Qatar MotoGP Friday Round Up: A Clean Track, Suzuki's Speed, Tyre Coolers, Yamaha Pace, Ducati's Engines

Testing is all well and good, but at last, we have real, actual data from a race track on a bona fide race weekend. All 24 bikes on the track at the same time, trying to figure out as much as possible in two short 45 minute sessions. No running separately, or trying to figure out how the conditions for the 8-lap run done at 11am compare to the 12-lap run at 2pm, or the 7-lap run at 5pm.

The first day at Qatar may have been genuine competition, but the picture was also confused by the schedule. With FP1 at 1:40pm, in the heat of the day, and FP2 shortly after sunset, at 6pm, conditions were completely different, the air temperature 7°C lower, and the track a whole 16°C cooler.

"Well, for sure now it is hard to see who has the better pace than the other because we don’t have the normal day schedule," Miguel Oliveira reflected after the first day."The hour is not that different but for the temperature and the wind it changes quite a lot."

Sweeper

The difference in track temperature was a known concern, but at least the MotoGP riders didn't have a lot of sand to deal with. Normally, the first day at Qatar is spent playing the broom, sweeping the sand which accumulates on the track off the line and making it rideable. But the circuit had spent a lot of effort cleaning the track in preparation for the MotoGP weekend.

"Perfect! Especially after being at Mandalika!" was how Jack Miller described the grip. Normally, the first few laps, riders have to be careful going into Turn 1, because if you run wide, it is easy to crash on a dirty track. "I was kind of scared, because it's kind of always a little bit dusty here on the first day, but the first couple of laps, going into Turn 1 and going deep, which is generally you've got to kind of stand the bike up and go all the way out of the track, but they've done an absolutely amazing job with cleaning this track. And also I guess they mustn't have had too much wind in the past days, because the track is phenomenal. To do these times this early in the weekend is unheard of. I can't complain."

Alex Rins agreed. In previous years, he explained, they would still be cleaning the track on the first day, even after spending three days testing at the track. Not this year. "Today was a good day in terms of dirt and dust," the Suzuki Ecstar rider said.

A good day for the Suzukis too. Rins topped the timesheets in FP2, with Joan Mir third fastest. The bike was exceptionally quick over a lap, but it wasn't just all down to corner speed. The GSX-RR had a pretty decent turn of speed down the front straight as well. Alex Rins posted the highest top speed, clocking 355.2 km/h through the speed trap at the end of the straight, but Joan Mir was not far off, hitting 354 km/h on a whole string of laps. "The biggest surprise to me was Suzuki," Jack Miller said. "Playing possum all winter and then coming out with 355 km/h today, so clearly they found some ponies there in Japan."

The speed came as something of a surprise even to Suzuki's own riders. "It was amazing!" Alex Rins said. "It never happened before in the 5 years I’m in MotoGP. In the afternoon I repeat the speed." That allowed Rins to overtake one of the Gresini Ducatis on the front straight. That inspired one journalist to ask Rins' teammate Joan Mir if it meant that Hamamatsu now had the same speed as Borgo Panigale. "Borgo Panigale is big words!" he joked. "But I'm really happy. They know how to make engines in Suzuki. Just a bit of work."

The speed was the effect of the changes made over the year, and specifically in response to the demands made by Rins and Mir over the course of 2021. "As a rider you always want to improve things. We pushed so hard to improve the aerodynamics side. Since last year we have here a new engine, we have the ride height device, which we didn’t have last year." The added speed allowed them to relax a little, without having to try to squeeze the last drop of performance out of every inch of the track. "It helps us to at least breathe on the straight. Before there was more tension, now with calm."

It was more evolution than revolution, Mir said. "It’s not that we made a huge step in the engine. OK, we improved it quite a lot. But we are comparing with the bike without the device." The combination of a new engine, revised aerodynamics and the ride-height device had been a big step forward. "Last year I remembered here we were struggling a lot on top speed, on acceleration side. We were not using the device. With the device and the engine, we make a great job at the end of last year."

