The first race of the season was so good; MotoGP decided they were going to do it all over again. Racing action is being held at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar again this week, making it the 7th day of Moto3 and Moto2 bikes going around the track, and a whopping 9th day for the majority of the MotoGP field. Surely they are sick to the back teeth of Qatar by now, but us racing fans certainly aren’t complaining!
Last week’s race was hair raising, but in case you missed it, don’t worry, there will be no spoilers here – on Monday I will be doing a comparison review of the two Qatari races, so make sure you have them both watched by then! Getting back to the matter at hand; with over a week’s worth of experience riding on the track, who capitalised on Friday in the Desert?
Moto3: Can McPhee bounce back?
A scorching session with track temperature just a hair under 60 degrees Celsius welcomed the Moto3 riders for FP1, and with temperatures that high, the times were over 2 seconds off the pace. So let’s ignore those results and focus instead on the FP2 times, which will most likely stand as the benchmark for who is automatically through to Q2.
Darryn Binder must really like the Losail track now, despite his chequered history with it. The South African man has once again topped the timesheets with a 2:04.781, just a fraction slower than the lap time he fired in to get pole position last weekend. With Binder almost certainly guaranteed a spot in Q2 this weekend, I find it hard to imagine him not making the front row of the grid in qualifying. For certain, Binder is establishing himself as an unexpected championship threat this year, and I have a feeling he might be the one to feature on that top step in this race.
However, he will be facing fierce competition. Whilst last week saw several rookies use their ambition and eagerness to make a name for themselves, the experienced Moto3 riders have been the ones to make the step in this week’s outing. The top 10 riders in Free Practice 2 were separated by less than half a second and you have to expect that many of them will throw everything at a podium finish in Sunday’s race. Sergio Garcia and Gabriel Rodrigo have been the two closest to Darryn Binder’s time, with Garcia just +0.040 away.
John McPhee also managed a top 10 spot, and there is one rider who will be desperate to qualify high up on the grid and out of trouble, having been knocked out of the race by over-eager rookie Xavier Artigas in last week’s race. Jaume Masia too has been able to immediately ensure passage into Q2, and as a championship favourite, he will also want to be qualifying high up.
I am most impressed by Tatsuki Suzuki. Suzuki had a nightmare end to the offseason, having produced a positive Coronavirus test shortly before the pre-season testing, which means that he has 3 days less of track knowledge than his competitors. However, this is where the man’s experience in the Moto3 field has really come to the fore, and Suzuki managed to post a lap time just +0.242 away from Darryn Binder’s.
Of course, Moto3 wouldn’t be Moto3 without there being silly tactics and messing about while trying to get a perfect tow off of another rider. This usually incurs penalties and this year, they are severe. Riders who have managed to secure automatic passage into Q2, such as Romano Fenati, Pedro Acosta, Sergio Garcia, have incurred penalties for yesterday’s tactics, as have Dennis Foggia, Stefano Nepa, Ricciardo Rossi and Deniz Oncu, and all of them will be starting Sunday’s race from the pit lane.
This could have a massive impact on this week’s race result, especially with the penalised riders including many experienced veterans of the class. Moto3 really is the gift that keeps on giving!
Moto2: More pace for Remy Gardner?
In a far more sedate practice session than the Moto3 field, Moto2 nonetheless pulled off some surprises, with four rookies seriously impressing, and managing to take provisional Q2 spots.
Raul Fernandez has been the breakout star of the rookie riders in Moto2 this year, and he must seriously love Qatar by now. Fernandez topped the times in Free Practice 2 yesterday, with an astonishing 1:58.541 lap time, the fastest ever recorded around Losail for the intermediate field. While he may not quite have the experience to be fighting for the podium on Sunday, I do believe it will be coming fairly soon, and I absolutely cannot wait for that time.
The other rookies to slot themselves into a provisional Q2 place are Ai Ogura, last year’s 3rdplace finisher in the Moto3 championship, Celestino Vietti of the Sky VR46 team, and Cameron Beaubier, the 5x winner of the American Superbikes Championship. All 3 were impressive in last week’s race as well, and I expect to see them all as championship contenders in a couple of years’ time.
2021 and Sam Lowes still looks strong!
