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By: Myanna Wedes

The second round of the MotoGP World Championship is underway with several riders wanting a clean slate and to start business at the circuit in a stronger form than the previous week. Missing out on the top 10 is something a handful of riders need to manage because it can be the reason why they struggle to reach the front of the grid and battle for the top three places. In particular, Valentino Rossi and Joan Mir are not working their bikes effectively enough to put in the lap times to ensure a top position for the qualifying sessions. The pressure is real because others are outperforming and showcasing their strengths in starting further up the grid than expected. Both riders are clearly wanting more from their machines to adapt.

We must say that if Jack Miller and the other Ducati riders suffer tyre wear to the extreme level this weekend, heads will roll. In particular, the Australian rider does not want a repeat of last week having to ease of the throttle to manage tyres and not be able to push to the limit for a win. Feeling good with the bike is an essential ingredient to succeeding in this sport and tyre frustrations can really make you upset and psychologically off balance because it becomes a weekend of absolute expectation to fail. Therefore, if Miller and others who had rear tyre troubles can fix those areas of their riding, the ability to succeed becomes a continuing rhythm and one to enjoy.

Jack Miller
Credit – Ducati Corse Press (Jack Miller)

Jack Miller:

“I’m delighted with the feeling I’ve had with the bike this evening. In my first “time attack” attempt, I was really pushing hard, and I had a little bit of a moment!. Luckily I managed not to crash, and I went back quickly on track and set a good lap time that I am really content with. I think we still have room for improving tomorrow evening, and as always, I will give my best in qualifying”.

Credit – Ducati Corse Press (Pecco Bagnaia)

Francesco Bagnaia:

“I’m pleased with the work we have done today. Compared to last week, we preferred to use time in FP2 to do some tests with the soft tyres focusing mainly on our race pace. We made only one “time attack”. The feedback was positive, and tomorrow we will continue to work on this direction. I’m convinced that we can get another good result in qualifying and arrive well prepared for Sunday’s race”.

At the end of the day, if you are a Ducati rider, you have to be on the top of the timing sheets based purely on their racing philosophy and expectation. Therefore, with a rider like Miller and Pecco Bagnaia, you are destined to find form and also solutions to problems rather than be stagnant. They are both proving their worth and the change has been welcomed when it comes to the red hat. Now, all they have to do is covert to the goals of wins and podiums taking the battle to Yamaha, Suzuki and Honda with composure, passion and intelligence. Casey Stoner was the last one to succeed, so is 2021 the year their dreams could come true?

In contrast, Suzuki have been poor qualifiers. We know they struggle to obtain a quality fast lap time and this is certainly showing with Joan Mir having to go through two qualifying sessions. When the lap times are close, you have to be that extra tenth faster, smoother and calm. Mastering qualifying is an area to work on for the Suzuki riders and when they do master it, they will be a force especially with how their machine works in a race situation. They come alive from start to finish!

Rins
Credit – Team Suzuki Ecstar (Alex Rins)

Alex Rins:

“I’m feeling quite good, and I’m happy to be provisionally in Q2. Everyone was so close on times and the track conditions were tricky – it wasn’t very grippy. Anyway, I was able to do some fast laps and I’m pleased about that. My pace, even on used tyres, was good and I’m feeling confident for tomorrow. I think the pace will be even higher, and everyone will be very competitive. We’re working hard to have another strong weekend and I hope to enjoy a good qualifying tomorrow.”

Mir
Credit – Team Suzuki Ecstar (Joan Mir)

Joan Mir:

“My feeling is pretty good, but I’m disappointed that we missed out on direct passage to Q2. We lost some time in the first run of the session and then we made some adjustments to the settings, but when it was time to get out for the time attack I could only do one good attempt, which prevented me from getting the tyres and brakes to the optimal temperature: That would have made that tenth of a second difference that kept me out of the Top 10. I feel that my pace can be better because there’s margin to improve, but it will be very hard to come through from Q1 if I have to. Of course I’ll give my best to try and get the best grid position possible.”

Mir
Credit – Team Suzuki Ecstar (Joan Mir)

Do you go fast early or manage tyres and go slow to then come alive in the second half of the race? What would you decision be if you were in the shoes of the riders…

Managing the tyre consumption of the Michelin is an area that Maverick Vinales and Fabio Quartararo have been learning on the job and last weekend was a good indicator of their performance levels. The hunger is alive like a fire for Vinales and Quartararo wants it more than anything after suffering a dismal finish in 2020. It was a real mixed bag of emotions and feeling on the first day of the second round at Qatar. Both riders are happy no doubt about that to be on their machines, though lacking in feeling is not an ideal situation for any MotoGP rider. It can throw their confidence levels out the door and this is clearly mentioned below. One rider feels like the bike is his skin and the other still learning how to tame the Yamaha to his style.

Fabio
Credit – Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP Team (Fabio Quartararo)

Fabio Quartararo:

“It was tough, and unfortunately I had no feeling today. I did my fastest lap being on the limit everywhere, I was not feeling great. I will try to improve the feeling a little bit tomorrow, because the conditions changed. We had issues with chatter and grip today. We hope for better conditions tomorrow. Qualifying is just a matter of putting everything you have into one lap, braking as late as possible. For qualifying I am not so worried, and for the race I will do many more laps with the soft-soft tyre combination. I can’t wait for tomorrow.”

Vinales
Credit – Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP Team (Maverick Vinales)

Maverick Vinales:

“The time attack didn’t go as we expected. We can be much faster. But anyway, the rhythm was there, I was feeling pretty good with the medium tyre, even if it wasn’t the best tyre for us here. After we changed to qualifying mode, the feeling changed and we will look into it. But I’m quite calm, I know we can do well. On the bike I felt amazing in FP1 and also for most of FP2. We can do something really good for tomorrow. The most important point is to have the opportunity to be at the front, battling for the race.”

