After waiting for what feels like four years since Portimao, MotoGP is back this weekend for another nail-biting season! If it’s anything like last season, we’re in for quite a ride.
The season, as usual, kicks off on the sandy and technical circuit of Losail, for the Barwa Grand Prix of Qatar.
The prospect of the first race of the year is always exciting, and this year is no exception, as MotoGP hasn’t raced here since 2019 – due to the COVID-19 outbreak last year.
The last time that MotoGP raced in Qatar, we were treated to a thrilling race to the line. The two leaders were split by 0.023secs at the finish, and the top 5 by less than a second. Suzuki ride Alex Rins, and Petronas SRT Yamaha rider Valentino Rossi (that will take some getting used to) are the only two riders in that top 5 that will be taking part this weekend. 2019 winner Andrea Dovizioso is on a, hopefully, one year hiatus . 2019’s second place man Marc Marquez is still not quite there with his recovery in his ever-troublesome arm, and third place man Cal Crutchlow has moved into his test role with Yamaha. So, with most of the 2019 stand-out performers elsewhere, the doors have well and truly been blown wide open.
The only thing we have to go on this year is testing. How do they stack up?
Monster Energy Yamaha rider Maverick Viñales was the fastest of the Yamahas, with the SRT of Franky Morbidelli not too far behind, in overall combined timings. Losail has notoriously been a non-Yamaha circuit, because of their consistent lack of straight-line speed, but the test shows that they could have found something. You can also never count out the new Factory rider, Fabio Quartararo, to stick in a quick lap and get himself up the grid. We also cannot discount the old boy Valentino Rossi to get a result on race day.
The one to watch for the championship this year is defendant Joan Mir. The 2020 World Champion stuck to the middle of the timesheet after hitting third on Day 1, but the reigning World Champion’s strength is in his consistency. Teammate Alex Rins, who had a very solid 4th in 2019’s race, followed closely during testing, so he could also be off to a very good start to 2021.
Aussie Jack Miller broke the clock in the test with a cracking 1:53.183 on day three of the test, and looks to be in with a shot of another long-awaited victory. Francesco Bagnaia also looked strong on board of the Desmosedici, looking as if he is returning to his former Moto2 self. Pramac boys, Johann Zarco and rookie Jorge Martin have a top 10 finish in them, with promising displays in the test. The Esponsorama team look to have one rider stronger than the other, with Luca Marini struggling to get on with his VR46-liveried Ducati, while Enea Bastianinni is looking strong enough for points.
Repsol Honda’s eggs are all in Pol Espargaro’s basket for the race this weekend with the absence of Marc Marquez. Pol was a little bit up-and-down in the test, being as high as 5th but as low as 17th, it could be that he’s simply yet to find a set-up, so we’ll have to wait until race day to see what happens. Alex Marquez seemed to find his feet at the end of last year, and hopefully he can carry that on in LCR colours. Takaaki Nakagami also has the ability to put himself in the mix for a top 5, especially after such a strong and consistent 2020. Stefan Bradl will step in for Marc Marquez, as he did last year.
All KTM riders had difficulty getting a good, competitive lap time in the test, so points would be a good result here. Danilo Petrucci, on the Tech 3 KTM, gave rave reviews after his test but failed to prove his happiness on the track. Factory riders Miguel Oliveira and Brad Binder could be good outside bets for the championship this year, but Qatar doesn’t look to be their friend at the moment. Iker Lecuona is still rather fresh in the class, so the aim should be points this weekend for him; Lecuona still has a few tricks to learn regarding MotoGP, and his growth is one to watch, with 2020 earning him points in every race finished by the Valencian.
Aprilia Racing Team Gresini could be the surprise package at Round 1, after a cracking first test of their new bike. They are only manufacturer left with concessions, and seem to have put it to good effect this time. Aleix Esparagaro looks set for a decent result, after flying through the test timesheets – we could even be as bold to predict a podium! The team is still currently surrounded by speculation regarding their second rider. Is it Dovi? Is it Smith? Savadori? All we know is, we want to see them in the mix!
There’s no calling it this weekend. All we know is that it will be exciting, and it is a relief to be back. Who’s caught your eye for when the lights go out?
Free Practice 1 for the MotoGP class will begin at 15:40 Local Time (GMT +3).