Both championship favourites, Sam Lowes and Marco Bezzechi, also managed to gain provisional entry into Q2, and it seems a given that they will both be taking a shot at getting on the podium in Sunday’s race.
However, I have been most impressed by Fabio Di Giannantonio and Remy Gardner, who were closest to Fernandez’s provisional pole time and who will certainly feature for the race win. Gardner of course, won the last race of the 2020 season and made the step up to the RedBull KTM Ajo team, and it seems he has taken a lot of confidence from it. Meanwhile Di Giannantonio has never had a race win in the Moto2 class, but it’s been threatening for some time for the 2019 Rookie of the Year, and if I’m honest, I would love to see him do it on Sunday.
MotoGP: fed up of Qatar yet?
There was drama in the Qatari Desert last night as many big talents missed out on a provisional Q2 spot. With the premier class having had 9 days’ worth of track time at Losail, it is fairly clear that the track favour the Ducati’s on the straights for their insane top speeds, as well as the Yamaha’s for their impressive corner speed advantage. Whereas for the KTM and Honda riders, I’m certain Qatar has been an extremely frustrating experience and they will all be getting on the first plane home that they possibly can.
Jack Miller tops the times, with a 1:53.145, but this time came late in the practice session, and it seemed as though Miller was missing for the majority of yesterday’s practice sessions. I don’t think this is anything to be worried about as it stands, but Miller was a pre-season favourite for the title this year and he will want to take a big haul of points away from Qatar.
Moto GP winners and losers of Friday Free Practice?
Ducati must be delighted that the season has opened with a doubleheader in Qatar, as their riders are provisionally all on the front row. Francesco ‘Pecco’ Bagnaia and Johann Zarco take 2nd and 3rd just behind Jack Miller, and both have been impressive all throughout the stint in Qatar, and both will certainly be haunting the podium for their first wins in the premier class on Sunday.
Fabio Quartararo was the best non-Ducati rider on Friday, but he has been struggling to run with the Ducati’s pace, with his lap time +0.438 away from Miller’s top time. The Yamaha’s do work around the Losail Circuit, with both Franco Morbidelli and Maverick Vinales also provisionally securing Q2 spots behind Quartararo, so if they can manage to find a way onto the front row in Qualifying, it would be a given for them to feature in the race. Something that Morbidelli will certainly want to do, as a reward for having a myriad of mechanical issues plaguing him across the two race weekends.
Aleix Espargaro looks quick again
Impressive shows from Jorge Martin, Aleix Espargaro and Stefan Bradl also put them in the top 10 spots and provisionally into Q2, and though I can’t see them featuring in the race quite as much, this is promising for all three. Martin of course is gunning for the Rookie of the Year title and I could see him coming away from Qatar with good points. Bradl is Honda’s test rider and deserves a good result in what could be his last race replacing Marc Marquez. Meanwhile, Aprilia’s competitiveness is a welcome change, and if it can work well across the season, it will be fascinating to see a grid comprising of 6 competitive manufacturers.
While Alex Rins managed to secure himself a place in Q2, his teammate and the current world champion Joan Mir is still struggling to put together a competitive qualifying lap, and will most certainly be going through Q1. While Suzuki’s ability to carve through the field during a race is never in doubt, a bad grid position to begin the race just increases the likelihood of being caught up in someone else’s accident. Not to mention it means the rider has to do a lot of work, and potentially use up the rear tyre too much.
Other competitive names that will have to go through Q1 are the GOAT Valentino Rossi, a surprise considering the competitiveness of his fellow Yamaha’s but Rossi never really was a Saturday man. All 4 KTM riders have again been forced to miss out on Q2 spots, with all riders bemoaning the soft option tyres, which they claim are not soft enough to be competitive for the RC-16. However, Miguel Oliveira and Danilo Petrucci do seem to have found something in yesterday’s Free Practice session, so it’s no guarantee that Joan Mir will be able to get out of Q1 grid positions.
So many fascinating tactics are surely going to be deployed across today, especially with the dangers the extremely strong winds are rumoured to be persisting at the track today. Who will take pole position for the Doha GP? Qualifying is live tonight!
This article was written by the fantastic Rebekah Lee, our resident Motorsport nut and MA Creative writing graduate. She’s been fascinated by all things motorsports since childhood – follow her on Twitter at @bekahjlee
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