 

Zarco. Let's take a bit more time for him. I see a lot of commentators saying he was stupid to lead the race and cook his tyres while big boys was managing their own rubber to last until the end. I don't agree with that. he was on pole, did the holeshot and took the lead. He knew his pace was a tad slower than the best guys. What could he do except trying to make his race and do not let faster riders take the lead and escape? If he left Rossi or Dovi go and push a bit more, Zarco would have struggled even more to stay close and use even more the tyres. In one way or another he was a tad slower; so, In my opinion, the best option was to lead and wait the last laps to see who would have the best tyre life. Unfortunately, he was the one who cooked his tyres. Maybe it was a dud front tyre. Maybe... Or Maybe he had to force a bit too much to keep a 55.6-8 pace and destroyed the front tyre. Fact is the plan failed and considering the field is tight it means he finished 8.  

I still think he has a greater potential than Petrux/Crutchlow though but it's still unsure in my opinion. Zarco didn't put the ducks in line yet. 

Back to the crave during 3 weeks.. Argentina could show us a very different picture.

Ok, thought about this and don't get the comment.   I just can't see how either rider is a failure in any way?  

Yes both are on factory contracts in satellite teams meaning they are starting the seaon with the same hardware as the factory teams.  This does not mean they are on the same software,  independent teams have their own data techs; one or two guys, which is way less than factory level resources.  

CC35 ran M/S,   Both the Repsol riders ran H/S which we know is the Honda riders and CC35's preferred option for hard braking so CC made a compromise from the start to try and make his bike work around this track.

Danilo ran S/S,  most Ducati's including the factory boys ran M/S and we know DP9 ran out of tyres.

This is Losail where Honda is usally miles behind Ducati and Yamaha, 2 Honda's in the top 4 is pretty amazing for them, HRC will be delighted with the result. 

Where is the faiulure?   



In Qatar they had the pace and the speed to fight for the win and failed to convert that in evn a podium. usual business for them when Rossi/Dovi/marquez and very top riders are able to convert an not so good base into big results. Marquez and Rossi are definitely kings for that and that's why they clinched 15 titles. 

In my opinion it's the main difference between a very good rider ( Crutchlow and Petrucci surely are) and a top rider. 

Jury is still out for Zarco for example. Surely he showed some extraordinary performance and the lap record he broke on saturday under a strong pressure and with a few fast riders ( Rins , Marquez,  and a few others) trying to use him as reference point is one of the wow moment that could characterize a top rider. But we are still waiting him to convert promises into top result ( let's say a convincing win) . For now, he "somewhat failed" as much as Petrux and Crutchlow did in qatar. one can can have a feeling Zarco has a better potential but for now it's just a feeling. 

It does not mean those guys are losers or whatever. It just means than in my humble opinion they aren't at Rossi/Marquez/Vinales/pedrosa/Dovi/lorenzo Levels. Those are for me in a league above. 

Dovi proved last year that a very good rider can even lately jump from good to top rider though so nothing is impossible.  

... I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennesse that says; fool me once, shame on, shame on you.

Fool me twice, can't put the blame on you. Fool me three times ....

Marquez is probably prayin' for COTA to come around.

.027 seconds, next time it will be closer or MM will win. Dovi barely made the over under on him this time, I expect that MM is learning how to make this manuever stick. As far as when did this move last work, I'd say his punt of Lorenzo at Jerez in the Lorenzo corner was successful. MM unwilling to punt Dovi? Maybe in the first race of the year, but if a championship is on the line late in the season, I'd expect the gloves off...

The championship was on the line last year. It is quite obvious Dovi is leaving the door open so that exact thing doesn't happen to him. He is one of the most intelligent and humble riders on the grid. Great to see him winning.

