As you may well have clocked from social media activities, we were at Losail circuit in Qatar for MotoGP’s season opener. The principal reason for the jaunt was building investigation work for FIFA the launch of ‘Valentino Rossi – The Game,’ although the main event was obviously some intense racing in all classes. The gaming industry has, seemingly, endless pots of cash to blow on flying journos out to Qatar to play a new game inside a hotel conference room because Dorna won’t allow video in the paddock. More on the game later…
Moto3 was as suicidal as ever. Moto2 was ruined by Race Direction/technical gremlins, and MotoGP was a masterclass from Jorge Lorenzo. The weekend murmurings were also dominated by Casey Stoner’s presence in the paddock, waiting patiently for his post-race test under the floodlights, plus Valentino Rossi confirming he’ll be on a factory Yamaha until 2018. In no particular order, here’s what else we’ve learnt after the desert storm…
1 – Casey Stoner will not ride Danilo Petrucci’s bike
Petrux re-broke/dislocated bones in his hand from simply muscling his bike round in practice (some say the metal plate also broke), which sent the paddock into placing Stoner as a perfect substitute. Those dreamers will be assuming that Casey is rubbing his little Australian hands together, aroused at the Desmo’s speed advantage and Dovi’s podium. In truth, the Ducati has always gone well in Qatar and this weekend shouldn’t be used as a barometer of 2016 success. In his own words, he isn’t going to jump on any bike and, if he were to race, it certainly wouldn’t be on a satellite bike. We also understand that Ducati Corse bosses aren’t keen on anything less than a full-factory effort for the #27 and haven’t even discussed the option with Casey. If Stoner wanted to race without deputising for an Andrea, there’d be a top-spec Desmo and dedicated crew to form a three-man official team.
2 – But the Ducati is bloody fast
351kph is 218mph. In laymen’s terms, fucking fast and a new outright MotoGP record from Andrea Iannone. With an engine development freeze, it’s highly unlikely the speed advantage will change throughout 2016 – the factory’s decision to opt for the Open category last season has come to fruition.
3 – There’s nowt wrong with Michelin tyres
After an understandably shaky reintroduction into GP racing following the Bridgestone legacy, Michelin look to be supplying the grid with fast and entertaining rubber. Not only did Jorge Lorenzo smash the lap record, he did so with two laps remaining, and the big bikes were noticeably unstable compared to the Bridgestone era, smoke wafting from the rear tyres – something that’ll be better documented in daylight.
4 – Sam Lowes is most certainly ‘onit’
Fast in every session and looking happy onboard his new Gresini steed, Sam twatted the lap record by nearly half a second on the last lap after a harsh ride-through penalty and a race-long surge through the pack. Sam has always had the pace in the Kalex Cup Moto2. Now he has the machinery. And it’s great to see Danny Kent looking so strong so early.
According to @denkmit, there was an issue with the jump start camera system, although Stevie Wonder could have seen that Franco Morbidelli should have also received a ride-through. It was an utter shambles from Race Direction.
5 – The hate is strong…
It’s been a long winter, an agonising off-season bereft of racing although not long enough it seems. The aftermath of Sepang still lingers on both sides of the fence, featuring a war of words between Rossi and Lorenzo (on-track and off-track topics) in Qatar and football-esque tribalism directed at JL99 and Marquez.
Rather than sit in the media room again, I decided to venture out and soak up some atmosphere (!) in the start/finish grandstand, only to be greeted by cringe-worthy booing from Brits and Italians during pre-race grid announcements from the circuit commentary. Podium celebrations were also marred by thuggery.
6 – Everything is resting on Lorenzo
J-Lo’s decision to stall on Yamaha’s contract has caused bedlam throughout the paddock. We were told last year that he would sign for Ducati in 2017 and this rumour gathers truth with every day that passes. With Johann Zarco signing for Suzuki, would this leave space for Vinales in the factory Yamaha squad? Some are saying Rossi would block such a talent joining the Movistar stable and that Pol Asparagus would be the natural successor to J-Lo if he does go. Silly season is well underway.
7 – KTM is back in Moto3. And MotoGP.
So Bradley Smith is the first confirmed RC16 pilot for 2017, and fair play to him. For some bizarre reason, Yamaha has chosen to favour Pol Espargaro over the Brit despite strong results.
In Moto3, even the current world champions, Leopard Racing have ditched Honda for the Austrian marque. Honda had a tangible straight-line speed advantage last season, although the factory Red Bull Ajo bike of Bo Bendsneyder was the fastest bike in Qatar.
8 – The control electronics need some refinement
Cal Crutchlow’s LCR Honda didn’t know where he was on the circuit, meaning the throttle bodies opened to 60% on corner entry at the point he crashed. “The bike didn’t have a clue where we were on the circuit. It seemed to be reading the wrong sectors, so in the last sector it thought I was in the first sector and so on. This was why I crashed”
Many confuse the technology with GPS (which was banned years ago), though rider aids and other electronics are preset and function via circuit sectors. According to several GP techs, it’s a common trait associated with Marelli electronics. You still need the best guys behind a laptop, and we’re still going to see the best riders on the box…
9 – Those who haven’t sorted winglets are those moaning about winglets
Wings, winglets, strakes, call them what you will: several Honda riders moaned about dangerous instability and turbulence caused by Ducati’s aero behaviour. With engine and chassis development slowing, it was only a matter of time before aerodynamics came to the fore. Some Moto2 aero displays were banned in Qatar.
10 – We’ll get back to you with #10