After a poor start, which saw him drop from ninth on the grid to thirteenth at the end of the first lap, Jorge Lorenzo was making steady progress through the field at Qatar. His lap times were starting to come down to match, and on some laps even beat, the pace the leaders were running. As the halfway mark approached, and less than four seconds behind the leaders, Lorenzo started to believe he was capable of salvaging a decent result from a difficult start. That all ended on Lap 13. The Spaniard crashed out of the race at Turn 4, when his front brake failed and he had to drop the bike in the gravel. “I just felt that the level of the front brake was getting closer to my fingers and I didn’t have brake,” Lorenzo described the incident afterwards.
Once upon a time in MotoGP, the life of a journalist was easy. At the end of every day, and after every race, there were four or five riders you absolutely had to speak to, plus another couple who would be either entertaining or worth listening to on occasion.
The rest of the field could be safely ignored, unless they happened to get lucky and The Big Names would crash out in front of them.
Then, a few things happened. Dorna cajoled the factories into accepting spec electronics and providing better bikes to the satellite teams.
Michelin replaced Bridgestone as official tire supplier, and supplied user-friendly tires to the riders. And a new generation of talent entered MotoGP through the Moto3 and Moto2 classes.
As a consequence, there are no longer just three or four stories that need to be told at each race, but a dozen or more. Journalists need to speak as many of the twelve factory riders as possible, plus another half or dozen satellite riders.
Factory PR bods add to the complexity by scheduling their riders to speak to the press five minutes apart, despite the fact that each rider debrief will go for at least fifteen minutes or more. Even the lower priority riders have genuinely fascinating tales to tell.
With close racing, there is a lot to cover, and to do so we are rolling out a new show format that covers the big takeaways and bullet points from the race weekend.
As such, the guys talk about the pace of Dovizioso, the Zarco kid, the rise of the Honda, the progress in the Yamaha garage, and much, much more (including a little silly season maneuverings for 2019 as well).
Carrying over from last season, the show ends with David and Neil picking their biggest winners and losers from the weekend’s events.
We think you will enjoy the show. It is packed with behind-the-scenes info, and insights from teams and riders in the paddock.
As always, be sure to follow the Paddock Pass Podcast on Facebook, Twitter and subscribe to the show on iTunes and SoundCloud – we even have an RSS feed for you. If you like the show, we would really appreciate you giving it a review on iTunes. Thanks for listening!
You might call that a good start to the new season. There were four races held on Sunday at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar: three Grand Prix classes and race two of the Asia Talent Cup.
All four would become titanic battles between riders, ending in searing duels to the line. Three of the four would be decided by less than three hundredths of a second. The fourth – Moto2 – would be decided by just over a tenth.
The combined winning margin for MotoGP, Moto2, and Moto3 is just 0.162 seconds. Add in the Asia Talent Cup, and that takes the grand total to 0.175 seconds.
It seems fair to say we were treated to some insanely close races at Qatar. In Moto2 and Moto3, three riders broke away to contest victory among themselves.
In both classes, an incident – a crash in Moto3, a technical problem with the rear brake in Moto2 – saw the trio whittled down to a duo, the race going all the way to the line.
The MotoGP race was even tighter, the closest finishing group ever at Qatar, with first place separated from seventh place by just 4.621 seconds, and from eighth by 7.112. The top three finished within a second, the top two by 0.027 seconds – a numerologically pleasing gap, given the race-winning machine.
This was the closest race in MotoGP that I can remember. The leaders streaked across the line to complete 22 laps on Sunday night, and on 11 of those laps, the gap between first and second was less than a tenth of a second.
On another seven laps, the gap was between one and two tenths. On the remaining four laps, the gap was always under three tenths.
There was nothing to choose between the leaders, the winner impossible to identify even up until the final corner. It looked for all the world as if someone had tried to organize a MotoGP race, and a Moto3 race had broken out.
A freight train of riders chased each other round the track for 22 laps, and at the end, two men fought it out in the last corner, with an entertainingly predictable outcome.
It took ten years and nine days, but the last of the pole records set on qualifying tires has finally been beaten. And not just once, but three times.