I'm looking forward to the official outcome on this issue. I know its pretty frenetic out their prior to the race. On the other hand perhaps the rider should do some basic safety checks himself before setting off on a machine he will be propelling at 350 km/hr. In Italian they call the rider 'pilota' ...pilot. The same monicker applies in aviation. In aviation the pilots have to go through a pre-flight check list and inspection of the machine. Basics like pitot tubes, tyres, icing etc. With all the data noise swamping a rider's brain on the grid these days its maybe time for the racer to do a basic pre-flight check list in the interest of his own safety. The best crews can miss a miniscule but basic thing while their heads are buried in laptops and data analysis before the start. I would suggest that the crews go through a basic checklist with the pilot long before the warm up lap. The crews probably do anyway but the pilot should perhaps be more present and involved rather than looking at the big screen. I guess some riders are heavily involved and some leave it all in the hands of their crew chief. That subject would make for an interesting read all on its own.

The race's? What a show across all clases.



In this case, I think there has to be the trust between the team members. I would think a rider sniffing his nose at the work of his mechanics would be taken the same way as a mechanic telling him how he should be positioning his body on the bike, or cornering lines. I.E. Focus on your own job, etc.

I don't think too many of the riders get involved in the mechanic-ing side of things, perhaps only in a passing interest sort of way. A racer at this level has so much to focus on in just the racing alone, spending 15 minutes before each session inspecting the bike is just an extra bunch of work.

Pilots do a basic walk around of the aircraft. But the pilots don't check my locking on the turnbuckles down the back of their aircraft, or that their control booster packs are retained correctly when I was installing them

Was it just me or was the commentarty horrible this weekend? The new guy might have a bit nervous but they really need to do better.

...to see, in this race at least, M1 proving to be a bike for everyone. Rossi made a set up to his liking as did Vinales and Zarco individually. Zarco wasn't lucky with that front tire or who knows how would that end up. If Yamaha can find a way to unlock the electronics it could be a real game changer. For now I can't see anyone take the WDC fight ecxept the usual suspects Dovi and Marquez.

Dorna needs to empty the bank account to bring Dylan back. Boy do I miss that guy reporting from pit lane.

The reporting by Simon Crafar is frankly embarrassing. You can even sense the awkwardness felt by Matt Birt and Steve Day as they struggle to ignore his countless mistakes and irrelevant comments.

Hoping Dorna quickly replace him with Neil Morrison, who did an outstanding job commentating on Moto2/3. 


We had a drinking game, wherein we did a shot whenever Nick said "absolutely." Actually it started with bong hits, but I kept finding myself wandering about the yard midrace....

Of course everyone has a peculiar preference.
I liked Crafar's contributions. He's not smooth yet, but he's thoughtful and genuine. Maybe he takes a moment to pose his questions, but I think they are relevant and well-formed.

This was the poor blokes first day in not only a new job but a new career. I’m sure most of us can identify with that to some extent!

I feel he could use the old adage "cut it in half" "and then cut in half again"  He takes too long to make his point IMO so if he can condense his work a bit I feel it will work out for him.

I like him.  He speaks slowly and insightfully.  He doesn't rely on catchphrases.  Give him a bit of time to get the processes ironed out, and learn to pronounce all the riders' names (!) and he'll be good.

He has the knowledge, he's been a successful a successful racer in GP, SBK, and Enduro; he's a racing coach and was the main coach and mentor for the European Junion Cup for a couple of years.

He's really bad - in the best possible way!!!!

He knows what he's talking about. He cares deeply. The riders seem to appriciate his insight and thoughtful questions. And I'm sick of everything needing to be so friggin polished. F1 is so polished it's insane. Who wants that?

Enjoy him before the PR goons get to him. Bring back the booze & tobacco companies!!!

but yeah, cut Crafar some slack. It was indeed clumsy compared to last year but I thought he didn't do too badly given it was his first go at it.  He was clearly uncomfortable, so once it becomes 'normal' for him and he develops relationships with all the guys he is interviewing he will come good.  One thing was that he made a comment quite early (QP2?) that Zarco seemed uncomfortable and stressed, not his normal self.  Sure enough, after qualifying came comments from Zarco's side  that he had been stressed and yada yada...

