As sure as I am that every rider is sick to the back teeth of the Losail International Circuit, they’re still perfectly able to give us one hell of a show. All three classes went down to the wire last night in the penultimate day of the Qatar doubleheader, and there were certainly some shocks.
Moto3: Slipstream battles
Jaume Masia has really kick-started his championship challenge in the best way possible and he will start from pole position in tonight’s race. But he really left it to the last minute to get that all-important front row start, setting his time in the dying seconds of the Q2 session. Of course, his time, a 2:05.913, is a fair way off of Darryn Binder’s lap record pole position time from last weekend. However, the track conditions have taken a turn for the worst, with a massive sand storm and gale force winds having blown sand and dirt across the track. Masia was the only rider to manage a 2:05 lap time, with the majority of the field posting 2:06’s.
Sergio Garcia was the man closest to Masia, however, due to touring on the racing line during Friday’s Free Practice 2 session, he along with 6 others (including Romano Fenati, Pedro Acosta, Dennia Foggia, Stefano Nepa, Deniz Oncu and Riccardo Rossi) will be starting the race from the pitlane.
The top 10 consists mainly of the experienced riders in the class, with Jeremy Alcoba now promoted into 2nd on the grid, with Gabriel Rodrigo alongside him. Alcoba has a reputation for aggressive riding, so he will certainly be in the mix for the race win, as will Darryn Binder, another aggressive rider, who will start from 6th on the grid. Tatsuki Suzuki has managed to improve his qualifying for this second round, and he heads the second row of the grid. Could Suzuki manage a race win in Doha? You have to assume the Japanese man in his 6th year in the class will be among the fight.
Championship hopeful John McPhee will need a strong result in tonight’s race if he is to live up to the pre-season hype, and he is well placed, starting in 7th. However, the experienced Andrea Migno will be lining up beside him, and he certainly will give everything for a podium finish, having not had one in quite some time.
What about Izan Guevara? The rookie has been impressive in his debut on the world stage, but could he be a feature in podium battle? In my opinion, anyone of the top 10 riders could have a good chance at the victory tonight, and that’s without even considering the experienced head of Niccolo Antonelli and Kaito Toba, both of whom have won in Qatar before. With 7 riders starting from pit lane this is surely going to be a race featuring two big packs, but as ever, the chaotic Moto3 is impossible to predict.
Moto2: Can Lowes continue the pace?
British fans rejoice! Sam Lowes has done the double, claiming another pole position at the Losail International Circuit. Lowes has been dominant throughout the doubleheader weekends, and if he can win tonight, he’ll be breaking some very old records.
However, he faces some incredibly tough competition. Remy Gardner kept Lowes honest right to the death of the qualifying session, just missing out on pole by a tenth of a second. Gardner has also impressed across the doubleheader, a momentum that he has kept going from the final few round of the 2020 season wherein he was on the podium, and even took his debut win in Portimao. Gardner’s pace has been consistent too, with the Australian at the sharp end throughout the free practice sessions.
Marco Bezzechi, who many people have tipped as Lowes’ main competition for the championship his year, will start from 3rd, and again he has shown good pace across the two weekends, and he will be hungry to challenge for the victory.
The second row boasts some fantastic efforts by two rookies, with Raul Fernandez, who has taken to the Moto2 bike like a duck to water, in 4th, and Ai Ogura, who has made a good step in the second Qatar round, in 6th. Whilst I would be surprised to see Ogura challenge for a podium place, Fernandez has been impeccable in the Desert, and I think he could fight for a podium. Sandwiched between them is Britain’s Jake Dixon, who has been nothing short of heroic in his efforts over the doubleheader, considering he is carrying what could have been a career-ending injury to his wrist. Again, I do doubt Dixon’s podium challenge, but with a good burst of adrenaline, anything is possible.
Fabio Di Giannantonio, Joe Roberts and Aron Canet round out the third row, and I would be expecting all of them to be at the sharp end come the race. Canet especially appear to have made a step following a difficult time out in the first race weekend, but Roberts has a good history with the Losail track, and Di Giannantonio is hungry to impress, as well take that coveted first race win.
