The Qatar MotoGP event has been an interesting test of rider ability in all sorts of weather conditions. We had rain, wind and hail stones crashing down with a clear message that anything can happen with the weather. The practice sessions were challenging for riders like Cal Crutchlow who felt as though he was baulked on his flying lap and was not impressed by this at all. Crutchlow has the hunger for success and wants to start off the season with a bang. He wants to win and collect podium opportunities left, right and centre.
Crutchlow: “I feel the team is doing a good job and I’m riding well.”
On the other side of the Honda family are Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa. They are still struggling to find their feet to be at 100%. There is a large demand on Marquez to perform after winning in 2016 and the pressure is real for the young Spaniard who has Maverick Vinales to battle on board the Yamaha, which is fast! It appears that Marquez and Pedrosa are constantly using the practice sessions to find the right set up in order to be competitive race after race. Pedrosa wants to continue improving the bike’s general set up and to improve the mapping so it is more effective. Only time will tell if the set up chosen works for each event or whether it becomes a task for every round to utilise the time to adjust the bike’s performance levels. Regardless of the issues that have presented themselves, Marquez and Pedrosa look strong together as a team unit and have to battle Yamaha and Ducati for the prestigious MotoGP World Championship Title.
Marquez: “A positive point from today is that we again found the confidence in the front that was missing yesterday.”
Maverick Vinales had the first crash of his Yamaha career in Qatar and it was totally his fault. Vinales has been upright on his bike a lot more than others and this is a good sign for the young rider who has the hard task of beating his fellow teammate Valentino Rossi and winning a title in his first season with Yamaha. Anything can happen as we did see last year with nine different winners. Vinales is very hard on himself as a rider and is a perfectionist.
Vinales: “It was my mistake and I was angry with myself because I can’t tolerate mistakes.”
The Spanish Yamah rider is in a really good place for 2017 whilst Valentino Rossi has tricks up his sleeve to beat his fellow rivals. The Doctor is notorious for regaining his confidence and speed at various stages of a Championship series. Rossi is a seasoned professional and is very smart when it comes to the psychological aspects of the sport. No matter what challenges arise from Qatar forward, Rossi will do what it takes to win and is very hungry for that 10th World Championship Title.
In terms of qualifying, it was a tough journey for Jorge Lorenzo as he missed direct entry in to Q2. However, he feels as though things are good and he is progressing. Lorenzo was able to improve his pace on race tyres and is aware that overnight success will not take place. It is a journey. Lorenzo is happy with his pace and with that said still wants more from his team, the bike and also himself as a rider. Every day is a work in progress for the Ducati MotoGP team and there is no doubt that, as they get stronger, the reality of a title is becoming clearer.
Unfortunately, Saturday turned in to a lay day with the rides not taking to the track for the qualifying sessions due to safety reasons. Maverick Vinales as a result of the cancellation achieved his first pole position with his Yamaha team. It was a dream come true for the Spaniard who has been the talk of the town since joining the Japanese manufacturer in 2017 alongside Rossi. The qualifying sessions were a disappointment for the fans although the riders felt as though there were no options available to put their bikes and talent on display. This is how the cookie crumbles at times in the sport of motor racing!
Jorge Lorenzo: “It was a real pity not to have been able to do any laps today, because I wanted to continue to work on the settings and improve my feeling with the bike: with these conditions however it was really not possible to go out onto the track.”
Overall, the first race of the season has been one to talk about for many reasons. It has seen riders struggle, excel and also forced them to find ways to stay focused which is incredibly difficult to manage at times based on the rider personalities. Every race presents incredible challenges and also unpredictable storylines! Maverick Vinales is on cloud nine and will be in the lead up to the next race. He kept his composure even when riders like Johann Zarco and Andrea Iannone crashed out. Zarco was leading the race and had an impressive lead when he went off line slightly and the bike went from underneath him. The problem with the conditions during the Qatar race was not only a one-hour delay, it was also the dew and humidity increasing, which caused riders to struggle with tyre selection and race pace. Both Marc Marquez and Cal Crutchlow chose the wrong tyre and this did not allow them to perform at their highest level. Crutchlow crashed twice and Marquez was not able to use his top performing brake skills as a result of the tyre choice.
Maverick Vinales: “The first laps were very challenging, the track was so slippery and I wanted to take it easy and stay calm. I knew I had a good pace, so I tried to push at the very end of the race.” By doing this Maverick bagged the win and beat Andrea Dovizioso who did everything he could to hold on before finishing second. We now look forward to Argentina where the riders will hope for better weather.