Give him a chance.

My comment wasn't meant to bash Crafar, I understand he's new at this. I was simply noticing the loss of what was, in my opinion, the best pit lane reporter anywhere in motorsports. Dylan was just so great at what he did I think we would have noticed no matter who replaced him.

Don't apologise for someone being rubbish at their job. It's not your responsibility.

I'm on a pension, and love MotoGP - but my enjoyment is being spoiled by Crafar.

I've complained and have thrown David's somewhat weird hat, into the ring as a replacement.

We deserve better than this.

that he feels like he's intruding. Perhaps he felt the media was intrusive way back when he was racing, and now he's projecting his discomfort onto his interviewees.

It reminds me of the James Garner character in the movie Grand Prix, where he walked around the paddock in what he called his "monkey suit," looking for people to talk to about things he clearly felt they wouldn't want to talk about.

I was hopeful watching Crafar during the tests. He obviously has the knowledge base. He just needs to be more confident that what he's doing is important to a huge number of MotoGP's stakeholders. And, really, if it isn't important to all of MotoGP's stakeholders, it's not his problem, because everyone he talks to should be eager for the conversation.

So, Mr. Crafar, if you're reading: Put on your Big Boy pants and expand our world with your insight. We'll love it. And quit with the thousand-word introductions of your interviewees.

Canning him now would be stupid, in a Brexity/Trumpish sort of way....

I have to think of a new way to beat myself over the head so that I stop doubting Dovi. This guy is the TRUTH!!!

I once heard that Rossi’s Polini exhaust on his 500 GP bike was actually made by Akrapovic but that Polini paid the team to run its logo on his pipe. True? BS?

MM93 runs termignoni exhaust on his factory Honda

Cal Crutchlow runs Arrow exhaust on his “factory” Honda

Are these just sponsors paying to put their logos on pipes Honda is actually making or do the teams get custom pipes from different manufacturers?

It seems odd that Cal’s team would pay for a factory bike then run a different exhaust system.

What do all the twist and turns in the pipes actually do?

What’s the point of a 4 into 1 being split back into 2?


And up until some years ago, I remember seeing "Miiv" branding on the factory Hondas.

I'm sure in a lot of cases they are just branding exercises. I know the Suzuki WSBK stuff back in the 90's was like this. Akra stuff being tagged Yoshi, Devil. Yoshi stuff being tagged as whatever company the team could get money from. And in many cases just blank.

In terms of Honda, I'm sure they have one manufacturer who they work with to design the pipes they want, and then just brand them out.


Twists and turns, usually for getting equal lengths for the piping coming off front and rear cylinder banks. That's why the Honda top pipe does a full loop in the tail. Someone also suggested it might act as a jounce damper...but that's for Honda to know

The Moto2 pipes do intregue me though like you say, where they cut back to 2 exits...David, reckon you could ask at the next race? Hah!

They are all running exhuasts made by Honda itself and sposored by other companies. And Repsol's exhuats aren't sponsored by Termegnonis anymore, They are SC exhusts now.

Is that not only the riders are close performance wise, also the bikes seems so. Suzuki was doing well also.. I expect ducati to be the lowest performance compared to others...since the straight of Qatar seems their advantage....they just could profit from this by a small margin...enough for the win here .but i might see if this will happen at other tracks except for Austria. Yamaha will vary i think and Honda is difficult to say since Marquez is overriding the bike in such a way the level is difficult too scale

David, maybe you can shed some light on this matter because frankly I don't understand. Vinales said he asked his team to try his suggested setup (harder front springs, stiffer rear) many times over before Sunday, but they didn't do it. For me that sounds very strange. I understand that Yamaha listens more to Rossi when it comes to the development of the M1, but Maverick is talking about a setup change, not developing a new part in Japan.

Does Vinales own team not trust him, or is Maverick talking BS to hide the real issues? Shouldn't the team at least have tried his suggestion earlier, like during testing. I mean, if it works, great. If it doesn't the team can say "we told you so" and follow another direction.

