By: Myanna Wedes

Fabulous Fabio is back! The French rider managed to accomplish the Qatar circuit with his Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP machine putting the pressure on his teammate Maverick Vinales, fellow rivals Joan Mir, Johann Zarco, Jack Miller and Alex Rins. It was also brilliant to see two French riders finish first and second, which will certainly put a smile on the fans faces as the country faces another pandemic challenge with further lockdowns and pressure. By remaining patient, riding consistently and understanding the tyre wear, Fabio Quartararo was able to capitalise on his skill and pick the perfect moment to make a move and take off in front of the group. Timing was everything for Quartararo as in the final stages, he did hit some debris and this could have changed the results drastically if it impacted his ability to ride. In comparison, Maverick Vinales took upon a conserving strategy which enabled him to come forward in the later parts of the race. It was not a picture perfect weekend for the Spanish rider, although the points are crucial to stay on track with majority of the riders close to one another in terms of speed, lap times and a quality bike.

Credit – Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP Team (Johann Zarco, Fabio Quartararo and Jorge Martin)

Fabio Quartararo:

“I have no words. This race win is different from the previous three MotoGP races I’ve won so far. After the last race I was a bit disappointed in myself. During this race it was totally different. I was thinking so well, I played a lot with the map and the tyres. Nine or ten laps to the end I thought ‘Right now is the moment to push and show our potential’. It’s great to finish in first position! I was so happy with FP4, because I felt like I was the only rider to do only high 1’54s laps. So we made a plan, but the team also told me to play it by feeling, and I did that really well today. I was feeling so good. When I overtook Zarco, I also immediately overtook Martin. I was so scared when I hit the debris on track. I thought ‘Not a puncture, please!’, because it made a bad sound. My last lap didn’t feel as fast as the earlier ones, but it was enough for the win. Singing the French anthem with Zarco today was the best moment I ever had.”

Maverick Vinales:

“For sure, the race didn’t go as we expected, but I’m still quite happy, because in the end this is a positive result. I was managing the tyres a lot at the beginning so I could be stronger at the end. It paid off, because at the end I was very strong, especially the rear grip was good. I just wish we would have had five more laps. We will try to come back stronger. I know we have to improve some areas, mainly my riding style. The most important thing is that the bike has great potential, and we demonstrated this in the last ten laps. I was trying to overtake and be stronger every lap. We tried, and overall I felt it was a positive day, even if the results didn’t show our true potential for Qatar Race 2. Still, I think fifth is a nice result, and I fought back with all that I had.”

The double podium achieved by Zarco and Martin is a truly special honour and worth mentioning. Both riders are new to the team and in particular, Martin has only ever had one MotoGP race under his belt. The results speak loudly as to the choice by Pramac to engage both riders and is probably a nice reminder of Ducati power, precision and ambition to succeed. We love that MotoGP continues to bring us surprises, new results and close combat between varying manufacturers. We must make special mention of Martin’s result because he is a very talented rider and to achieve such a positive result considering his age and transitioning from a KTM in Moto2 to a Ducati in MotoGP, it is a real display of his character in a forever changing sport. To have pole position, finish third and with a smile all in a day’s work, this young rookies means business! For sure, this result will spur on Jack Miller to want to get the factory Ducati team further up the field and fix the issues continuing to arise.

Credit – Pramac MotoGP Team (Jorge Martin and Johann Zarco)

Jorge Martin:

“I still can’t believe it, a beautiful race, there are no words. Only yesterday I would have never thought I could get on the podium, but today it’s a dream come true. I am very satisfied with me and the team, it could not have gone better.”

Johann Zarco:

“First of all congratulations to Jorge, an impressive race, he was amazing. I am very happy, I had the right feeling, I felt really good and I knew I had the chance to do well today. With this bike and this team we can take great satisfaction.”

In comparison to the double successes of Pramac MotoGP Team, it was a difficult weekend for the factory Ducati team with Miller and Pecco Bagnaia leaving Qatar disappointed. Sixth and ninth places are not where these two riders should be finishing based on talent, speed, practice results and talent. Right now, Miller is suffering from arm pump syndrome and will most likely require surgery to fix before the next round in Portugal. It is vital this all goes to plan so the Australian rider can regain feeling strong and put his bike where it should be. In a similar way, Bagnaia made a mistake which cost him and will be a thorn in his side as a reminder to improve. Sure, it is only two races, with that said, the next leg of the World Championship is where it all really begins to set the standard and how things will play out as each race arrives. We have Portugal, Spain, France and Italy as important rounds to see who will be consistent enough to stay in the leading pack.

