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.

The races. The Moto3 race looked a lot like a 125cc race with a different soundtrack. The great thing about Moto3 is that with a level playing field, we get a slighly different cast of characters, but the best riders remain at the top. The winner’s name had been pencilled in since the preseason, Maverick Vinales clearly the cream of the crop in the most junior Grand Prix class. Third man Sandro Cortese was another podium regular, but sandwiched in between was Romano Fenati, a rookie to the class and a name few people who had not been following the preseason testing or the European 125cc championship will have heard of. Fenati is the real deal, giving a sterling account of himself and only wilting under the relentless pressure from Vinales at the very end.

Moto3 also taught an interesting lesson: The fastest bikes were the KTMs, with 5 KTMs topping the maximum speed charts, followed by 4 Kalex KTMs. Yet the race-winning FTR Honda of Vinales was some 10 km/h down on the KTMs, and still managed to win. Sandro Cortese – Red Bull KTM rider on a factory KTM – explained that though KTM had done a great job of building the Moto3 bike, it did not have the handling of the FTR Honda. The FTR had better corner entry, and more traction on corner exit, making the KTM’s top speed irrelevant.

In Moto2, we saw a thriller, the kind of race that has motorcycle racing fans all over the planet salivating at the thought. The battle went down to the wire, and only a controversial pass saw the race settled, Marc Marquez passing Thom Luthi and then pulling across and onto Luthi’s line. The move went unpunished, not, as the conspiracy theorists would have you believe, because of the flag on his passport, but because the pass was within the limits of the rules. Marquez was past, or had reason to believe he was, and so pulled across to take the correct line for Turn 1. Luthi had pushed to hold on once Marquez came past, and was not quite completely behind the Spaniard after Marquez had come by. He found Marquez encroaching on his line, and instead of sitting up just enough to slow himself down and then dive up the inside of Marquez, he stayed where he was and got pushed wide. Afterwards, Marquez apologized, though he mitigated his behavior by saying that he himself had just been victim of a whole pile of just those kind of aggressive passes before he made his move on Luthi.

But Marquez’ victory should worry Thom Luthi deeply. Luthi has show much more maturity and aggression so far this season, and is clearly a title favorite. But if Marquez is already beating him after just 5 days on the bike following a very long layoff after surgery to fix the eye he injured in Sepang, then we can start to pencil Marquez’ name in for the championship already. Marquez is Moto2’s alien, and he should move up to MotoGP as quickly as he possibly can.

The racing in MotoGP was greatly improved, but not by the tires going off, as I had at first believed. An attack of arm pump had slowed Casey Stoner up, causing him to change his riding style, rolling through the corners rather than driving through them aggressively, in an attempt to last as long as possible. It worked for a while, but in the end, Stoner had to surrender to the pain, allowing Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa past. Lorenzo worked hard for the victory, and it was well-earned, but perhaps the most heartening sight was that of Dani Pedrosa badgering away at Lorenzo like a terrier, looking as aggressive as he has been since his 250 days.

With Stoner out with arm pump, was this a Pyrrhic victory for Stoner? Not really, as although Stoner might have had the pace to win if he hadn’t had arm pump, his margin of victory would not have been that significant, at a track where Stoner has dominated in the past few years. The Yamaha M1 is competitive on race day as well as testing, and Lorenzo is in the form of his life. With a revitalized Pedrosa joining in the fray, this could be a good year.

Stoner explained afterwards that a combination of lack of attention to preparation, new gloves and Qatar’s layout – lots of right hand turns followed by lefts, meaning that you have to brake, push, flick the bike upwards to get it turned and then brake again, several times a lap – had caused the onset of arm pump. He had been forced to abandon his previous gloves, as they were worn out after 7 months of intensive use. New gloves are always that little bit stiff, and really need breaking in beforehand – Ben Spies has his crew chief Tom Houseworth walk around in his new gloves, to stretch them out a little. Any extra effort on top of racing a MotoGP bike can be enough to start arm pump, so precautions need to be taken to avoid such effort.

Stoner was not too concerned about the arm pump, as he said it was an issue he had successfully addressed back in 2010, at Silverstone. He was typically coy on exactly how he did it, hinting only that it was something to do with nutrition. More training was definitely not the way, however, as adding muscle will actually increase the chances of it occurring, Stoner said.

Behind the front runners – a long way behind the front runners – came what looks like turning into the battle of the season. Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso are teammates at the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team, but both intend to progress beyond their current station. As the first person you have to beat is your teammate, and as Dovizioso and Crutchlow are surprisingly evenly matched, on the evidence of Qatar, this could turn into a humdinger. Herve Poncharal told a small group of journalists afterwards that he had watched the battle in terror, exhilarated to see his riders do so well, but terrified that one would take the other out and both would score nothing.

Down in 10th, there was a colorless, uninspired Valentino Rossi, and the tension of running around a very, very long way off the podium is starting to tell. According to reports in the Italian media – the best being over on the ever-reliable – after the race, Rossi had a go at Ducati, saying that this bike had the same problems and that they were not listening to his requests. He had had the pace for 5th, Rossi claimed, but frankly, that was not what he was in MotoGP for. He wanted podiums and more, and Ducati were not providing him with the tools he needs to do the job.

