2016 Qatar MotoGP Commentary
There were a lot of nerves coming into the Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar—the first round of 2016 MotoGP held at Losail International Circuit. The big unknowns this year are the new Michelin spec tires, and the spec electronics. Both weighed heavily on the factory teams, though the final results weren’t as dramatic as many feared.
When the red lights went off, it was racing as usual. Let’s see who came out of the 2016 MotoGP season opener celebrating on the Upside, and who is suffering on the Downside.
2016 Qatar MotoGP Commentary – Upside
1. Movistar Yamaha MotoGP’s Jorge Lorenzo
The 2015 MotoGP Champion defends his crown the first time out, and that’s the best possible way for him to start the season. After battling with Ducati Team’s Andrea Iannone early on, Lorenzo eventually made a permanent pass and was never seen again, beating Iannone’s teammate Andrea Dovizioso by a comfortable two-second margin.
It’s a good start for the Champion, and one he needed at a circuit where he was expected to win. “Very happy with the performance all of the weekend,” an understandably upbeat Lorenzo said. “Very happy with the victory. I am happy with the feeling that I can be even stronger at the end of the race.”
2. Ducati Team’s Andrea Dovizioso
His difficulties in the second half of last year appear to be behind Dovizioso, who had become the junior member of Ducati Team. This year, Iannone goes down, and Dovizioso comes out on top of a three-way battle to the finish with Marc Márquez and Valentino Rossi. “To arrive in the first race with this much speed, this feeling, with all the changes…it means we did a great job,” Dovizioso said.
3. Repsol Honda Team’s Marc Márquez
After all the struggles in pre-season testing and qualifying, Márquez has to be happy with a podium finish. If nothing else, he kept the bike on two wheels and held off a charging Valentino Rossi, who you know would have loved nothing more than to knock his rival off the podium.
The big question is where does Honda go from here in developing Márquez’ bike. “I am really happy,” Márquez said with a smile, “because two weeks ago it was a disaster, and we improved a lot.”
4. Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Pol Espargaró
It was a good night for Pol, as he was the top non-factory rider at Qatar. After a less than satisfactory start that left him in 11th, after qualifying ninth, Pol passed Hector Barbera and teammate Bradley Smith to make his way to seventh. Despite his success, Pol was not satisfied, saying, “Today’s race was not amazing,”
5. Team Suzuki Ecstar Maverick Viñales
With a spot on the front row and so much success in testing, Viñales was likely hoping for at least a top-five finish. Well, he missed it by one spot, but finishing in back of Lorenzo, Dovizioso, Márquez, Rossi, and Dani Pedrosa is nothing to be disappointed about in your first ride of your sophomore season.
Viñales was also on the front row at Cataluña last year and he also finished 6th in that race. At last year’s opening round in Qatar, Viñales was 14th, so this is a huge leap forward. “I’m happy because we recorded a lot of information that is important,” Viñales said.
2016 Qatar MotoGP Commentary – Downside
1. Movistar Yamaha MotoGP’s Valentino Rossi
Not making the podium and having your teammate—the guy who took the Championship from you the previous year—win is not what Rossi was looking for at Qatar. Rossi, who just extended his Yamaha MotoGP contract through 2018, was last in the skirmish to the checkers with Dovizioso and Márquez, two riders Lorenzo had no problems with.
On the upside, Rossi was only one-tenth of a second off the podium, and nearly 12 seconds ahead of fifth place Pedrosa. That shows Rossi is still part of the elite, even when he’s off the podium. “At the end, it was a great race,” Rossi allowed. “I was there, but essentially I was never in the real fight. I was always a little bit behind. We need a bit more.”
2. Repsol Honda Team’s Dani Pedrosa
With such a strong finish last year, Pedrosa had to hope to bring that momentum into the 2016 MotoGP season. Instead, Pedrosa finished a distant fifth, less than a second-and-a-half ahead of Viñales. Pedrosa simply said he is “looking forward to improve.”
3. LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow
After qualifying 10th, Crutchlow had worked his way up to seventh place and was looking strong. Then his Honda RC213V had technical problems and he lost the front end. So, it’s zero points for Crutchlow to start the year. That’s definitely not an Upside.
“I’m extremely disappointed, but that’s an understatement to be honest,” Crutchlow admitted. “We had some electronic problems during the weekend, and again in the race. The bike didn’t have a clue where we were on the circuit. It seemed to be reading the wrong sectors, so in the last sector it thought I was in the first sector and so on—this was why I crashed. I’m disappointed for my team because we all worked hard all weekend and I felt we could have got in amongst the front five that got away, but I just couldn’t accelerate onto the straight. I don’t know why it was, but we will investigate later and hope to be back fast in Argentina.”
4. Ducati Team’s Andrea Iannone
Coming from the second row and leading the first five laps, Iannone looked like he might just pull a rabbit out of his hat and take his first-ever win. Unfortunately, he lost the front end hitting the paint on the apex of a corner, and it was all for naught. “Today, I had a good feeling and I was able to be quick right from the start,” Iannone said. “In the early laps I wasn’t even pushing to the limit when I touched the white line in the long right-hander. The bike suddenly went away from me and, unfortunately, I was unable to do anything to avoid the crash. It was a pity because I think we could have fought for an important result in this race.
“During the weekend we were always fast and in among the leading positions, but unfortunately this error of mine took me out of contention. I am however happy with the potential of my Desmosedici GP and I am sure that in Argentina we will again be able to demonstrate how competitive we are.” The Upside is that he knows he can lead, but leaving Qatar without a point is a Downside.
5. Team Suzuki Ecstar’s Aleix Espargaró
As successful as Viñales has been on the Suzuki GSX-RR, Aleix has not yet put it together. Aleix qualified 15th, and worked his way up to 11th, though three of the position improvements were due to crashes in front of him. Aleix finished last year in 11th place in the standings, and that’s where he is after one round. The unmistakable Downside is that Aleix finished over 17 seconds behind his teammate in Qatar.
“This has been a very hard weekend and the race result reflects this,” Aleix said. “This afternoon in the warm-up I felt very uncomfortable, so, with my team and the Suzuki engineers, we decided to make a huge change in the bike, and I knew it was a gamble, but for some reason it gave me more confidence. It has been an extreme trial to make me more confident, for sure we will now analyze the data we collected here and test again in Argentina. But, the good thing is that after the race we found some interesting hints on how to exploit a direction, and this will help us a lot.”