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David Emmett

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Can Marc Márquez win the championship this year? Has he left his return too late to catch up? How fast will he be on his return to MotoGP at Portimão?

The answer to all of these burning questions is “we don’t know”, but that doesn’t stop us from asking them. And from trying to make our best guess at what might have happened by the end of the year.

The Moto3 race at the Doha round will live on in the collective memory of race fans for a very long time.

The fact that Pedro Acosta won the Moto3 race in Qatar at the tender age of 16 years and 314 days, becoming the eleventh youngest Grand Prix winner of all time, was remarkable enough.

The fact that it was just his second Grand Prix made it even more remarkable, especially after Acosta finished on the podium in his first race.

But what Acosta’s victory in the Qatar 2 Moto3 race will be most remembered for is the fact that the Spanish youngster won the race after starting from pit lane.

“I’m so glad to hear that a lot of the riders are confused! Because I am too, I really am.” Franco Morbidelli, like just about everyone in the MotoGP paddock in Qatar, has spent so long trying to get his head around the Losail International Circuit and the tricks it can play, with grip, with wind, with track temperatures, and so much more, that he is utterly lost.

“I don’t know what’s going on. Something is going on, and I hope that whatever is going on, it will go away as soon as possible, because it is tricky to work like this.”

“Consistency has been difficult this weekend because the track is different every time we exit the pits,” Jack Miller agreed. “There’s only one more day left here in Qatar and I’ll try and make it a good one and get out of here in one piece.” After nearly a month in the Gulf state, on and off, and ten days riding around the same track, everyone is very, very over being in Qatar.

Plus ça change… if you put the top four from FP2 of Qatar 1 from a week ago next to the top four of FP2 from today, what difference would you see?

The same four names, with only the names of Johann Zarco and Fabio Quartararo swapped around, the Yamaha rider now fourth instead of third, as he was last week, the lone M1 amid an army of Ducatis.

Even the times are virtually identical: the time difference between Pecco Bagnaia’s second place last week and this is just 0.036. The time difference between the third-place times is 0.038. And the difference between the fourth-place times was 0.003, a mere three thousandths of a second.

One week later, MotoGP is back at the same race track, with the same riders, and likely racing in pretty much the same conditions. Does this mean we are going to see exactly the same result in the Doha Grand Prix as we did for the Qatar Grand Prix?

That will depend. And it will perhaps depend on how well the MotoGP riders learn the lessons of last week, as well as the lessons of the past. If Maverick Viñales maintains the form he showed last Sunday, he will be very difficult to beat.

Saturday was a day for smashing records in Qatar. First up was the top speed record, Johann Zarco hitting 362.4 km/h at the end of the front straight during FP4.

Not just the top speed record for Qatar, but the highest speed ever record at a MotoGP track, the previous record 356.7 km/h set by Andrea Dovizioso at Mugello.

To put that in to context, it is 100.666 meters per second. Or put another way, it took Johann Zarco less than one second to cover the distance which takes Usain Bolt 9.6 seconds. It is a mind-bending, brain-warping speed.

The normal build up to a MotoGP weekend sees the teams and riders spend FP1 figuring out which tires they think will work, then FP2 working on setup and then chasing a preliminary spot in FP2, leaving themselves plenty of work for Saturday, especially in FP4. But, Qatar is not a normal weekend.

For a start, MotoGP arrives here after a total of five days of testing (well, four days, strictly speaking, as the last day of the test was lost to strong winds and a sandy track). Setups have already been found, tires have already been chosen.

Can the 2021 MotoGP season match the weirdness and wildness of 2020? The circumstances are different, but the path that led to Qatar 2021 has laid the groundwork for another fascinating year.

2021 sees two trends colliding to create (we hope) a perfect storm. There is the long-term strategy set out after the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 by Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta, with support and backing from the many bright minds in Dorna and IRTA.

The preseason is over. Preparations have been made, new parts tested, bikes, bodies, and brains readied, though not necessarily in that order. MotoGP is on the verge of starting another brand new season.

There was less to develop, test, and prepare this year, the aftermath of rules imposed during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic introducing freezes on engine development and limiting aerodynamic updates.

The four factories who did not have concessions in 2020 – Ducati, Honda, Suzuki, and Yamaha – will all be forced to use the engines they homologated for their riders last year for the 2021 season.

KTM, who lost concessions thanks to a phenomenally successful season which included three victories, has been allowed to design a new engine for 2021, but must freeze it at the first race in Qatar.

Aprilia, the only remaining factory with full concessions, will be allowed to continue to develop their engine throughout 2021, and will have nine engines to last the season, instead of the seven the other factories have to try to make last the year.

In terms of aerodynamics, things are a little simpler: the riders can either use their 2020 aero package, or they can introduce one upgrade aero package at any time during the season (including at the first race).

And of course, aerodynamics packages are applied per rider, rather than per manufacturer.