The fact that Maverick is pissed at Yamaha for following Rossi's direction (how that can come as a surprise to Vinales is beyond me) should be unrelated to his issues within his own team... Any thoughts...?



Wow, what a way to kick off the season!  I know you have an impossible task to summarize a race with this many layers and stories David.  Of course the top 8 battle was worthy of that and more column space, but let me say how impressed in am with a few names down the finishing order.  First, Hafizh Syahrin has to be commended for bagging two championship points in his first MotoGP race, with the benefit of very little testing time.  His confidence and data from the race will do him much good in Argentina.  Next, Jack Miller looks like he found love on the Ducati.  While Honda rewarded his Moto3 promise with a ride in the top class, it looks like the second marriage is the proper one for the Aussie.  Morbidelli as the top non-factory Honda (I count Crutchlow as HRC factory backed) and as a rookie is to be respected as well!


I definitely think Zarco overcooked his front tyre instead of that rubbish him and the French manufacturer is trying to feed us about it being a faulty tyre. Not from the fact that he was running some devilish pace at the start but more from the fact how deep and late he was braking in the first 10 laps. I remember saying to myself, wow, Zarco on the brake everytime man!!! how good is he to outbrake Marquez and Rossi. But seeing him do it for almost every lap had me thinking,surely, surely this is going to cost him in the latter stage of the race and what do you know i was proven right. In contrast, Rossi stayed smooth at the beginning looking after his front tyre and the only time he was hard on the brake was when he tried to outbrake and overtake Zarco(who was too hard to beat on that braking point at the end of that long straight by the way even for Rossi, that's how good he was there). They both went wide due to a combination of Zarco's front tyre already being overcooked at this point and the fact the pressure Rossi applied push him to try too hard there despite reaching the limit on that particular braking point during the previous 7 laps at least. Other points in the race was Dovi despite coming from a difficult start had a little something extra and was way too strong to lose that race. Marquez mistake was to sit behind Zarco and Rossi at the start when Dovi was behind in 6th or 7th. He should have overtaken Zarco and try to pull a gap between him and Dovi. Regarding Maverick Vinales although he came back strong midrace if i was him i would not shout over the top that i have found the miracle cure on my own and i had said it ''time and time again'' to my team like they didn't listen. There are track where stiffness will not help his laptime and i predict he will struggle in Argentina again. I left the best for last being a Rossi fan. What gets me intrigued and a little bit excited is how serene and focussed Vale looked all week-end. He was quiet on his side of the garage working toward race pace and finding a setting to save his front tyre. He never put in a dazzling lap but always methodical in his approach and confident in his know how. Watching him during the race also gave me an impression he could have also passed Zarco and try and run away but instead remain very wary about being smooth and wrapping that front tyre into cotton wool for the second part of the race. The Yamaha under his lead development look to have found its most powerful tool,Cornerspeed again and great stability on braking. Still lacking that bit of acceleration out of corners which set him back everytime in contrast to the Duke and the Honda. Maybe the GOAT will have a massive say in this championship and i cannot wait for the next race in Argentina to see how it all pans out. Hoping for a dry race and a for some more close fighting and fairing bashing at the front of the race between the so called Aliens. 

I think he has done a solid job so far. People should not be too quick to dismiss him. He knows a lot and is obviously passionate about bike racing, just give him some time to develop and have a more seamless interaction with the guys.