Unlike the two factory Yamaha riders, the weekend has been very interesting already for Valentino Rossi and Franco Morbidelli. The Italian riders have not been able to shake their issues. Rossi was not able to change the grip issues and Morbidelli sent smoke and oil all over the circuit. This weekend both riders need to perform because PETRONAS Yamaha Sepang Racing Team are used to a high level of results and right now everything is going in the opposite direction.

Franco
Credit – PETRONAS Yamaha Sepang Racing Team (Franco Morbidelli)

Franco Morbidelli:

“It was an interesting start to the day. I had the same problem on both of my bikes in FP1, which wasn’t a big issue luckily. We did decide to change one engine as a precaution for the night, but none of the engines have been withdrawn and we will keep using it; we have solved the issue. I had a good feeling in FP2; it felt more balanced between day and night, which was positive. There are still things to improve and the feeling is not perfect, especially in the night, but we are on the right path. We have changed a lot of things on the bike today, to improve upon what we had in the race last Sunday, and it felt a lot better. I feel like we’re in the game and that we can now work to increase the potential even more.”

Rossi
Credit – PETRONAS Yamaha Sepang Racing Team (Valentino Rossi and Luca Marini)

Valentino Rossi:

“Last week was better because I was faster, especially in FP2 when I was able to stay in P9 with a better lap time. Today I suffered a lot with the rear grip and, in the longer run at the beginning of the session, I felt a lot slower. We have improved the life of the tyre a little bit and this is very important for us. I improved the time attack in the final minutes and I feel like I rode quite well, but it was not enough for the top-ten. Tomorrow we need to try to improve the rear grip, but in FP3 it will be very difficult to improve the lap times so we need to concentrate on the pace and try to stay within the top-two in Q1. We will see what happens.”

As a rider at this level of motorcycle racing, it can go two ways: positive or negative. If a rider falls into the trap of negativity, it is very hard to regain momentum. Therefore, no matter what happens, Rossi must keep an open mind, stay encouraged and keep pushing as does Morbidelli. Finding the limit will result in pushing your mindset, comfort levels and of course the tyres. A special mention has to go out to rookie Jorge Martin on board the Pramac Ducati. He has been absolutely incredible in comparison to Luca Marini, who is still getting acquainted with the machine. The two riders at Pramac will certainly egg one another on to perform following in the footsteps of their sister team. Martin is loving the fast speed of the Ducati and the braking abilities, which of course has been a big progression and jump from a KTM in Moto2. This year, it will be an exciting journey to watch unfold as he rides alongside experienced French rider Johann Zarco who has been a part of a rollercoaster journey in the premiere class.

Martin
Credit – Pramac Racing MotoGP Team (Jorge Martin)

Jorge Martin:

“I’m so happy, I didn’t expect to finish in p5 today, but I had a good feeling. We are continuing to make progress, day after day we are getting better and better. My goal is to fight for the top ten.”

Johann Zarco:

“The crash in FP1 made me a bit nervous because as soon as I tried to push I crashed and it shouldn’t have happened. But in FP2 I was more focused and I was able to set a good time, it was important to be in the first positions after the FP2 because tomorrow during FP3 it will be difficult to improve the time.”

Whilst others hit the mark, there are those that continue to be baffled by poor performance and learning. Pol Espargaro was not impressed with the start to the second round at Qatar. Whereas, his teammate Stefan Bradl, a well experienced Honda rider found a light of positive energy.

Pol
Credit – CormacGP & Repsol Honda MotoGP Team (Pol Espargaro)

Pol Espargaro:

“Today was not a good day. With a bike that is new to me it is proving hard to adapt to the differences in tyres for the time attack we have to do, this is what I am struggling with. When you make mistakes in a fast lap, this is what happens. I made a lot of mistakes on what should have been my fastest lap so now we face this reality. With the times so close, there is no room for error. I just need more time running in a time attack mode to understand what areas I can take the most profit from, it will come. But we will keep pushing and working, we have another chance in Q1 to move into the top two and advance.”

Bradl
Credit – CormacGP & Repsol Honda MotoGP Team (Stefan Bradl)

Stefan Bradl:

“Last week on Friday we were unlucky, this week our luck has turned around a bit. The lap times were super close and we have been able to get a spot in the top ten which looks to be key for Q2. Anyway, we have made some changes to the bike and they have all worked well so this is encouraging. Compared to last week we are stronger but we still have to be strong tomorrow during Qualifying so we can start in a better position. This remains our target but for today we can be pleased with what we have done.”

Every inch of positive input and results that show will propel Espargaro on because if he is beaten by his teammate who is normally a test rider, it will be a real kick to the guts. Espargaro left KTM to showcase his talent and compete at the top. If doubt creeps in for Espargaro it will be a very different journey to the one he wanted to undertake, so we will be watching his race results very carefully. The same can be said for Brad Binder who had a run in with Rossi and it did not go down well to say the least. Binder is quality rider and not an aggressive personality on track so to be accused of being this type of rider and it’s a battle of interpretation as to who was right and wrong. We do not expect Binder to change one bit and instead, he feels Rossi may be a tad sensitive, so let’s see how this all plays out considering they are close to one another on the grid in terms of qualifying and race positioning.

Credit – KTM Images/Polarity Photo (Brad Binder)

Time to get back into practice, qualifying and the race. Tune in and witness the battles live as they unfold because MotoGP in 2021 is bound to be exhilarating and certainly many riders wanting the top honour as Marc Marquez still remains sidelined from injury.

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.