MotoGP Debrief – Qatar
At last, round one of the 18 race 2015 MotoGP season commenced under the floodlit desert circuit of Qatar. It’s been a long winter for MotoGP fans.
The pre race excitement was all Ducati. Those in the know not surprised by what the genius Engineer Gigi has produced not only in the GP15 but his influence in building a stronger Ducati race-team.
New riders, new manufacturers, new engineers, new rules and close practice times all contributed to an electric pre-race atmosphere around the grandstands and pits as the most powerful MotoGP grid ever assembled, 25 riders producing over 6000hp, accelerated off the line.
Unfortunately for Ducati, that man Rossi recovered from poor practice form and a bad start to produce an absolute vintage performance as he moved through to the front-runners from 8th on the grid. More on that later.
Dani Pedrosa looked a bit average compared with the action at the front, not delivering on his 2nd place in qualifying. Sadly we found out why post race when it transpired the diminutive Spaniard has been suffering with arm pump, the problem carrying over from last year. Most racers know this condition too well, however after 2 operations and no solution in sight, tragically this condition could be career ending for the number 26 finishing in a rare 6th place.
Marques literally barged through the pack after running wide on the first corner. In last position on the first lap, he passed 20 riders chasing down the leaders, eventually settling for 5th spot and 11 points when his tires gave up from the supreme effort. Championship focused maturity perhaps?
Lorenzo, the top Yamaha qualifier, looked strong in practice and ran up the front for most of the race until a bizarre helmet issue affected his vision in the later stages of the race, effectively blocking one eye when the padding slipped out. Stronger and 5kg lighter this year, the Spaniard is more motivated than ever, training 8 hours off a day in the off season, and he fared much better than last years first lap crash, the mental affects prolonging and effectively ruining his 2014 season.
A stand out performer was Andrea Lannone with his first rostrum in 3rd place. The Italian showed his talent, mixing it with Dovi and Lorenzo albeit on the stronger Ducati. The last time a Ducati won was Philip Island in 2010 with Stoner, and the red bikes displayed good speed all the way to the end of the race; Dovi’s fastest lap on his final circuit just missing out on the victory by 0.174 of a second.
Watching Rossi and Dovi as the race climaxed was MotoGP nirvana. Racing hard but fair, inches between them with total trust and respect for each other, the pair pulled away from the rest of the field in a two way battle royale. Rossi’s hard front tyre, compared to the medium compound choice of the masses behind him, improved braking stability and durability, and having this grip at the end of the race proved critical to outgunning the GP15 missile to the line for the GOAT’s 83rd victory.
So what can we say about a 36-year-old 9-time champion with 313 Grand Prix starts, 109 wins and 197 podiums? Some pundits say winning is like a drug that money can’t buy; however Rossi’s extraordinary motivation comes from his passion. The man loves his job.
Rossi admitted that the bruising bouts with new boy Marques has contributed to his new level of motivation compared to the boring Stoner - Lorenzo era. We can also thank Marques for the new level of aggression and forceful racing moves throughout the field.
An all Italian MotoGP podium, the first since Motegi in 2006 on which Rossi also stood, won’t last long but more interesting not a single Spaniard appeared on any podium in all three Grand Prix classes, perhaps a sign of things to come.
Ducati’s speed advantage
Ducati’s pace was clear to see, the extra fuel seemingly playing a big factor. Dovi really should have been a bit more discreet with his throttle as the factory Ducati’s will now have their fuel allowance cut from 24 liters to 22 liters under performance penalties that come from the rule concessions.
This is still 2 liters more than the 20 liters used by Yamaha and Honda but should not pose too much of a problem for Gigi Dall’Igna as Ducati have been racing with 22 liters of fuel anyway. Rossi knows this and has been vocal about Ducati’s unfair advantage saying the small fuel penalty for the next race in the USA will not impact on the GP15’s ability to challenge for podiums.
However Qatar is heavy on fuel so expect Yamaha to have less top speed disadvantage at the upcoming tracks. Even if Ducati lose more concessions such as the soft rear tire, the true benefit comes with no engine freeze plus unlimited testing. Add Engineer Gigi plus Audi investment to this equation and Ducati are looking like a serious threat.
Ducati have always had a strong aerodynamic design team, running flat winglets before that were designed to create a low-pressure zone at the radiator exhaust duct. The new winglets on the GP15 are designed to provide down force on the front tire in the corner, like an upside down wing, increasing the vertical load on the tire. The increased aero drag on the straights was clearly not an issue.
Qatar was a milestone in MotoGP history with a whole new level of energy. Dorna have done a great job managing the rules and series to ultimately create close and sustainable racing in all the classes.
The next step for the series will be the 2016 single ECU system to bring us back to sideways tyre smoking action.
Photos: © 2015 Scott Jones / Photo.GP – All Rights Reserved