Add Professor Marc to that list. Man, he rode a superbly calculated race as did the old war horse Vale. We all look forward to Rio Hondo in a couple of weeks and then COTA. Dovi has no fond memories at either circuit by virtue of other racer's taking him out whilst in the mix for podiums. Another budding professor is Alex Rins. A great, yet fruitless ride by him. Zarco has already got his doctorate. Rins impressed big time in spite of his off. Miller, Tito Rabat, great performances and Karel Abraham on a 20 or something year old Ducati deserve mention along with Petrux. Ducati may soon be the most desireable client team bike. Enough of aliens and professors. Moto 2 was a showcase for what Peco is all about. He is off to Ducati next year and rode an 'impecoble' race. KTM generally had a poor weekend over all classes. I expected Oliviera and Binder to be closer at the finish. The Moto 3 Honda's left the KTM's for dead on the straight. AH! Silly season. I wonder how much KTM are offering Dovi. One would have thought by now that Ducati would have secured him, in fact, prior to 'lights out' in Quatar. I remember how stubborn he was with HRC back then. Forced them to run a third factory 800 in 2011 alongside Stoner and Pedrosa with original contract in hand. MotoGP champion he aint, but professor he is and king of the late braker's. Let Marc lunge, then brake, put it up on fat side of the rear tire and blast out of the turn.



Can anyone tell me why Dani Pedrosa opted for the Hard front/Soft rear combo, just like Marquez. It's usually Crutchlow and Marquez going for the same tyre combination. Noone else on the grid went for the hard front besides Marquez, and Pedrosa being known to be a weak braker, why would he do this? Any ideas or info on the subject? Just seems odd to me.

The same thing happened, more or less, to Eddie Lawson at Laguna Seca.  His brake pads came loose into the Andretti Hairpin on his first flying lap.  He ended up in the wall with a broken foot or ankle and was out for a number of races.  I don't remember where I read it but I'll swear there's a story out there indicating Lawson put the guilty mechanic in charge of checking his brake pads before every session from that moment on with the reason being the mechanic would have been so acutely aware of his mistake there was virtually zero chance of it ever happening again.

My understanding was that there was an error made regarding the installation of the brake pad retaining pin on Lawson's caliper.  If I remember correctly, that caliper had either the threaded pin or the one held in place with wire or clips of the era.  If I'm correct in my recollection, the pin would either have been not torqued correctly and/or not safety wired/pinned correctly and, presumably, thus backed out.  If that had happened, the pad(s) would have been able to come out of the caliper.  A horrid day for all involved.  It was long enough ago, that I may well have misrememberd the details of that caliper.  That said, Eddie's experience elevated our focus on the details.  Turns out, on a race bike, there are precious few parts that are not related to safety.

In JL99's case, the way I read things, Brembo is involved at a detailed level.  That leads me to suspect perhaps that the failure was maybe more mechanical/material related (e.g. a backing plate broke or friction material separated from itself or from the backing plate) as opposed to human related (e.g. putting a pad in backwards or forgetting to snap someting in place).

I suppose (and perhaps hope) that I'll never know for certain-certain in either case.

I also think we need to give Simon Crafar a bit more time. It's not as if any of us walked onto the job the first time and nailed it! I have hope he will improve if not give him his walking papers.

I liked Dylan too but he never won a 500cc/MotoGP race (not that you have to to get a reporting gig).  I think Crafar's racing experience will eventually help him be a good pit lane reporter. Given his past, he should have instant credibility with the riders and teams.

Is this the beginning of a 'we'd prefer you went somewhere else' season like Spies had?  Surely too tin-hat even for me... 

The last time I recall a brake pad falling out was Eddie Lawson on the YZR at Laguna, that broke just about every bone in his feet/ankles IIRC.  Legend was that rather than asking that the mechanic be sacked, he insisted the same guy do all his brake work in future, seeing as he was unlikely to ever make that mistake again. (true or myth?)

If a pad actually fell out then Lorenzo was extremely lucky it happened when it did.  No brakes at 350kmh at the end of the straight would get decidedly unpleasant.


Presumably the friction material has fallen off?

Pads are on pins (wired up?) so if the pins come loose, that's really really poor. Other words beginning with sh are available. 



I only saw a small clip live on TV on raceday, saw the races on motogp.com afterwards, but was your performance as "expert" on Eurosport BE/NL a onetime thing? 

Did anyone else notice how all 2018 Hondas got rocket launches? It could have easily been a Honda 1-2-3 after the first corner if Cal hadn't been pushed over the kerb on the run to the first corner. I guess gone are the days the RC213Vs were horrible off the line.

