As we prepare for Argentina, for Round 2 of the 2017 MotoGP world championship, one thing that motorsports worldwide unanimously agreed by what was presented on that double-header of 26th April 2017, MotoGP is by far more exciting than Formula 1; and that the MotoGP season looks set to be even more thrilling than before.
Hours after conclusion of the Australian Formula 1 race in Melbourne — where yet again, motorsport fans saw the race won in the pits rather than on the track — the motorcycle Grand Prix of Qatar had their fans on the edge of their seats.
This is the world’s best motorsport event; and the time has come to gauge the real truth from the series of pre-season tests before the race in Losail. Is Maverick Vinales’ dominance in the MotoGP on his new Yamaha machine for real? Is Valentino Rossi still a contender for the world crown at his current age? Can Jorge Lorenzo do what Rossi could not do on a Ducati? And, is Marc Marquez and his Repsol Honda still the King?
As we set our sights for Argentina, these questions have been answered. There were plenty of brave and daring decisions that needed to be made at the chaotic but thrilling race in the desert. Some got it right, others did not.
Yes, the opening race in Qatar did not provide real affirmation in the true strength of each rider and team. Die-hard supporters would argue that race conditions were not ideal for a true challenge; and for riders to show their true potential and capabilities. Many attributed their post-race comments on tyre choices, taking extreme risks and making daring gambles.
As veteran MotoGP race commentator Nick Harris put it, the race had absolutely everything that MotoGP was about. “Even the drama when getting started; that just added to the drama before the lights went out,” said the distinguished Australian.
Yes, we had another classic MotoGP event from the word go; and that set us up for a mouth-watering new season. The opening race had lived up to its top billing and we can look forward to another sizzling 2017 championship.
For Lorenzo, however, the Spaniard would not want the Qatar race to be any form of indication of what to expect in his debut season on the red Ducati. He was perhaps fortunate to relate his unimpressive performance to the rain and incorrect tyre choice as qualifying and race days was at the mercy of the weather.
With qualifying cancelled and Lorenzo starting from the middle of the grid, the three-time MotoGP champion finished 11th; totally outclassed by his rivals after an early mistake from the opening corner that forced him to go wide and lose positions.
“It was a very complicated race from all aspects. I started off well, but on the opening lap I went wide and lost a lot of positions, and this conditioned me in my efforts to get back up. Then I felt better on the bike and I started to lap at the same pace as the leaders, but unfortunately in the final part of the race I started to lose confidence in the tyres and my bike became a lot more physical to ride, so I had to slow the pace,” said Lorenzo in explaining his race in Losail.
The other three-time MotoGP champion and fellow Spaniard, Marc Marquez fared much better; but like his compatriot, he also attributed his poor results to incorrect tyre strategies. Marquez, as always, was looking for victory.
In his post-race comments, the Repsol Honda rider said they had the hard tyre in the plan for the #QatarGP. But, after a delayed start and shortened race distance, Marquez decided to gamble by switching to medium tyres. Battling at the front of the field in the early stages in signature spectacular style, he struggled towards the tail end of the race.
“The tyre switch meant the number 93 couldn’t brake how he wanted - so the Spaniard switched quickly to damage limitation: finishing the race and looking forward to Argentina,” the team concluded.
There was, however, splendid news for the other remaining MotoGP champion – the nine-time world champion including five in the premier class and fans’ favourite, Valentino Rossi, who made last minute adjustments to the M1’s set ups in his own gamble for the race.
Struggling in pre-season testing and in all the free practice sessions in Losail, Rossi is expected to have a tough opening round. But he stunned his rivals and even shocked himself to score a podium finish, finishing ahead of his nemesis, Marquez. Starting from 10th on the grid after the cancelled qualifying, Rossi charged from behind to a stunning P3 on the podium.
Commenting on his third place, Rossi said: “For sure, if I had to bet on me being on the podium today, I wouldn’t have bet! Maybe ten euros? But, we never gave up, and tried the maximum. We tried three or four settings with the bike this morning (Sunday) in warm up and it was bad. In the daytime, I finished the tyre in three corners - so these conditions for me were better. We changed the bike again for the race and I felt good, I had a great start.
“I hope this race gives us enough information – so we can understand how to continue in this way. I'm happy because I saw Maverick for all the race - and that never happened in testing!” added Rossi, in acknowledging the supremacy of his new Movistar Yamaha MotoGP team-mate.
Undoubtedly, Maverick Vinales was the undisputed star of the Qatar Grand Prix. In fact, he has already been elevated as one of the title challengers after dominating the pre-season testing from the first day he put on the Movistar leathers and board the M1 machine. Qatar merely confirmed his switch from Suzuki to Yamaha was like hands fitting gloves.
Maverick’s stronger message from his victory in Qatar was, however, his maturity. Race conditions are far more different than test sessions – especially with the unexpected heavy showers in a desert country. The young Vinales showed the world and his rivals that he had the mental strength, maturity and the capability to manage the pressure and to live to the tag of being this season’s top favourite.
As Nick nicely put it, ‘for a 22-year old, Maverick has an old head on young shoulders and he was simply superb’.
Commenting on his victory at the Qatar Grand Prix, Maverick said the victory was a combination of many factors including the splendid work of the Movistar Yamaha team as well as his approach during the race.
“We did a great job during the whole weekend and we started good in the test, then in FP1 we were already feeling really good. The race was difficult, it started to rain and there was a bit of confusion because we didn‘t know what to do. 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. There were many crashes at the front, so I waited for the right moment and finally we took the victory,” the Spaniard said.
While Lorenzo struggled, his Ducati team-mate, Andrea Dovizioso was looking at victory before being edged out by Vinales in their private battle upfront. While proving that the Desmosedici has the power and acceleration, the Italian acknowledged that he was massively helped by a perfect tyre strategy as he took gamble on soft tyres.
“The gamble we took was right. We had good speed before the race but we couldn’t have finished the race with Maverick. Also, there was a lot of humidity and for sure the race was slower, so with the soft tyre if you don’t push really hard you’re able to save it,” Dovizioso commented.
As daring gambles and taking risks provided the rewards in Qatar, a new challenge definitely awaits the riders and team at the Termas de Rio Hondo.
It was pretty wet in Argentina last year. Would it be the same story again this year and would we be looking at the same trio on the podium on April 9? Only time will tell.