Meanwhile, five seconds ahead of him, Nicky Hayden is getting on and doing his job. The Ducati has improved enough for Hayden to start to ride it, and the Kentucky Kid has never been called out for a lack of effort. Hayden has what he has, and is trying to get the best out of it, regardless of whether it is ideal or not. Rossi’s crew has been reduced to copying Hayden’s settings, to see if that will help the Italian. The last time that happened was at Yamaha, when Jorge Lorenzo and Ramon Forcada were beating the combination of Rossi and Jerry Burgess. And Rossi and Burgess have so far been unable to replicate what Casey Stoner and Cristian Gabbarini have done, even on the carbon fiber chassis which Ducati – under the advice of Rossi – have since written off as a failed experiment.

The Rossi / Ducati marriage is starting to turn sour. Rossi massively underestimated just how good Casey Stoner was on the bike, as indeed did Ducati, it appears. Ducati have worked and are working overtime to bring new updates to the bike, but whether those changes will help remains to be seen. With Rossi looking and sounding totally unmotivated, even if they brought a great bike for him, you would have to wonder whether he would have the hunger still in him to ride it.

Valentino Rossi is a man of great character, great charm and great wit. He has faced his vale of tears at Ducati with massive dignity, undertaking his PR duties without complaint – for the most part. But increasingly, when speaking to the press, he looks like a man playing a part, playing the part of a witty, charming rake. He appears to have lost heart in this project, and perhaps even in motorcycle racing. And that is very, very sad indeed.

Photo: © 2012 Scott Jones / Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.

  • Tony

    Ever since Rossi broke his leg he has looked timid to me. I think it showed him he is not invincible like he thought. I also think Rossi has had to eat his words when describing Stoner’s performance on the Ducati. When Hayden and Hector Barbera are several positions ahead of the “GOAT” with the same machine, you have to ask yourself is he really giving everything he’s got? I honestly don’t think Ducati put him in 10th place. I don’t think it could have given him the win, yet, but I do think Ducati did put him in at least fighting position further up the grid.

  • Westward

    So, even with 21 bikes on the grid in Moto1, it is still only a three man race, with the other 18 only circulating for meaningless points…

    Moto1 even allowed Edwards onto Parc Firme because he was the leading CRT in 12 position nearly a minute behind the race winner.

    I thought this was MotoGP the pinnacle of motorcycle racing, not the special olympics…

    Moto2 is hands down, far and away, the most entertaining spectacle in moto racing. The Kalex solution in both moto2 and 3 are definitely showing their quality…

  • Westward

    As for Rossi, in his case it is the bike. Maybe Ducati is just not a good fit for him. Remember, Rossi on a still mending leg and a still hurt shoulder was a regular on the rostrum while at Yamaha. Twice he beat out Lorenzo and won Sepang from as far back as 12th or 14th position…

    Given what Lorenzo, Crutchlow, and Dovizioso are doing on the M1, Rossi would be right there or there abouts. I would even go as far as to say, he may have even won…

  • jamesy

    …”Marquez was past, or had reason to believe he was, and so pulled across to take the correct line for Turn 1.”
    That’s bullshit. He did not pull across to take the right line. The right line would be defined as the one he had been taking successfully for the previous 20 laps, would it not? He pulled across Luthi as an aggressive move to force him wide and keep Thomas from coming back at him. That’s OK mid track but the little fuckwit had him at the edge with only a wheel forward. It was dangerous move and had less to do with racing that with the WWF or some other bullshit sport.
    Is that what we want? Fucking WWF racing?? Even 5 yrs ago that would have been penalized… now they smile and look away and secretly applaud the ratings loving the bloodsport aspect. Doohan didnt need that, nor Roberts nor Rainey and they raced hella hard and yes they stole lines but not at tracks edge at 195 mph
    The whole human condition is becoming increasingly aggressive in a lot of sports I guess but now I want to see Marquez go down HARD. And you dont think his passport had anything to do with his excess 5 mph on identical bikes?? What he tucks better??? I’d like to test that fuel he ran
    just sayin it looks a LOT like a DUCK and its quacking like hell.. Kind of a shame, he’s very talented

  • SBPilot

    I’m not surprised if what Rossi is saying is true about Ducati. Stoner expressed the same sentiment, he requested for certain changes of the bike that Ducati never did or it took forever to do. Sure Stoner did well and even won in 07, but that year the Ducati was THE dominant bike. Every year after that was a great struggle. However, Stoner clearly has a greater ability to adapt to a bike and ride the hell out of it. He is truly a masterclass of a rider. Rossi rides smooth as silk, suited for the Yamaha. The Ducati is more of a point and squirt bike which Rossi does not ride like. Look at Hayden and Barbera battle with Bradl/Bautista. The lines were way different where Hayden and Barbera would brake deep in the corner, almost seemingly go wide but pick it up and shoot it out, where as the Honda/Yam riders hug the corner all the way through. Rossi just can’t change his style to ride the Ducati, plus the fact the Ducati is not a podium bike. On the flip side, the Ducati is in it’s first season with a twin spar frame so I think just need to give it some time. Or for crying out loud go back to the steel trellis that won them a title!