The best thing was that the additional power had not been bought at the cost of a more aggressive engine character. "This normally happens when you change completely the engine. In our case it was not like this," Mir said. "The character of the bike is the same. Now we just have a little bit more on top and this doesn’t make our life more difficult on the change of direction or in the middle of the corners because the power delivery is really similar."

The ride-height device had come a long way too, since the first prototype appeared at Austria last year. That initial device had dropped the rear of the bike very quickly, upsetting the balance of the machine. "That was the first prototype – it was heavier than the one we are using now. It was a bit faster," Mir said. Now, Suzuki were working on a system which would lower the rear of the bike more smoothly. "This one we are working in that direction. You can see a lot the Ducatis, Aprilias going down really slowly. We are still going down quite hard at the moment. But yeah, we improved a lot."

The other big surprise was the pace of the Hondas. Taka Nakagami, Pol Espargaro, and Marc Marquez had made it three Hondas in the top five in FP1. In the evening session, Marquez had been second quickest. But that is mostly only over a single lap, Marc Marquez warned. "In race pace I expected something similar, in a single lap it was better than what I expected. And maybe second position is not my pace in race pace, but overall it was better than what I expected."

Marquez' expectations of his race pace were in part due to the fact that neither he nor Honda had gotten on particularly well with the Lusail International Circuit. "It's true that here in the past, it was not the strongest track for the Honda bike, but also for my riding style. In all categories here, I was not very very fast." But things were looking up, he said. "Today, the race pace was not the best one, but it was not far from the best. This I like, and it makes me feel comfortable, but it's true that we need to improve minimum two tenths if we want to fight for the podium. At the moment, we are not ready to fight for the podium on race pace."

The Repsol Honda rider also revealed that they have only barely begun to play with the bike, and explore its potential. "Today, we didn't touch the bike, I was riding with the Mandalika setup, because we still don't understand. And lap by lap I was faster and faster, and then tomorrow we will start to play a bit."

That suggests that once Marquez and his team get some track time under their belt, they will start to get significantly faster. The first test at Jerez will be key here; with a whole day to explore setup, and a better understanding of the bike, they should learn enough to be able to fix the area where Marquez is still struggling most, the feeling with the front of the bike.

"I'm not pushing a lot on the entry," Marquez said. "Before I was very fast on the entry, now I'm not very fast, but also I don't feel the front in that part. I feel strange, I don't feel the limit, I don't feel the front, I still don't understand where the front is. But honestly I feel slow, while the lap time comes. This is good. But if you try to be faster, you are slower. It's a bit strange." Ironically, that is how Yamaha riders have described the M1 over the years: the more you relax and let the bike do the work, the faster you go. The more you push, the slower you go.

Strong again

What Marquez was happiest with was the shape his shoulder was in. For the first time, he said, he had been able to ride without having to change his style to accommodate the weakness in the shoulder. A month of riding a MotoGP bike and being able to train had returned some strength. "Today, riding the bike was not any physical condition that stopped me. So I was riding like I want, like I can."

Teammate Pol Espargaro was happier too, glad to be able to use the riding style he had had all through his career. "I’ve come more to my old riding style, using more the rear brake, hammering more with more engine brake going into the corners, sliding more with control. When the track is cleaner and better I’ll be stronger. I’ll be able to use the rear brake which gives me a lot of speed."

Espargaro also made an interesting comment on the lack of swingarm spoilers on the Ducati and the Honda. The reason, the Repsol Honda rider said, was because they were too effective at cooling the rear tire. "For us it was not a clear advantage from the beginning. Sure everyone, especially Ducati, were saying these spoons were for aerodynamics. But this is not true. They were to throw air to the tire and cool down the rear tire."

