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By: Myanna Wedes

The first race of 2021, the Barwa Qatar Grand Prix has been completed with Monster Energy Yamaha Maverick Vinales winning the top honour and re-energised for a renewed season. His victory was one of his best, not only was it masterclass, but he was also calm and collected from lights out. Top Gun has certainly shifted in his mindset and it was a pure class ride as he battled Pecco Bagnaia, Johann Zarco, Jack Miller and Fabio Quartararo. To win the first race of the season is an important stepping stone especially at a circuit where Ducati dominates. Regardless of the wheelie at the start, Vinales saved his tyres for the right moment and overall it was a fantastic weekend. Controlling the power, managing the tyres and mindpower are the vital elements to succeeding in such a high paced environment on and off circuit.

Speaking of Ducati, it was an amazing debut for certain rookies and no doubt Jorge Martin, who had the best start in MotoGP on board a Ducati for the first time. Talk about a rocket launch! It was very nice to see him at the front considering the pressure to perform at this early stage. With that said, it was a challenging weekend for the various Ducati riders even though they were tipped to be the podium finishes from first to third. With the wind speeds causing chaos, the Ducati’s with a full tank of fuel struggled as a result of the wind and ended up with 30km/h knocked off their speed trap.

Whilst tyres can be a pest, the rear tyres for Ducati again caused a dilemma and in particular Miller suffered greatly. He did not have the confidence and speed to be able to push all race long. It was a shame to see as we had anticipated a real battle and the same can be said for Franco Morbidelli who had a dismal race. It was a disaster for Valentino Rossi and his teammate. The fireworks between Championship rivals has ignited and Joan Mir did a fabulous job in staying within the top riders and almost had a podium although his last minute dash into the corner wide caused his drive out of the corner to be slower than anticipated. As a result, the Ducati’s speed and precision on the main straight sent him packing to fourth position.

Credit – Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP Team (Maverick Vinales)

Maverick Vinales:

“The race was especially good because I had the opportunity to fight with other riders, which is always important. It’s been a while since I last overtook so many riders in one race. Early on in the race, I felt this special feeling with the bike. Also in FP4 when we did the race simulation I felt fantastic and also in qualifying. I’m very grateful, because winning is not easy, so we are going to enjoy today. For the coming race we will work and try to improve again, because we know our competitors will also improve. I just want to say ‘congratulations’ to the team, because we did a good job this winter. I think this win is very good for the morale of the team, because it’s always important to trust ourselves. We still have some things to work on, especially on the race starts. But, overall, I think we can do a good job this season.”

Credit – Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP Team (Fabio Quartararo & Maverick Vinales)

Fabio Quartararo:

“I was feeling so strong in the beginning of the race. As soon as I overtook Jack [Miller], I was able to catch Joan [Mir] so fast, but then I noticed a big drop in the rear tyre, which we didn’t expect, because I didn’t have that during the test or the practice sessions. I decided to adjust my riding a little, but Maverick still overtook me. He was just in another league and had much more grip than I did. In the end I could overtake Rins and Miller because I was riding in a different way, so that’s something positive. Last year, on difficult days we made mistakes and finished in P14 or crashed. Today we are P5 and scored 11 points, which is good on a tough day like this, and I was 3s behind Maverick, so that is not that bad.”

With Vinales becoming a dad and now a husband, there is renewed confidence. This will certainly have an impact on teammate Quartararo because the drive to succeed at the factory team is very real. Who is going to be number one, is there two number ones or will one have to follow? The question will remain to be answered until we see a solid number of races completed. Grip was the answer for the Spanish rider and not the French rider. In reflecting from one year to the next, it has been a rewarding start for Fabulous Fabio and we are sure his confidence as it grows will see him as a title contender once again.

In comparison, it will be analysis and going back to the drawing board for Ducati, especially Miller with his teammate Bagnaia finishing ahead as well as sister team rider Zarco who debuted on the bike for the first time. To see the Australian rider struggle purely because of tyres is tough. He has the race craft to win as we have seen in the past, so it is only a matter of time before Ducati have to bring the goods as their bike is strong.

Credit – Ducati Corse Press (Jack Miller)

Jack Miller:

“Ninth position is definitely not the result we were hoping for, but it’s still important points for the Championship. Unfortunately, after a good start, I started to have problems with the rear towards the middle of the race, and I had to manage till the end. I felt really comfortable when I was in third place and was hoping to attack the front guys towards the end, but it didn’t go that way. Now we will analyse the data to understand what happened and find a solution ahead of the next GP, which will be held again here in Qatar”.