  • Patron

    I was surprised at the poor showing Spies had. He seemed very frustrated in the interview after the race and i heard that he posted something on twitter along the lines of “that’s what happens when you race a bike that has been crashed twice”. Does Yamaha not have the resources to provide him with an undamaged motorcycle? What’s up with that!? I’m really hoping he can step up his game this year and fight up front.

  • Bryan

    Old story of the sign of a true champion….when the chips are down and all that. Well the chips are down, he doesn’t have the very very best of everything as he has done in the past teams and bikes. Will he prove his champion? I don’t think he had true pressure when he went to Yamaha. He had pressure of possible failure, the unknown, and attempted something he had not done before. But Yamaha gave him a stonkin bike from the first race, and all he had to do was beat Biaggi. Now he has a tough ride, and going up against legitimate (and younger) world champions. A far tougher combination. He is now at rock bottom, with all around him (including his team), questioning him and his commitment. This is the time for a true champion to show his metal.

  • @jamesy: “now I want to see Marquez go down HARD”

    First you condemn the riders for playing within the rules established by the race director, then you say you want to see Marc taken out? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, man … what is WRONG with you? I agree that the move on Luthi was marginal, but, come on, no rider should ever go down. To wish that on somebody is just pathetic. Wow.

  • Bryan

    Had to go and watch this apparent dodgey pass on Luthi by Marquez after reading all this Hoohaa. Malicious my ass. Seen many a more dangerous pass than this. How was this pass called dodgey? Luthi got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Was a very soft off by him I thought.

  • BBQdog

    >>Rossi massively underestimated just how good Casey Stoner was on the bike

    I think we all did. At least I did ….

  • BBQdog

    @jamesy; the MotoGP organisation is almost totally in spanish hands, what do you expect :-)

  • jamesy

    @francksy boy
    tell me that after you’ve road raced pal and been on the crappy end of overly aggressive punk-ass wannabe. It has no place, that’s why I wanna see him get screwed back hard before he turns into a Simoncelli.
    live by the sword….

  • @jamesy smug ol’ chap: I’ve raced (and won, thanks). I agree that unfair riding has no place in the sport. I also strongly feel that nobody deserves to go down. It’s simple: the rules either promote sportmanship or not. The riders just play by the rules.

    “Live by the sword” is just an excuse for the very WWF racing you complained about. Clue? lol

  • jamesy

    guess all that racing has still got you going in circles. He even offered a mea-culpa to Luthi so he knew he was marginal at best.
    I’m sticking with him falling due to his own aggression, its the only thing that will work with a hard head; end up with a soft ass.
    Was that really sportsmanship he demonstrated?? Clue?? mebbe not so much. He’s too talented for that crap, maybe a concussion will straighten him out.
    live by the sword is innuendo that you could be taken out by your own aggression, look it up, you wont find WWF.

  • Gritboy

    Simply too early in the season to tell. After about the 4th or 5th race we’ll see how the teams, bikes and riders really “get the hang” of the new machines. Ducati has it’s work cut out for it regardless, as the Honda and Yamaha’s looks spot on early in the season.

  • @jamesy: I guess you missed that I wrote that his move was marginal? I’m just of the opinion that it’s better for race direction to enforce sportsmanship when the riders seem unable/unwilling. I cringe any time I see a rider fall and wouldn’t wish it on anybody, whether I like ’em or not.

    Anyway, handlebars at dawn! May the best internet armchair pundit win. *grin*

  • B.T.

    No one should ever “WISH” someone go down hard! That’s like wishing someone Cancer! Are you nuts? Disagree with his racing but to wish a crash? Pathetic! It’s sad to watch Rossi struggle like this. This is not the way a Champion wants to go out or should go out! I think Rossi will have his own team with Yamaha and leave with his legacy somewhat in tact but in the end , a rider named Marc Marquez will be all time winningest rider in GP history! That’s of course if the idiots in Sepang learn how to alert riders of danger on the track!!

  • Lumengrid

    Well…aside from the rossi/ducati discussion above I just want to say I’m happy to see Bradl pull good performance at his MotoGP debut! Strange that article above does not mention him :)
    Oh well…will be looking for some more good stuf coming from number 6!

  • Neil

    C’mon people, you can’t count Rossi out yet, I’m not pleased with the way things have gone for Ducati but I don’t think he is done…..
    Nicky has always been my favorite rider, love his never say die attitude and I admire his tenacity….
    Stoner is an exceptional rider and it appears he can ride anything and win but I also feel that the Honda’s and Yamaha’s will continue to be the bikes to beat each year and yes I do own a Ducati…
    Rossi will soon be riding 4 wheels anyway, but I don’t think he is done yet….Ciao