First, we saw the liveries, then we saw the class of 2021 head out for testing. Now, at the floodlit oasis of Losail International Circuit, it’s time to get suited and booted for another season of stunning competition.
Rarely is anything predictable in this era of MotoGP™, but there is at least one certainty everyone can agree on: we’re most definitely ready to go racing. Are you?
This season, the headlines are overflowing before a lap has even been ticked off in anger. A new reigning champion begins the year on the throne, Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar), and the world waits with bated breath to find out when we will get to see the return of eight-time World Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), although we know it won’t be to race in Qatar.
Rider and team musical chairs leave us with a different grid and new colours for many, as well as new faces as we welcome four rookies. But it’s the same incredible level of competition: thousandths are the new hundredths in MotoGP™.
And so we arrive at Round 1. Doha hosts the first and second Grands Prix of the season and Losail also opened its doors for all the official winter test days this year, so we’re not heading in blind but we are heading in primed.
Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) arrives with the biggest target on his back, flanked by a flotilla of Yamahas as the testing timesheets saw the Aussie and his teammate Francesco Bagnaia bookend a top-five reigned by Ducati and Yamaha. But there’s more to racing than one-lap speed.
Miller will definitely be one to watch as the lights go out, however, as will Bagnaia. Both are full factory this season and the pressure is certainly greater, but so too are the performances we’ve seen so far. Losail has also seen the Borgo Panigale factory enjoy some serious success of late, and the stage is set for the Bologna bullets to start the season where they’ll wish to go on: the front.
That’s not forgetting the likes of Johann Zarco either as the Frenchman moves to Pramac Racing and enjoys ever more experience with the Italian machine, also proving his mettle in testing. The holeshot heroes have some serious top speed and three experienced riders who look ready, on paper, to get straight in the mix.
Ready, set, race
The timesheets in testing were far from a one-trick pony though. Three Yamahas ended the test within less than a tenth and a half of Miller at the top: Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP), Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) and last year’s championship runner up Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT).
READ ALSO: Miller Ends Qatar Test on Top
Viñales starts the year settled in, Morbidelli likewise. Quartararo switches to the factory Yamaha squad but seems to have immediately found his footing. So too has nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi at Petronas Yamaha SRT as the legendary Italian – never one to push for a stunner in testing but still near the top ten – was full of enthusiasm after the five days on the track that prefaced the season. After a 2020 of highs and lows for the Iwata marque, and Ducati to an extent, are the two factories who took testing by the horns the two who arrive into the first Grand Prix ready to do the same in race trim?
Just behind them, sixth in testing saw Aprilia come to the fore. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) put the Noale factory’s nearly all-new bike right up there every time he went out on track, and increasing expectation has so far been backed up by ever-increasing pace. What can the number 41 do once the lights go out? With teammate Lorenzo Savadori coming back from injury and also a rookie, Espargaro is the man in the spotlight for the new bike as racing gets underway in earnest. We’ve seen flashes of brilliance, but the 2021 aim for Aprilia will be to sustain that.
And then there’s Suzuki. Seventh and eighth was where reigning champion Joan Mir and Suzuki Ecstar teammate Alex Rins ended the Qatar Test, and the feedback was positive. Consistently fast and consistently threatening in 2020, nothing in testing said Suzuki won’t be out the blocks to defend both the riders title and the teams’ championship.
The Hamamatsu factory’s Achilles heel – if such a thing exists in a season of such success – was qualifying last season, so that may be the first thing to keep a keen eye on as Saturday arrives. It seems though that nothing big to report may translate into yes, we very much require the Jaws music once the lights go out for racing … with test rider Sylvain Guintoli already working on their 2022 engine during the Qatar Test. If that’s not a mark of feeling everything is under control.
The stage is set, the floodlights are primed and the grid is ready to start another rollercoaster season of incredible racing with the Barwa Grand Prix of Qatar.
Don’t miss the first MotoGP™ race of 2021 starting this Friday, 26 March. Check out the Marhaba calendar for more details.
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