On their final laps in the Q2 session of qualifying, three riders streaked across the line and dived under Jorge Lorenzo’s now ancient pole record at Qatar, set in 2008.
History was made, and the final specter of the 800 era was cast out from the all-new, utterly rejuvenated MotoGP class. The slate has been wiped clean.
That Lorenzo’s record stood for so long and that it was broken at all are both remarkable feats. The old qualifying record was set in Lorenzo’s very first MotoGP qualifying session – though in 2008, the system was a little easier for the riders, one hour of qualifying with a generous supply of both race and qualifying tires.
In the midst of the tire wars, the Michelin (and Bridgestone) qualifiers were worth well over a second a lap, and sometimes two.
Lorenzo’s pole lap smashed the previous record by 1.075 seconds. But that pole position, taken on his MotoGP debut, was Jorge Lorenzo serving notice that he was something a little bit special.
Winter is officially over. Though meteorological winter ended on March 1st, and the astronomical winter will end next week on March 20th, the long MotoGP winter came to an end at 12:50 local time in Qatar, when Moto3 rolled out for their session of free practice.
After World Superbikes got everyone warmed up at Phillip Island in February, the advent of the Grand Prix classes means that racing is back again in earnest.
It is also back in weird way, as is to be expected at Qatar. The schedule remains a curiosity, the latest iteration merely shuffling the weirdness around. For MotoGP, the first session in the blistering heat, the second in the relatively cool of the evening.
Track temperatures in FP1 were hitting the mid to high 40s °C, whereas in FP2, they had dropped into the mid 20s. In essence, FP1 is as good as useless for finding a setup. Times dropped by a second between FP1 and FP2, a good indication of the difference in track grip.
The riders had talked about the schedule in the Safety Commission meeting, hastily scheduled for the end of the day after the riders decided against doing it between FP1 and FP2. “In my opinion, it’s a special weekend, and we know that,” Marc Márquez told us.
“Of course FP1, you ride, you feel it’s the same layout, but it’s for nothing. You cannot try the setup for the race. It’s a special weekend, and it will be impossible to find the best schedule. If you want a GP of five days, yes, because then we start on Wednesday, but for me it’s OK.”
It has been an eventful couple of weeks for Yamaha. Apart from the expected hectic period of preseason testing, Yamaha agreed to a new two-year deal with Valentino Rossi. There was also the surprise announcement by Jonas Folger that he wouldn’t be racing in 2018, and working with Hervé Poncharal to find a replacement for the Tech3 team. More significantly, they also had to deal with the surprise announcement that Tech3 will be leaving Yamaha at the end of this season, and swapping to become a satellite for KTM from 2019 onwards. So journalists had plenty of questions for Lin Jarvis, the head of Yamaha Motor Racing, and Qatar was the first opportunity to ask him.
Qatar is always a strange place to kick off the MotoGP season: a windswept circuit in the middle of the desert (though not for long, as the suburbs of Doha are rapidly approaching the track), racing under the floodlights, around a circuit with just a single grandstand and a VIP pavilion.
It is an odd location with a weird atmosphere. The race feels surreal, part of a science fiction spectacular, an impression reinforced as you drive back to Doha afterwards, the huge Blade Runner-esque skyscrapers awash with ever-shifting patterns of blinking lights.
You would think that the season opener couldn’t get much odder, but series organizer Dorna has found a way. In response to complaints of dew forming after 9pm in the evening, rendering the track treacherous.
Valetnino Rossi will race for two more years with the Movistar Yamaha team in MotoGP. At Qatar, Yamaha announced that they had signed a new deal with the 39-year-old Italian, which will see him racing through 2020.
The only surprise about the announcement is that it took so long to announce. Rumors of Rossi’s imminent signing had been doing the rounds of the paddock since the Sepang test, but it took until the eve of the 2018 season to make the new contract public.
What is interesting in the press release is that the language Rossi uses gives absolutely no hint of a possible retirement at the end of 2020. The tone of Rossi’s quote suggests he will keep on racing for as long as he is competitive. So far, he shows no signs of slowing down.