The 2017 MotoGP season gets underway tomorrow, with FP1 for all 3 classes taking place on a Thursday to allow for the particular circumstances required for the Qatari round. If you are unaware, and as you can see in the glorious photo above, the opening weekend is run entirely beneath the floodlights.
Since 2004 MotoGP has raced at the Losail International Circuit, however it was only in 2008 that the switch to a night time setting came into being. Given that the 5.4 kilometre track is situated within the middle of a mostly featureless desert, it is probably easy to understand why such a change took place.
Whatever the reason may be, the slight change in the schedule is due to something known as the ‘Dew Point’ and it is comparable to riding over black ice or an oil/diesel spillage; especially when you consider the slick tyres.
From what I can recall, this particular time tends to be at 11PM and as such the track action generally wraps up well before then; but I’m pretty sure the final Moto2 has been caught out by it on a number of occasions due to delays/stoppages.
Enough about the intricacies! If you’d like more information about this particular round, or want to take a look at the schedule yourself, as I have failed to mention one particular thing, then you can find the information here: MotoGP Official.
I‘m not even sure where to begin with laying out my feelings for the season ahead, there are a lot of nuances and surprising performances throughout testing that has left me questioning. However, perhaps the strongest and most obvious indication for a title challenge is that of Maverick Viñales.
Out of the three official tests, he was the quickest overall and despite that not really meaning all that much; it’s still impressive. It is certainly fair to question whether a rider is really all that quick if he just tops one session, maybe he made the most of the conditions or had the right tyre? Maybe he was on a qualifying run whilst the others were focusing on race pace?
Good things to speculate over, but across three completely different circuits and conditions; Maverick managed to pull out a time quicker than anyone else on a machine which he isn’t fully familiar with. It’s fair to say and mention also at this point that the two rookies within Tech 3 for this season, Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger, have also shown a surprising amount of speed. Perhaps hinting further towards the train of thought that the Yamaha is ultimately the friendliest and most adaptable bike to ride.
Focusing on the Yamaha team as a whole, it looks as though they are certainly in a strong position to retain the manufacturer’s title for this season. Despite losing Lorenzo to the Ducati factory outfit, Viñales looks more than capable of filling the space and Rossi (despite some rather worrying articles) is always a man for the Sunday special. Additionally, if both Zarco and Folger improve from their already promising start then I can’t really see past them.
However, the beasts from Bologna might have something to say about that this season. Although it would be unfair to expect Jorge to fully wrestle with and conquer the Desmosedici ’17 within this season, let alone Qatar, this particular track is well suited to the bike. Andrea Dovizioso, a household name almost, coming close to claiming the win in 2015 and finishing 2nd to Lorenzo (then of Yamaha) last season.
I say this mostly due to the pace of Alvaro Bautista, a man who was somewhat unceremoniously dumped by Aprillia and now finds himself aboard Gresini’s ’16 Ducati for the season ahead. He has seemingly gelled with his new charge and again, like Viñales has consistently been towards the top of the testing time sheets. The only issue that does arise when you consider an older machine, is that the development cycle has likely ended and whilst those aboard the new machines receive updates and get progressively quicker; riders such as Redding, Abraham, Baz and Barbera will likely find the gap to the factory teams increasing.
Credit where credit is due, Dorna is perhaps the best organiser of any racing series currently at keeping a relatively level playing field with regards to Satellite machinery. MotoGP is still a place where you can witness something special, think of Miller at Assen last season or both Baz and Barbera finishing 4th and 5th respectively in Brno. So, there is a chance!
I think that is a good place to conclude the preview, although there are notable exceptions which I hope to focus on and provide some insight on for tomorrow. But at that point it may just become an FP1/2/Moto3/Moto2 mishmash.
Again, I thank you for taking an interest in my blog and for reading!