The night schedule at Qatar means that writers and journalists end the weekend in a state of utter exhaustion. To bed at dawn for a few hours fitful sleep, up around noon, off the to the track for a full day’s – or night’s – work, then do the same thing over again. Race day is worse, the schedule is tougher, the adrenaline rush greater, the comedown even bigger. And there’s usually about twice as much work to do as well. It is still the greatest job in the world, of course, but it makes you long for sleep a couple of times a year. Qatar race-night round ups tend to be terse, and given my usual verbosity, this is no bad thing.
When MotoGP announced that it would be moving from the 800cc formula back to a 1,000cc displacement, the general hope was that this change would return close-racing to the premier class. While the real issue to that problem has always been the increased use of electronics, which have only gained more sophistication and implementation in the past year, there can be no doubt that racing in MotoGP has improved after witnessing the Qatar GP.
Rather than displacement making the decisive difference though, one can thank the new Bridgestone tires, which are designed to degrade more rapidly over the course of their use. This simple change has meant that riders have to manage their tires and pace during the race, choosing when to push for the lead, and when to conserve. As the tires degrade and lose their razor-like precision, a rider’s skill begins to play an increased deciding factor. The result: the Qatar GP.
On the evidence of qualifying at Qatar, we’re in for a cracking MotoGP season. A very tight battle for pole settled in the final minutes, a surprise front row sitter, and plenty of on-track action are the ingredients for a a great QP session, and the changes that the sport has undergone are overwhelmingly positive. The same was true in Moto2, where a smart strategy outwitted a late last lap, and Moto3 saw another battle that went down to the wire.
The return of MotoGP racing is finally upon us with the start of the Qatar GP. Qualifying was underway under the night’s sky at Losail International Circuit this Satursday, as the season-opener and only night race brought the MotoGP paddock together to begin the 2012 MotoGP Championship. With Losail’s long straightaway amplifying the slower pace of the CRTs, it is clear that two races will be run during the MotoGP race on Sunday. With the Yamahas showing a new speed in Qatar, the talk going into Saturday’s qualifying at Doha for once was not dominated by the work of HRC.
After the euphoria of the first day at Qatar, it was back to work on Friday, with riders, teams and even journalists turning their focus back to the task at hand. While most of the attention was focused on MotoGP, the premier class seeing fascinating stories start to develop in the two sessions of free practice the class had in the irregular and rather confusing schedule which the night race at Qatar forces on the paddock, a pattern is also starting to emerge in both Moto2 and Moto3.
At the MotoGP season opener in Qatar, Dani Pedrosa was the only rider who had anything for Casey Stoner. Qualifying second, two tenths behind the Australian, Pedrosa was six tenths ahead of third place qualifier, Jorge Lorenzo. Those of us who expected Stoner to find the front within a couple of laps and disappear were surprised to see Pedrosa pass Stoner with 17 laps to go. It was then the Pedrosa-Stoner show until, with 11 laps to go, Dani’s stuck-throttle crash at Motegi last season came back to haunt him.
He dropped to second, then fell back into Lorenzo’s clutches as his left arm went numb. In Motegi Pedrosa had broken his collarbone, and the nerves beneath the clavicle continue to be problematic when subjected to the pressure or fighting Casey Stoner on a MotoGP bike. Dani said he was basically unable to use the clutch for the second half of the race, and the fact that he managed to bring it home in third place is a testament to how tough a rider he is.