The remarkable thing about this admission is that when Ducati first debuted the rear swingarm spoiler, at Qatar in 2019, the other teams had protested, and even taken them to the FIM MotoGP Court of Appeal. Ducati had won that case, because they could prove with data that the spoiler actually reduced tire temperatures by several degrees. Despite their victory, factories continued to believe the spoiler was to generate downforce on the rear swingarm and generate rear grip, rather than to manage rear tire temperature.

Whether they were producing downforce or not, they were also causing problems for tires, Espargaro insisted. "Everyone started to use [the spoilers] but last year we faced trouble with the tire temperature. It was too low. There was no sense to use this device. It was putting more fire into the problem. We took it out and this year it’s been OK. Maybe they have problems with temperatures now and that’s why they take it out."

The fact that this change also coincides with the new rear Michelin, which uses a different construction, is likely linked. The rear tire changed, and consequently, so did the way it absorbed loads, and therefore the temperature.

Faster than they appear

On the face of it, the first day of Qatar did not look too rosy for Yamaha, despite Franco Morbidelli being fifth fastest in FP2. Fabio Quartararo had already had a frustrating day, when the clamp holding his electronics switchgear worked loose, and got pushed out of place when he adjusted the electronics mapping. He spent a lap trying to bash it back into place, the unit getting stuck behind his thumb brake lever.

Yet both in terms of race pace (follow the excellent race engineer Chris Pike on Twitter for regular pace analysis), and in terms of rival assessment, the Yamahas were felt to be quick. "On this race track in Qatar, we are not the fastest ones, and it looks like Yamaha and Suzuki bikes, which are a different style – as you know, the engine is a different way – are more consistent and are faster than us," Marc Márquez said.

That didn't stop Fabio Quartararo from worrying about his race pace, though. " I expected much better," the reigning world champion said. "To be honest, it's a strange day, more than bad or good, because I felt quite on the limit, quite good, but basically we missed a lot of grip, and my feeling on the bike was not so bad, but the lap time was just super slow."

The Frenchman was looking askance at Suzuki's top speed, and hoping that Yamaha engineers were taking notes. "I hope they are investigating, because now it's starting to be too much. And basically I don't understand how it's possible. So now we are in 2022, we can't make anything more, so I will not complain from now to Valencia. But I mean it's not normal to be more than 10 km/h slower."

Too early to tell

The most confusing situation was that of Ducati. The hot favorites coming into the season, and yet they were not really making that much of an impression. Pramac's Jorge Martin was fourth quickest, a noted specialist over a single lap, especially around Qatar. The two factory Ducatis managed to get into the top ten, Jack Miller fifth and Pecco Bagnaia scraping into tenth to secure a spot in Q2.

Marc Marquez warned against complacency. "I will say after the race, we are only Friday," the Repsol Honda rider joked when asked for his opinion of the Ducatis. "You know, Ducati, Gigi... I don't believe they are in that situation, especially here in Qatar. It's true that the track is improving, the grip of the track will improve in the weekend. This means that then you can use the torque." The more rubber on the track, the more grip, and the more grip, the faster the Ducatis would go.

But the truism stands. It is only the first day of the first race, so it is difficult to draw too many conclusions. "We are in the first race, and we are on Friday. We cannot say they are in a difficult moment, or this bike is amazing," Marquez said. "We will understand on Sunday's race."

Naturally, there was also discussion of Ducati's decision to switch back to a version of the 2021 engine for the factory riders of Pecco Bagnaia and Jack Miller, while putting the Pramac riders and Luca Marini on the 2022 engine. Bagnaia and Miller, especially, faced a barrage of the questions, the Italian eventually getting quite testy about it, asking journalists if they were also asking other factories about their engine specs. We pointed out that, yes, that was what the job was, to spot the differences and updates on all of the MotoGP bikes, and try to find out what those differences were and what they entailed.