Credit – Ducati Corse Press (Pecco Bagnaia)

Pecco Bagnaia:

“I’m thrilled to start the 2021 Championship with a podium: it was my first race with the Ducati Lenovo Team, and I’m coming from a rather difficult end to the 2020 season. Today I tried really hard to keep the lead and close all the doors on Viñales. Unfortunately, I think I made the wrong strategy and wore the tyres down too much at the start. After seven laps, I started to struggle a lot, especially on the rear, and I think that was also due to the different track conditions today compared to the last few days. We still have one more race here in Qatar, so we will try next Sunday again.”

Credit – Ducati Corse Press (Pecco Bagnaia and Johann Zarco)

Johann Zarco:

“I am very happy, I knew I could have a good race, I had good feelings. With this team and this bike I know I can do great things and today was the proof. I was consistent and we used the right strategy and the power of the engine definitely helped.”

In terms of the World Championship leaders, Suzuki did a brilliant job to start off strong all things considering with the ups and downs throughout the Qatar testing schedule. In the test, they were worried because of a lack of track time and not enough data to determine their bikes level of speed, performance and how it would react in 2021. With that said, Mir almost had a podium and if Rins did not use up the amount of rubber early, he probably would have been in the hunt for the win with confidence. Cooking the tyres early is either a make or break situation. Both will learn from the performance levels of the first Qatar Grand Prix and progress from there.

Team Suzuki Ecstar (Joan Mir)

Joan Mir:

“I feel good, it was a nice race. I made a step this morning in warm-up and I regained my feeling with the bike – that was the most important thing. The bike worked so well today, and I’m really grateful to the team. I tried to push hard and get the most from the bike and the tyres, recovering places and managing well. I’m happy with how it worked out even if it would’ve been great to finish second! But I had a feeling those Ducatis would overtake me on the straight in the slipstream, and I’m still satisfied with fourth. We’ll take what we learned and go for next weekend. I’m feeling positive and ready for more.”

Team Suzuki Ecstar (Alex Rins)

Alex Rins:

“My start was not one of my best ones, so I had to push a lot to recover the positions I lost and catch up with the leading group. Already six laps before Joan passed me I was beginning to struggle with the tyres, so I think I cooked them. I did my best, and I’m pretty happy, but in the end I couldn’t manage to go higher. The bike felt good and my pace was strong, so I’m ready for next week!”

When you assess riders you thought would nail the race, Rossi and Morbidelli were not the ones, even with a quality test and bike underneath them. It was the race to forget in a way with a lack of performance. Rossi struggled with rear tyre performance, sounds familiar doesn’t it and Morbidelli had a problem on the grid which was soul destroying though he circulated and finished out of respect for his team. When you cross over to the Honda garage, it was a great start for Pol Espargaro though with the absence of Marc Marquez, the results are suffering for the Japanese manufacturer. Alex Marquez and Takaaki Nakagami both crashed which did not sit well for Honda and with only Stefan Bradl remaining, it was far from an ideal start to the 2021 season.

PETRONAS Yamaha Sepang Racing MotoGP Team (Valentino Rossi)

Valentino Rossi:

“We expected more, especially after qualifying yesterday, but I struggled in the race. After several laps I had a problem with the tyres, especially the rear one, which is something that we also saw on Friday. We were hoping that it would have been less of a problem today, with the cooler temperatures, but unfortunately the feeling was similar and I lost some positions. I feel like I had a good start compared to the other Yamahas, but some others had a stronger one, I feel like we entered the first corner with a good speed though. Now we try to fix it and make it better for next week.”

PETRONAS Yamaha Sepang Racing MotoGP Team (Franco Morbidelli)

Franco Morbidelli:

“It was a difficult race for us. We had a problem on the grid but we decided to give it a go anyway. Out of respect for my team and the work they do I wanted to complete the race, also so that we might understand the problem better. It is something we need to investigate further, I think we might have seen it at other times in the weekend, but during the race it was very clear that something was wrong. It was unfortunate that we had to have the bad race, but the good thing is that we have data to understand what was going on. I hope we can fix something for next week.”

Credit – Repsol Honda MotoGP Team (Pol Espargaro)

Pol Espargaro:

“It has been a race of two halves. The start of the race, honestly, wasn’t good as I took too much time to settle into my pace and then I lost some precious time. In the middle of the race, I was one of the fastest riders and I am happy but also angry because I feel that I could have done better. But it is still just the first race so we have to look at the race from this perspective and I needed to finish the race, a crash would not have been good at all. I have gained a lot of information and now we can go again next weekend in the same place understanding our potential better.”

Credit – Team Avintia Esponsorama Racing (Enea Bastianini)

Overall, it was a brilliant first race considering the pandemic is still in action. Enea Bastianini is a rider worth a final mention. For his first time on board a MotoGP bike under race pressure, the young rookie did a wonderful job for his team. The Italian rider is one to watch as the race calendar warms up with many more incredible battles to come.