In my opinion, any one of 7 riders could be challenging for the Moto2 podium paces in tonight’s race, but Lowes has been supreme all weekend – the challengers are going to have to ride at their limits to deny him victory.
MotoGP: Rossi struggling in Qatar
The premier class produced a real stunner last night; with many a drama-filled moment, beginning with the reigning world champion, Joan Mir, having to go through Q1 yet again. He did make it through, alongside Miguel Oliveira, but he was severely challenged, with impressive rookie Luca Marini just +0.008 away from making the cut.
Speaking of impressive rookies though, Jorge Martin stole the show by taking a stunningly quick pole position time of 1:53.106, in only his second ever race in the premier class. Of course, Martin stormed his way to the Moto3 world title back in 2018, taking a fair few pole positions in that time as well, but I doubt anyone believed he would be this far up the sharp end so early in his MotoGP career! Whilst I doubt his ability to win tonight’s race, solely due to his lack of experience, he could challenge for a podium place, and in all honesty he’s still going to be my star rider for the weekend.
In regards to the race win, Johann Zarco lines up in 2nd, making this Pramac Ducati’s first ever 1-2 on the grid, and he is well placed to take that first-ever race win. Zarco has been close to victory on multiple occasions, but he’s never quite made it stick. After a disastrous 2019 on the KTM and then a mediocre year in the Avintia team, I’m pleased to see Zarco competitive again and I’m hoping to see that famous back flip celebration!
Of course, he’s not going to take victory without a fight. Maverick Vinales round out the front row places, and we’ve all seen what he can do in the Desert. Vinales will be hungry to go into Portimao (a circuit which last year didn’t see to suit the factory Yamaha riders) with as many points in his pocket as possible.
The second row of the grid too, will surely be aiming for podium position, with Jack Miller lining up alongside Fabio Quartararo and Francesco ‘Pecco’ Bagnaia. All three men have recently been promote into their respective factory teams for this 2021 season, and all three will be hungry to prove that the promotion was deserved. Particularly Quartararo, who has replaced the GOAT Valentino Rossi in the factory Yamaha team. Personally, I could see Quartararo springing a surprise – he’s had the superior pace all weekend.
Speaking of Valentino Rossi, he will start from 21st on the grid, his worst qualifying in all his history as a MotoGP rider. The last time Rossi lined up at the back of the grid in the Qatar GP, was in 2004 when he was caught ‘scrubbing’ his initial third place grid spot the night before the race, and penalised for it. Of course, you can’t ever discount Rossi from making up a few places – he’s always been a Sunday man, however the Petronas duo have struggled this weekend, with Franco Morbidelli still salvaging a 10th place grid spot, but facing mechanical issues in free practice sessions and pre-race comments that don’t sound positive at all.
Just ahead of Morbidelli are the Suzuki boys, with Alex Rins in front of Joan Mir, in 8th and 9th on the grid respectively. Of course, the Suzuki is a racing bike, and we all know how good the GSX-RR is at saving its tyres and scything through the field, but I can’t help but feel that if they could cut out some of the qualifying issues, they would be guaranteed race winners. Whilst I still expect them both to come to the fore in the race, I’m not certain about predicting either Rins or Mir for the win tonight, but you discount the world champion at your peril!
Qatar has always been a Ducati/Yamaha track, and that does seem like the case for tonight’s race as well. However, I can’t not see the Suzuki’s battling through the pack, and what about Aleix Espargaro? He’s qualified in 7th, and seems to fancy his chances for a decent result – maybe even Aprilia’s first ever podium?
In my opinion, this is going to be a race of attrition. Tyre wear is going to play an important part, especially with the Yamaha’s and Suzuki’s being much kinder to their tyres than the Ducati’s are. Not to mention the role the weather could play – dirty tracks and headwinds could impede the Ducati’s top speed as well as the Yamaha’s handling abilities. Surely the Ducati’s will lead – with all four on the front two rows and that hole shot device, I would be impressed if anyone else can get a nose in, but then it will all come down to who has the pace. It’s going to be one hell of a race, and I am really excited.
This is one you are not going to want to miss!
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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