One week later, MotoGP is back at the same race track, with the same riders, and likely racing in pretty much the same conditions. Does this mean we are going to see exactly the same result in the Doha Grand Prix as we did for the Qatar Grand Prix?
That will depend. And it will perhaps depend on how well the MotoGP riders learn the lessons of last week, as well as the lessons of the past. If Maverick Viñales maintains the form he showed last Sunday, he will be very difficult to beat.
Difficult, but not impossible. Sure, Viñales' pace was astounding: he beat Jorge Lorenzo's race lap record from 2016 by three tenths of a second, and the race was the second fastest in history, just two tenths slower than Lorenzo's race win from 2016. And it could have been even faster than the 2016 race if Viñales hadn't backed off during the last three laps, his pace dropping from mid 1'55s to low 1'56s. Viñales' advantage over second-place finisher Johann Zarco dropped from 1.7 seconds on lap 20 to just over 1 second at the end of the race.
The first race of the 2021 MotoGP season produced much food for thought. Too much to fit into one foreshortened evening, so here are a few initial thoughts for MotoMatters.com subscribers after a fascinating season opener at Qatar:
- Does winning in Qatar mean anything?
- The two ways of going fast
- Top speeds in practice don't mean as much as you might hope
- The transformation of Maverick Viñales
- Winners and losers
- Franco Morbidelli: When holeshot devices go bad
- A tale of two rookies – Bastianini vs Martin
- Cameron Beaubier passes his first test in Moto2
Can the 2021 MotoGP season match the weirdness and wildness of 2020? The circumstances are different, but the path which led to Qatar 2021 has laid the groundwork for another fascinating year.
2021 sees two trends colliding to create (we hope) a perfect storm. There is the long-term strategy set out after the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 by Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta, with support and backing from the many bright minds in Dorna and IRTA. After Kawasaki officially withdrew at the end of 2008, and Honda came within a couple of board meetings of pulling out of MotoGP, Dorna threw their weight behind the teams.
With the grid dwindling (Suzuki pulled out at the end of 2011, after being down to a single rider), the MotoGP class was switched back to a maximum engine capacity of 1000cc, and four cylinders, while the CRT class was introduced as a second tier inside the premier class. Payments to teams were gradually increased, and over time, Dorna, with the backing of the teams, pushed through restrictions on electronics, introducing a spec ECU and then spec software to run it, and a price cap on satellite machines.
The layout of the Losail International Circuit is fantastic. It has flowing corners, a fast straight, hard braking and fast changes of direction. It suits many different types of bike, which is why so many manufacturers have been competitive their over the years, sharing wins and podiums. And why the racing has been fantastic there, as a rule.
Its location, however, is less ideal. Leaving aside the political objections to its attitude toward labor relations, the track sits at the edge of a desert peninsula. When the wind blows, it dumps huge quantities of sand on the track. And as Qatar is relatively flat, when the wind blows, it blows pretty hard.
That was the case on Friday, and by the look of things, it is going to be the case for the rest of the weekend. Gusts of up to 40 km/h made riding hard, and with just a few riders out on track on the first day of testing, the shakedown test for test riders and rookies, conditions were very, very far from ideal.
Luxury test rider
Despite that, Stefan Bradl managed a best time of 1'55.614, just seven tenths off Jorge Lorenzo's race lap record, and a sign that the Honda test rider is already up to speed. That is unsurprising: Bradl has already been turning laps at Jerez on the RC213V. But it also demonstrates that the German has been picking up speed generally, his year racing paying off in terms of outright speed.
This was as fun as it looked. The grandstands may have been empty and the paddock quiet, but the Algarve International Circuit lived up to its billing as a spectacular circuit. Not since Turkey’s fabulous Istanbul Park in 2005 had grand prix racing come to a new venue as jaw-dropping and thrilling to the naked eye.
Riders raved about the swoops, the undulations and the blind crests. Sunday showed the 4.6km layout could provide half decent racing, too. For the opening races lived up to the surroundings, with Moto2 and Moto3 serving up vintages high on adrenaline, spectacle and stress that had the championship fight go right the way to the wire. Here are some of the big talking points from the small classes on the last weekend of the season.
For Enea Bastianini, his directive was clear: a top four finish was enough for a first world title no matter where his rivals finished. If Sam Lowes wasn’t victorious and Luca Marini was, he simply needed a top eight. Thoughts that the Algarve International Circuit (a track unknown to him but not his three rivals) could throw up a banana skin were dashed early. Enea was an impressive fifth at the close of day one.
The penultimate piece of the 2021 MotoGP rider puzzle has fallen into place. As has long been reported, Luca Marini and Enea Bastianini will be riding for the Avintia Ducati team next year. The young Italian pairing will be riding updated Ducati GP19s, with strong support from Ducati.
It was an open secret that Bastianini would be moving up to MotoGP after the Italian Moto2 rider announced as much at Misano in September. Marini's move was also long-anticipated, as protracted negotiations continued over how the VR46 Racing structure would replace the funding lost by replacing Tito Rabat, who had a contract with Avintia for 2021. Those details took a long time to sort out, but are finally settled.
A crash for two of the championship contenders, a three-rider title fight covered by five points, a seven-way scrap for the win… as ever Moto2 and 3 provided plenty of drama at the Aragon Grand Prix. Here we take a look at last weekend’s big talking points.
Turn Two Trouble
Ask any rider to point to Motorland Aragon’s most demanding string of tarmac, and the majority will say turn two. A fast right attacked in third gear, it’s the first occasion the right side of the front tyre is used in over 40 seconds. In other words, plenty of time for the rubber to cool, making the high-speed entry particularly perilous.
Jorge Martin had mentioned to pit lane reporter Simon Crafar on Sunday morning how he had issues with his front tyre cooling when in clear air. According to the former Moto3 world champion, it was not such an issue when riding behind others, but the cold temperatures that greeted riders all weekend contributed to 16 of the weekend’s 40 falls happening there.
And it was here the Moto2 race was decided. A three-way fight was just ten laps old when Fabio Di Giannantonio tucked the front of his Speed Up chassis as he pitched right into the track’s second turn and ended in the gravel – his second fall there of the day. The Italian had chased down early leader Marco Bezzecchi and pole sitter Sam Lowes, moving to the front with an expert pass on the former on lap ten.
As always Moto2/3 delivered a wide range of talking points at the French Grand Prix. Sunday’s results threw up a host of surprises. With just five races remaining, both championships remain finely poised. Here, we take a look through some of the big talking points from both classes.
Moto2 start line mix up explained
The race began in bizarre circumstances as pole sitter Joe Roberts was dragged off the grid, started the warm up lap from pit lane, and then watched the race get underway before he had a chance to line up on the grid.
So what the hell happened? Well, the intermediate class followed MotoGP on Sunday afternoon. The track was wet but drying rapidly. The majority of Moto2 riders left pit lane for their sighting lap on wet tyres but soon realised only slicks would do. The grid then became a flurry of activity as teams not only changed tyres, but adjusted their bikes from wet to dry setup.
The American Racing Team attempted too much. The rules state, “All adjustments must be completed by the display of the 3-Minute board. After this board is displayed, riders who still wish to make adjustments must push their machine to the pit lane.” As that board was raised, a highly bemused Roberts and his machine were shown off the grid.