We were all stunned when Valentino Rossi failed to take his Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP YZR-M1 motorcycle into Q2 at the 2019 MotoGP World Championship opening round in Qatar.Starting 14th on the grid, Rossi had a daunting challenge ahead of him. When you take away the opening lap of the 22-lap affair that put Rossi 2.02 seconds behind the eventual winner Andrea Dovizioso (Mission Winnow Ducati), Rossi was faster than Dovi over the next 21 laps by a stunning 1.42 seconds.
Rossi had his work cut out for him early at Losail International Circuit, as he was only able to pass floundering starter Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) on the opening lap. Rossi also graduated a position when rookie sensation Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) was forced to start from pit row after stalling his motor as the warmup lap commenced, throwing away his P5 qualifying position.On the first flying lap, Rossi picked up a significant 0.613 seconds on Dovi, as Rossi swooped past the Alma Pramac Racing Ducati-mounted teammates Pecco Bagnaia and Jack Miller. The Australian Miller had a seat issue that dropped him from P2 to P11 on lap 2, while Bagnaia may have already been suffering from problems that caused him to blow through turn one and out of the race before the halfway point.So, very early on, Rossi was handed four spots fairly easy, with two riders from the front two rows behind him after two laps. Also, Dovi’s first flying lap was his slowest one of the race, turning in a 1:56.853.Rossi paused a bit on lap 3, as he ran his slowest flying lap of the night, a 1:56.950. Rossi held P10, while Dovi was keeping reigning MotoGP World Champion Marc Márquez (Repsol Honda Team) at bay. Rossi handed 0.455 seconds back to Dovi, on the third lap.Rossi went back on the attack on lap 4, as he went by Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) and Aleix Espargaró (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini). Rossi’s surge pushed him 0.397 seconds closer to Dovizioso. That makes Rossi’s take 0.555 seconds on laps 2-4—one-quarter of his opening-lap deficit, and putting him in P8 in a tightly packed lead group.Settling into P8, Rossi chipped away at Dovi for four consecutive laps, laps 4-7, and another 0.984 seconds was gone from Dovi’s lead over P8 Rossi. That 2.02-second opening lap gap was now down to just 0.878 seconds with more than two-thirds of race distance remaining.However, Rossi ran into some trouble as Morbidelli got his bearings and Morbidelli fought back against the seven-time MotoGP World Champion. Morbidelli repassed Rossi on lap 10 and held off Rossi for another lap.At the same time, Dovi had fallen prey to Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar). Rins led laps 8-10. That forced Dovizioso to up the pace, making it difficult for Rossi to match the leaders.The mid-race battle with Morbidelli cost Rossi time. From lap 8 through lap 13, Rossi only gained time on Dovi once. By the time 13 laps were in the books and Rossi was back up to P8, Rossi gave back 1.446 seconds to Dovi. Over that stretch, Rossi was over a half-second slower than Dovi on three of the laps.Lap 13 provided Rossi’s worst deficit to Dovizioso, as it was Dovi’s fastest lap of the night—a 1:55.384. The result is that all of the closing that Rossi had done in the first seven laps was gone. Rossi was now 2.324 seconds behind Dovi—0.304 seconds farther back than he was after the opening lap.It wasn’t over yet, as Rossi responded in laps 14 and 15. Lap 14 was Rossi’s quickest of the night—a 1:55.393. That lap alone clawed back 0.729 seconds from Dovi. The next lap was nearly as good for Rossi, as he was 0.581 quicker than Dovizioso. Just like that, Rossi picked up 1.310 seconds. The gap between Rossi and Dovi was now almost exactly one second with seven laps to go.After the see-sawing of Rossi and Dovi, things settled down for laps 15-20. The pair’s lap times were never as much as one-tenth of a second apart. During that stretch, Dovi held his position over Márquez, while Rossi moved his way past teammate Maverick Viñales (lap 16), Joan Mir (lap 17) and Dovi’s teammate Danilo Petrucci (lap 20).Petrucci had shod his motorcycle with soft slicks, front and back—most others used mediums. That tire choice cost Petrucci at the end—he dropped from P4 to P7 during the last six laps. Mir had a soft rear on his Team Suzuki Ecstar motorcycle, and he went from P4 on lap 9 to P8 at the end. This made them easy pickings for Rossi late in the race.With three laps remaining, Rossi was in P5 and just a hair less than one second behind the leader. However, Rossi had Márquez, Rins, and Cal Crutchlow (LRC Honda Castrol) between them, making a challenge for the win unlikely. Still, a podium was in reach.With the two battles going on—Dovi vs. Márquez and Rins vs. Crutchlow—Rossi was able to continue to close. Rossi had no challengers behind him and could ride more aggressively. Those final three laps saw Rossi run 0.392 seconds faster than Dovi. In the same stretch, Rossi picked up 0.590 over P4 Rins, and finished just 0.143 behind Rins and 0.280 seconds off the podium time of Crutchlow.The stark reality of Rossi’s ride at Losail International Circuit is that he was faster on laps 2-21 than all four riders who beat him. It was a stunning turnaround after failing to make Q2 the cooler evening before and sitting on row five to start. Yes, Rossi had help from other riders and Dovi’s effort to slow the pace. Still, although this won’t go down as one of Rossi’s greatest rides, Qatar 2019 was a doozy, and not a bad way to start the year.Photos by Luciano Bianchetto
This week, Senior Editor Nic de Sena rides the all new Ducati Monster. Big changes have been made by Ducati–has the company ruined the considerable heritage of the iconic Monster–or are the changes worth it? In the second part of the show, we chat with Nick Ienatsch, Founder and Head Instructor at the Yamaha Champions Riding School. He says: “We aim to change your riding life by introducing you to Champions Habits: The techniques, approaches, skills, and the mindsets of the best riders in the world. These Champions Habits are the foundation of safety and consistency to whatever speed you ride, in any venue on any bike. Street riders, this is just as much for you as track riders. The best way to make safe riders is to make good riders.“ We hope you enjoy this episode!