I think I am recognizing your voice now at the post race conference David. Great question to Dovi and Marquez re "three - nil" on last lap passes. Marquez is truly happy having a go at a pass here since this isn't a great track for him.  It was fun to watch Vale's pantomime towards Dovi re Marquez's pass on Zarco. It may have been the most exciting part of the race for me, he was over the limit and the rear was wagging all over the place. Vale's gestures captured it well eh? Of the press conference, for sure the most compelling comment for me was Dovi when asked if he thought he was at his best. He had me in rapt attention..."No one has any limit." That is an alien. They know it is possible. The more I hear and see of Dovi there more there is for me to like. He is the best kind of rider, eh? Aside from that Vermulen-like hat that needed fishing lures hooked on it or something, he hasn't missed a step. He stirs my heart. (Ever since the "rich text editor" was added here, it stirs my frustration and ire - literally EVERY time using it. This time it mysteriously cut out about a quarter of the comment, so I had to re do it. Grrr! THEN after re-posting, it yet again took out all the paragraph breaks, son we have a run-on block) Our turn! "Question for David Emmett - what was the most compelling aspect of the race for you? And of the comments off track?" Thanks

My take on the Vale pantomime while Marquez was talking is quite different. It shows his basic disrespect for other racers. Dovi tried to ignore, kudos to him. Rossi's actions were disrespectful, a shame, he acts like a badly mannered spolied kid.



First thank you David for all the great material you've been posting during this long winter of discontent, it's been so informative and entertaining  while I was traveling and fighting with "the rich text editor" ( I feel you @Motoshrink !). Traveling in VPN unfriendly countries, had me delay watching the race... less thrilling knowing the outcome, but still enjoyable.

A few thoughts : as I posted sometime ago, Honda seems so sorted out that i fear we'll see an outright dominance thorughout the championship, with little left for the others. I mean : if in Losail we have 3 Hondas in the first 7 I don't see a thrilling unpredictable season ahead. I wish I were wrong, but...

It was a strange race : many bikes in procession, letting Zarco lead at a slower pace... everyone nursing the bloody tires. I do hope we are not gonna have this same situation times and times again. 

And Dovi ! ah, picking up where he left last year, icing on the cake : a tripleta ! 3 times now that he comes out on top at the last corner. I did enjoy it. Funny thing that not longer than 2 years ago Dovi seemed to be cursed, always unlucky and now he is just thriving. I bring up the luck factor, because in the other side of the Ducati garage there was someone who had a week end of total bad luck. Poor Lorenzo, I don't think he would have made it in the top 5, but honestly it was unbelievable to see all the things that went wrong. 

Seeing Syarhin doing well made me think that it's a bloody shame that Morbidelli is not on that M1... Speaking of which : does anyone think that Yamaha is finally out of the woods ? I don't. I expect another annus horribilis, with very uneven performances, and a team probably dying to find an engineer who knows what to do with the electronics...

Since the last test, I was ready to put my money on Rins, expecting great performances, as he is very talented. I hope he'll deliver. 





So you did not enjoy watching Repsol Honda win every race (and Doohan 12 for 15) and take 39 out of 45 podium places?

Contrast marquee Marc Marquez & V.R.46.

M.M.93 hits two other riders & makes out it is nothing. Just a key moment in the race.

Vale is talking with his hands "saying" Marc is out of control again but manages to stay on.

Smug M.M.93 has bashed into almost everyone in MotoGp & obviously doesn't care, even if he must start from the rear of the grid.

Valentino has seen it & wants to be the class comedian. This is serious Kids! A few centimeters either way & it was a game of million dollar skittles with people's lives.

It is all fun and games until the next rider dies on track. Marc Marquez looks like he don't give a rat's arse & no officials are going to do anything because they see M.M.93 as the new messiah.

Please correct me if I'm wrong. Since Marquez came to MotoGP, who has more official sanctions for dangerous riding, Marquez or Rossi?