The engine was not a 2021 engine, Bagnaia and Miller insisted, despite the fact that the exhaust on the bike is quite clearly identical to the one used last year. It was instead somewhere between the 2021 and 2022 power units. "It's not a 2021, it's not a 2022. It's the Ducati engine that they have chosen for us with the factory team," the Australian said.

The reason for choosing this engine was because it gave the best performance. "They want the best for us, they want us to have the best chance, so I trust 100% their decision," Miller insisted. "And yeah, just got to ride the motorbike that I'm given. So it is what it is. I'm not complaining, they're investing millions of dollars into this project, and to think that they're not going to give us the best that they can will be silly."

"It's not last year's engine, not completely this year's engine," Pecco Bagnaia said. "It's a mix and during the test I was riding with it and I was happy with it. We decided to use it because we were working on different thing on this engine, because it was a big change, and we decided to use it just because in the test I was better. In Mandalika we decided to use it."

Whether that was the right choice or not, we will know more about on Saturday. Despite its unfortunate timing exactly around sunset, FP4 should teach us more about where all of the factories and riders stand. But even then, it is just the first FP4 of a 21-race season. There is a long, long way to go.


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year: 
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Comments

Interesting development that at Ducati, Bagnaia and Miller will be running the updated old engine but Martin/Zarco/backMarkerini will be running the harsher but grunting 2022 engine.

This looks a hindrance to their development program advantage having so many bikes as a flock. 

This Suzuki is SEXY. They look to have kept Mir, awaiting announcement. That dominoes over to Honda's plans. Quartararo is not happy today. It shows. All tea leaves point in one direction, the door. 

Marc's experience of braking and corner entry is REALLY interesting ingots of ways. He looks to be pushing at the limit there today...and a bit differently than before. Like he isn't so comfortable. But IS exploring the limit, with a bit more care/caution. His feel, it has been so overboard with load on the front, just smashing the shit out of it. The bike wags. He finds a balance point of the front AND back tires with a skating slide. It is really an exercise PAST the limit. Comfort placing focus on the far side of it, not feathering the Earthly side of it. He plows right at basically crashing into the apex. "Oh look, I've found the limit and this feels right" via that overreached skating point, at which he is in the heavens briefly and dynamically pivoting the bike through some angle of axis that didn't exist on the limit. 

He had saves today at turn in. And he doesn't think he is on the limit! Because he is "only" on the limit. He's got this. We get to watch. Like Rossi reinventing his riding style (again). What a joy! They say Jesus saves, but Marc has to every turn or he feels off some how. Poor guy just can't be comfortable down here with us mortals. He's a damn junkie. Most beautiful. Curious what is coming next. He seems fit.

V And Zarco's face (which can often look a bit nonplussed admittedly) appeared...preoccupied today. Martin too. The Pramac garage may have an ominous concern over the spicy 2022 engine? Will we be talking about that this yr? Martin is careful with his words, but let's watch his demeanor. His expectations are high, there is immense pressure, and the distance between where he thinks he should be vs where he is at any time will be felt as loss. Emotional pain. Can he convert that to determination? Zarco sometimes has instead "changed the luck" of other riders around him when struggling. Hope that is behind him. He may have another brief hot run, but I think he showed plateau a bit ago. The bookies do too, don't they? And this 2022 engine, are the bookies having a look?

Talk is one thing. Saturday and Sunday speak for themselves. And we are all finally here!!

Thanks for the good read Shrink, especially your thoughts on MM's style.

Regarding Martin and Zarco, imagine proudly saying "We will be on full factory 2022 bikes" every chance you got only to find out at the first race that the real factory boys won't be! That's a pretty wild turn of events.

1. If that's not currently Marc's Honda, god help us when he feels it is. 2. One of the prime advantages that the Duc proliferation offered was many data points. This engine diversification might hedge bets but it may make the data equation that much harder. Otherwise the Duc form guide seems less than expected 3. Agree with Motoshrink - FQ's intimations really don't seem very subtle. 4. How about those Suzuki? We already know how good Mir is and we know how fast Rins can be too - the weird thing is that he seems to have got less consistent over the last 18 months. And that's not normally what happens... 5. KTM - please explain. I am lost, or maybe they are?

