The cancellation of the MotoGP test at Sepang – a result of the state of emergency imposed by the Malaysian government in response to rising numbers of cases of COVID-19 in the country – threw a spanner in the works for the MotoGP teams preparing for the start of the 2021 season.
Losing days of testing meant less time for the MotoGP rookies to acclimatize to the new class, and less track time to gather data for the coming season.
To address this issue, Dorna and IRTA announced that there will be an additional test in Qatar at the beginning of March. In addition to the original test scheduled for March 10th – 12th, there will be three more days of testing a five days earlier.
On March 5th, there will be one day of a shakedown test, where the test riders will get to ride the MotoGP machines to ensure they are all working as expected, as well as a chance for the MotoGP rookies – Enea Bastianini, Luca Marini, and Jorge Martin – to get their first taste of a Ducati Desmosedici.
They will be joined by the rest of the MotoGP field on March 6th and 7th, for an official two-day test. The entire paddock will then stay in Qatar for two days, when the originally scheduled three-day test starts on March 10th, until March 12th.
What happens after that is still open to question. GPOne is reporting there is a chance that the season opener, scheduled for March 28th at Qatar, will be moved forward a week to avoid clashing with the first F1 race of the season in Bahrein.
That would also make sense in terms of logistics: it would mean that most people could stay in Qatar, rather than risk flying home and finding themselves unable to return should further measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic be imposed.
That would also set up a chance to replace one of the two races in the Americas, with both Austin and Argentina likely to be dropped from the schedule unless the COVID-19 situation in the US and Argentina changes dramatically.
Having a second race in Qatar on consecutive weekends would bring the calendar back up to 19 races, and the addition of a race at Portimao – the most logical place for a replacement race, given its proximity to Jerez and the experience of the circuit in hosting a race last year.
However, nothing is yet certain, and everything is still subject to change. As happened at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, the situation changes almost on a daily basis.
The advantage for Dorna, IRTA, the teams, and the factories, is that at least they have a season’s worth of experience running MotoGP under a coronavirus protocol. That makes changing plans much easier. But as ever, the coronavirus remains in control.