MotoGP actually made it rain in the desert of Qatar.
This last weekend MotoGP held the first round of the 2017 season and man was it perfect. It was everything a racing fan could have dreamed of and more. Between complicated weather conditions and surprise contenders during the race, it was absolutely fascinating. Now we can only hope the season continues to deliver in the same way race one did.
Normally we try and start weekend coverage with qualifying as that’s when the action really starts. But sometimes things don’t go as planned, like when it rains in the desert. And since Losail doesn’t have any track drainage things like qualifying get canceled. Yes, you heard that correctly. So with qualifying canceled the regulating body was forced to use the results of free practice 3 from the night before as the starting grid for the race. It may not seem like a major ordeal, but that may be because you haven’t heard what happened in FP3.
FP3 was absolutely mad. Seriously. First it was delayed due to weather, no surprise. But when it was finally under way it was a challenge for all the riders. That seemed to be the case until the last couple laps of the session. At this point lap times started to pick up, with Maverick Viñales leading the top of the lap boards. However, where it starts to get dicey is when you look at where the typical top 3 are. Valentino Rossi, the GOAT, has struggled immensely ending with a best of 10th position. Jorge Lorenzo, who just switched to Ducati for the 2017 season has struggled even worse than the Italian Rossi, finding himself way down in 12th position on the grid. And while Marc Marquez ended the session in 3rd place, he is adamant about how much improvement the Honda needs to keep competitive.
But the real shocker came in the form of the maniac, Andrea Iannone. Iannone had been struggling with front-end feel all weekend which resulted in him lapping around 17th position. That was until he pulled out a blistering 1:54.84 lap at the end of the session to put himself in P2 on the grid. 17th to P2, That’s the reason they call him the Maniac. Then we have rookie Johann Zarco, who in his first appearance in MotoGP put his Tech3 Yamaha into 4th position overall. What in the world is going on? Granted this is FP3 and teams are trying to dial in new setups, it’s still impressive to see it mixed up as much as this. And now this will be the official grid for the race. This is what controlled chaos looks like.
And then it was race day. Riders are lined up on the grid and ready to race and before they can set off the sky opens up again, delaying the festivities even longer. When the lights finally went green it was now a 20 lap stint with ever-changing conditions that built up an already exciting event. Iannone rocketed from the first row to take the hole shot while rookie Johann Zarco launched himself into second place in front of the rest of the factory bikes. An unbelievable start and we are only one corner in. By turn 3 Zarco had taken the lead from Iannone and was on his way to running away from the pack. At one point Zarco now had a lead of over a second on the rest of the pack, making a statement everyone should be aware of. Unfortunately for the flying Frenchman it was short lived. The changing humidity levels created a greasy track and he lost the front end going into turn two on lap 6 of 20. Andrea Iannone, Danilo Petrucci, Alvaro Bautista, and Cal Crutchlow would also succumb to the slick track, all crashing out of the race.
While Maverick Viñales was the fastest rider throughout all of the pre-season testing on his factory Yamaha he found himself in 4th position for the majority of the race, but came on strong towards the end, resulting in an epic dual between himself and the factory Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso. The two swapped positions more times than Cal Crutchlow crashed over the weekend, which is a lot. In the end the young Spaniard was able to pull out his fastest lap of the race on the final go around, giving him the win while relegating Dovi to a well earned second place. MotoGP superstar Valentino Rossi salvaged a forgettable weekend by working his way up from tenth to finish 3rd on the podium. Reigning world champion Marc Marquez finished in a respectable 4th position, still dealing with some issues with his HRC Honda and a poor tire choice. Former champion Jorge Lorenzo had possibly the worst start to a MotoGP season he has ever had. Running wide at turn one put the Spaniard at the back of the pack, unable to make up much ground he ended in 11th place. Not the debut he was hoping for aboard his new Ducati. Salt in the wound is definitely the fact that his teammate battled for the win almost the entire race.
It’s worth noting that although the new Factory KTM MotoGP team finished at the very back of the pack they were very happy with the data they gathered. They can now formulate a plan to make up the deficit they faced in Qatar. A very positive attitude coming from the KTM crew, an absolute must if they want to keep improving. Speaking of positives, Aprilia in the top ten!? Yup that happened. Aleix Espargaro finished 6th to be exact. An exceptional start to the season and a promising sign that 2017 may be more than a 3-way manufacturer battle.
When the racing was over the spectacle that was Qatar 2017 wasn’t over. During the award ceremony the skies opened and the rain started to come down again. A fitting end to a dramatic weekend of racing. Now MotoGP will head to Argentina for round two of the championship. Will Maverick Viñales continue to dominate? Only time will tell, but we know that the other riders won’t go without a fight. We are in for a great year of racing my friends, that we can be certain of.