Thanks for report David and the comments friends.

How about those Suzukis. Success makes them look even better. Speed to yeah.

So why not Yamaha?

The in-line fours have an advantage over the V-fours? really Marc? Wasn't Mat Oxley saying the opposite recently.

Thanks D.E.#1 and Motoshrink for more insights.

Ducati a definite maybe, do they not want to be favorites or what?

Guy Smiley there is a party? I hadn't heard.

J.M89 & JM 43 in the top six. Pecco tenth in fp2 so he should get into Q2, the Q that counts. Will we see several Bologna rockets fighting each other. Taking championship points from "the chosen one"? JZ5 is an enigma, I'd still love to see him win. Preferably at Le Mans, don't expect him to win many. Zarco looked very promising when he arrived in MotoGp

MM93 yes 'shrink I watched fp1 and The Marc was in fine form, riding that fine line.

Marc Marquez is back so whatever Ducati do it won't make any difference. The red army rolls in vain and will not win.

BackMarkerini 'shrink how sharp. You are usually more compassionate. Surely you mean Too Tall BackMarkerini.

Steve R Average Rider Apical, welcome to the 2022 celebration!

To be fair to Marini, he may be a slow to get to a boil rider. If and when he is thriving, I will regret saying it. He HAS had some really good races! But I can't help seeing him as right now less deserving of his 2022 ride than some others. Halfanuncle bought it for him. So, if he lags about, he gets ire. It isn't cold as much as nudging. The kid is in the big pool and better get to swimming. Poor D.Binder may just sink back there. This place isn't for everybody. Last yr it was Savadori. Even he knew it. With Marini, he could be so comfortable that he doesn't thrive. What is his motivation? Where from? Hit his butt. Go kid!

Alex Marquez needs to beat Nakagami too. He is a fairly gentle personality. He watched his good friend Rabat swallow his own leash. That was tough to see, and the GP stay should have been put out of its misery two yrs earlier. Poor guy was white and grey as a cadaver during his last season. Felt bad for him being in there drowning. 

Healthy plants need trimming. We have a healthy circus. Snip!

Apical; 1. Bagnaia 2. Quartararo 3. M. Marquez 4. Miller 5. Martin 6. Gardner

Having second thoughts friend? I am..about Mir. He could f*cking dark horse this thing. And how VERY happy would a lot of us be about that? 

Ducati is just getting warmed up.

Hey - I missed the part where we started spelling Losail Lusail. Is that O a targa top? Dry race, U. Clever. No. Must be something else. Sponsored by With U. No? 

Yes I assumed Yamaha would do more over the off season. I am disappointed, not as much as Fab Q!

Expected more from Pecco. Younger riders on Ducs won't be deferring to the factory riders, Jorge & the Beast wish to take their rides. Jack ahead of Bagnaia suits me.

Lavender stands out in a murky sea of black & dark blue.

lUsail yep I missed the memo there too.

New TV regime in Oz, no more free-to-air MotoGp, don't want poor people watching our sport. Got some support from a friend so I'm now seeing GPs on the computer, thanks Smithers. So I'm watching more, free practice, Moto3 & Moto2. Anna Carasco pushed it back up pit lane, naughty. Joel Kelso survived his first Moto3 qualifying. No aussies in Moto2, much action.

Maverick 9 tenths slower than Aleix? Mav should get there, eventually, I have some doubt.

KTM looks better. Better than Yamaha today. Good luck to Darryn B I think he is going to need some.

Slightly better than Average if you don't mind Shrink. Got a ride in on the roadie during a rare patch of sunshine yesterday. Had fun in the mud on the dirt squirter.