Credit – Ducati Corse Press (Jack Miller and Francesco Bagnaia)

Francesco Bagnaia:

“Unfortunately, today’s race didn’t go as I had hoped. I couldn’t make a good start and found myself in tenth place on the first lap. I lost a lot of time trying to make up ground, and in the end, I made a mistake that cost me a lot. I am disappointed because my feeling with the bike was exceptional today, and I felt I had the pace to fight for the win. Today’s experience will certainly serve me well for the future”.

Credit – Ducati Corse Press (Jack Miller)

Jack Miller:

“Compared to last week, my feeling with the bike was much better, and I was sure I could fight for a good result. Although I lost a lot of ground after the contact with Mir, I quickly close the gap with the riders at the front. Unfortunately, I started to suffer from arm pump in the last few laps, and I couldn’t ride as I wanted. In the next weeks, I will try to solve this problem to be competitive again starting already from Portimao”. 

The hard work will continue for Team Suzuki Ecstar with Joan Mir and Alex Rins still trying to figure out their qualifying performances and where they can improve to start further up the grid. The Qatar circuit is not well suited to their machine, so as you can imagine, both riders and the team themselves are looking forward to the European section of the calendar. Some will say the move by Miller and Mir together was dangerous and others will say it is a racing incident between two young riders wanting to win. In motorcycle racing, sometimes you push the limits both on track and off track, so we are definitely excited to see how these two race against one another in Portugal. The team will utilise the time off to study the data and find ways to enhance their bike. This will be important so that they can progress and not end up stagnant.

Credit – Team Suzuki Ecstar (Alex Rins)

Alex Rins:

“My race was quite good, I was able to do a nice job and I managed the tyres well. At one point I realised I couldn’t make a break away at the front so I concentrated on conserving the tyres and watching how the competitors were riding. It was a tough race and this is the best result I could get today, but I’m satisfied with fourth place, it’s my equal best finish at Qatar. Now we’re focused on Portimão in a couple of weeks’ time; it’s a circuit I really like!”

Credit – Team Suzuki Ecstar (Joan Mir)

Joan Mir:

“It’s very hard to know what to say about this race. Despite starting ninth on the grid I got a good start and I was feeling pretty good in sixth place even though this track isn’t the best for our bike. I started to make progress but I made a tough pass on Jack Miller, which I immediately apologised for. After that he decided to come back at me on the straight with a hard move that I don’t agree with. Anyway, I was able to get seventh place and I’m really looking forward to the next races.”

When it comes to race starts for this weekend, Brad Binder made a quality launch and ended up finishing in the top ten bringing optimism back into the KTM garage. The 8th place finish felt good for Binder and was a sign of relief for not setting an unrealistic goal, which did propel him and his bike into a positive position. Binder ended up five seconds behind the winner, though improvements to the KTM machine are vital because without them, their fast riders will suffer and succumb to the pressure and expectation from those around them watching on closely.

Credit – KTM Images / Polarity Photo (Brad Binder)

Brad Binder:

“Much happier, especially to have finished in the top ten today at least. Things were really difficult for us here in Qatar. When I arrived at the track this morning I said to myself ‘whatever the situation, I don’t care, I am just going to give my best every single lap’ and instead of trying to chase something that was a little bit out of reach I just tried to do what I could each lap and in the race it seemed to pay off. I’m really happy to have made up ten spots today.”

In analysing the other factory teams, PETRONAS Yamaha Sepang Racing Team are still not in an ideal place and are falling behind consistently. Valentino Rossi and Franco Morbidelli are not where they thought they would be and the frustrations are real. Both riders are trying to figure out how to improve with their team personnel considering in the pre-season, Morbidelli was a title contender and right now things are looking dismal for title contention. The lack of performance is something the team will need to review in great detail based on Quartararo and Vinales winning in Qatar over the two week period. Will it take a European circuit for both riders to crack their bikes into shape? We feel that Rossi will need to pick up his positivity sticks and be ready to battle no matter how hard it is to be down the ladder in points and positioning for 2021 to date.

Franco Morbidelli:

“It was a difficult race, but at least I was able to fight this weekend. We went back to a configuration that we had in early 2020, so the problems that we had in the race today were the same as we faced at the beginning of last season, where I used the tyre up too early. This looked like the best setup for us at the moment, to give a better feeling on the bike. I think it worked as we have some positives from today: I felt like I was able to race, my lap time wasn’t too bad and it was the same as the winner. However, I wasn’t able to be strong enough in the final laps because the tyre issues and having to fight from tenth meant that I wasn’t able to exploit the potential I had at the start of the race. We will now keep working to understand what has been going on during these days in Qatar, and start afresh in Portugal.”

Credit – Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP Team

Valentino Rossi:

“It is not a great result today and starting from behind is very difficult, because all of the bikes are strong. My pace was not so bad, but it was not enough to stay with the group, especially in the first laps. I expected a little bit better because this morning we found something that helps me to ride better. I thought that I could stay with the group in front, but we did not have enough to do so. We also suffered a bit with the rear grip with the soft tyre. We’ve tried a different swingarm and that has helped a bit. There are a lot of European tracks where we know the grip is good, so hopefully we can expect better results. We will see what happens in Portimão.”

