Episode 196 of the Paddock Pass Podcast is out, and this show is the first of our MotoGP race coverage for the 2021 season.
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.
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.
The 2021 MotoGP season will kick off without six-time MotoGP champion Marc Marquez.
After review by the medical team monitoring his recovery from the broken humerus he suffered at the opening MotoGP round of 2020, the decision has been made to postpone a comeback until after the two Qatar rounds.
There is light at the end of the tunnel for Marc Marquez, and the fears are receding that it might be an oncoming train.
Today, the Repsol Honda team announced that the results of Marquez’ medical assessment performed this week were positive, and the consolidation of bone in his fractured humerus was proceeding well.
Episode 135 of the Paddock Pass Podcast is out, and this one covers the season-opener for the grand prix season, which oddly didn’t include the MotoGP riders. We are of course talking about the Qatar GP.
It has been a decade, but it is here at last. The last time a rider from the United States of America took pole position in a Grand Prix was in 2010, at Indianapolis, where Ben Spies set the fastest time in qualifying. The last time an American rider was fastest in the intermediate class was Kenny Noyes at Le Mans in 2010. 2010 was a good year for Americans in racing.
Are we likely to see a revival of Americans in Grand Prix racing? Unlikely, given that there is only one rider from the US current in the entire series. But that doesn’t preclude seeing a lot of success for the US this year.
Joe Roberts has found something this year. The American Racing team (owned, ironically, by someone who is not American) have taken a big step forward with the Kalex, and the bike suits Joe Roberts’ riding style much better than the KTM did.
There is nothing like the sight of racing motorcycles entering a track for timed laps to bring a circuit alive.
If yesterday, the atmosphere was best described as eerie, the baritone roar of a pack of Moto3 bikes was enough to snap the MotoGP paddock out of its malaise.
We went from wandering around looking lost to watching the timing screens, and jumping out of the way of bikes as they entered the pits.
Walking up and down pit lane, and with a chance to focus on Moto2 and Moto3 exclusively, a few things catch your attention.
The cancellation of the Qatar MotoGP race and the Thai round of MotoGP in Buriram throws MotoGP’s regular schedule into a bit of disarray. The deadlines under which the MotoGP manufacturers were working have suddenly been opened up again.
Factories without concessions – Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha, and Ducati – were due to homologate their engines this week, ahead of the first race, and all six manufacturers were due to submit their aerodynamics packages for homologation, although aerodynamics packages can vary per rider.
Similarly, teams were due to submit their gearbox ratios ahead of the first race, with a maximum of 24 different gearbox ratios and 4 different final drive ratios allowed during the season.
So now that Qatar and Thailand have been canceled or postponed, what happens next?
The COVID-19 outbreak, or coronovirus as it is more commonly known, has finally had an impact on MotoGP.
Today, the FIM and Dorna announced that the MotoGP race at Qatar has been canceled, while the Moto2 and Moto3 races are due to go ahead.
The cancellation is due to restrictions imposed by Qatar on travelers coming from Italy and Japan. With so many members of the paddock – riders, engineers, mechanics, journalists, and other team staff – from those two countries, it would have been almost impossible for MotoGP to race there.