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.
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.
Free Practice 2 for the Qatar GP has just finished at the Losail International Circuit, and the speed gap between the prototypes and the CRTs is abundantly clear. One of the faster tracks on the MotoGP calendar, everyone in the paddock knew going into the Qatar GP that the power advantage held by the Ducati, Honda, & Yamaha prototypes would be apparent down Losail’s .664 mile front straightaway. But now after getting to see how the two bike classifications stack up on the same course and on the same day, the results from FP1 & FP2 show a 13.6 mph gap between the tops CRTs to the top prototype GP bikes.
Valentino Rossi managed a fifth place at Estoril this weekend, barely missing fourth as Andrea Dovizioso nipped him at the line after tailgating most of the race. The Doctor continues to have his hands full with the GP11, despite a nearly recovered shoulder and the ability to ride closer to his own personal potential. As graceful as Lorenzo looks on the Yamaha that Rossi and Jeremy Burgess developed, Rossi looks just as awkward at times on Casey Stoner’s old ride.
In response to Rossi’s complaints about all that is wrong with the Ducati, Stoner was quick to point out that the bike was good enough to win three of 2010’s final six races, suggesting that Rossi simply needed to adjust his riding style in order to go faster. The Doctor would rather heal the patient than himself however, and he and his team will continue to work on major changes to the GP11.
In the mean time, from images like the one above, we can see how Rossi struggles with his body position as he tries to get the Ducati to keep up with the Hondas and Yamahas. The switch to Ducati is looking like perhaps the greatest challenge of his career.