As we turn to the middle and end of the grid, we are feeling for Honda. It has been a while since their riders have been at the front of a MotoGP race with the potential for victory since Marc Marquez’s injury took him out of the sport for a very extensive period of time. We do like the strong mindset of Pol Espargaro though are aware that his transition to the Honda is not going to be at a lightning speed. It will take time, energy, study, conversations, data analysis and more in order for him to push the limits of the bike and his talent to secure a top class finish.

Credit – Repsol Honda MotoGP Team (Pol Espargaro)

Pol Espargaro:

“This race we once again showed that our potentially is incredibly high, our pace was really strong especially during the middle and the end of the race, but I made two big mistakes which ruined our chances. We could have been fighting for a lot more, especially without the second error. We have again been able to finish close to the winner despite this, but I am left wondering what could have been. These two races have both shown that our potential on the Honda is very, very high but we still need to work on a couple of things including Qualifying. There’s more to come, we will try again in Portimão.”

It was also an average day for the LCR Honda MotoGP Team. Some would say, Cal Crutchlow would not be at the back of the grid and rather the performances of Takaaki Nakagami and Alex Marquez have been quite poor. There is hope that change is on the horizon with the races in Europe upcoming and the bikes better suited to those race tracks and environments. We are definitely waiting to see this translate on track.

Credit – LCR Honda IDEMITSU (Takaaki Nakagami)

Takaaki Nakagami:

“Well, it was a tough day again. The beginning was ok, but after seven or eight laps I felt a drop with the front tyre which then made it really difficult to hold on to the bike and especially in turning. We had a lot of struggles during the race and then I found it difficult to keep the lap time and stay on the bike. Of course, we are not happy about this position. However, last weekend I had a crash and today we finished the race and we have to think about it positively. We have gathered a lot of data here in Qatar and now we look forward to the next race in Portimão.”

Credit – LCR Honda CASTROL (Alex Marquez)

Alex Marquez:

“Second race here in Qatar and it ended not in the way we wanted. I made a small mistake on turn 14 and I lost my front tyre which is hard for the team as I was trying to make a good start to the race. I was a little bit inside in the corner. Anyway, not easy days for us here in Qatar, but I think we are there, we are competitive, we are constant… Now, it is time to improve, to learn … I don’t want to say any excuse. I will be more competitive and stronger in Portimao.”

On the flip side, rookies, Enea Bastianini and Luca Marini are still pushing on regardless of their up and down results. Both Italian riders learned lessons from the back to back Qatar events even just down to visibility and knowing when to push. The grid has exciting talent, some of whom may be questioning their team choices although looking at the bigger picture and long term success in the premier class should be the vision. If you throw the toys out on to the circuit and expect poor results, all you do is manifest negative energy, poor sportsmanship, a lack of trust within a garage and unnecessary stress. The time off will do many of the riders a world of good.

Credit – Esponsorama MotoGP Team (Enea Bastianini)

Enea Bastianini:

“We have made a great race; I am very happy. I’m go up, even if I would have liked to be on grid much better, I am sure that I could have fought with the first ones. Unfortunately 6 or 7 laps from the end ,my hair and sweat did not let me have good visibility and don’t let me to stay focused, again obstacle and bad luck! We have improve more than last weekend so I’m very satisfied.”

Credit – Sky VR46 Esponsorama MotoGP Team (Luca Marini)

Luca Marini:

“I was expecting more from today´s race: I had a good pace, but after ten laps I started to struggled with the front tire. The condition became more and more tough until 6 laps to go when I could no longer push to the right. It is a problem that I had this morning in the warm up in the middle of the corner and we need to work on this aspect that strongly affected the result of the race. A real pity.”

Both Rossi and his family member Marini are not in ideal places at the present moment and are hungry riders for success. How long can the poor results last? These are questions they will discuss and also ponder as they travel between locations and stay safe even with the pandemic still very evident in the world. With the races heating up and challenges clearer than ever, we will be excited to see the riders rest, recover and be ready for the event in Portugal which is guaranteed to be a thrilling number of laps. The next few events are going to provide insight as to which manufacturers are going to be strong and consistent for the main elements of the season. Who do you feel has the edge to step up to the task and secure the wins?

About The Author

Myanna has an incredible grasp and knowledge of the sport in detail and continues to secure lead stories every week. She is in constant contact with team and rider media management. She is an admitted lawyer with two degrees and is currently writing a biography on Alan Jones MBE 1980 F1 World Champion. She is a fond lover of two wheel motorsport, predominantly MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3.