The VROOM Blog, #DohaGP – Fantastic Fabio rules in the desert
It hardly seems to have been any time since Maverick Viñales was Top Gun in Qatar, and this weekend did see Monster Energy Yamaha colours on the top step of the podium for a second race in a row but this time those colours were being worn by Maverick’s new team mate – Fabio Quartararo.
As the paddock rounded out what for some has been a very long time in Qatar having been there for pre-season tests before the two races, we were treated to an absolute spectacle of a MotoGP race.
Heading into the weekend, we wondered whether Viñales could make it two wins in a row, or if the Ducati power would help Miller or Bagnaia to take the win at a circuit where Ducati traditionally do quite well. I bet there weren’t all that many of us who predicted that Jorge Martin would pull off the performance he did, or that we would have the absolute pleasure of watching two Frenchmen belt out La Marseillaise on the podium on a Sunday evening.
Before any action got underway this week, the LCR team were celebrating their 25th anniversary. The team debuted in the Malaysian GP in Shah Alam back in 1996 in the 125cc class. They then progressed into the 250cc class in 2002 before making the step into the premier class in 2006 with Casey Stoner. LCR have fielded some talented riders in the premier class – following on from Casey Stoner were Carlos Checa, Randy de Puniet, Toni Elias, Stefan Bradl, Jack Miller and current riders Takaaki Nakagami and Alex Marquez. The rider who has undoubtedly had the most success with the LCR team though is Cal Crutchlow – he handed the team their first premier class win at Brno in 2016. Cal went on to win twice more for the team, and remains their only race winner to date – I’m fairly sure that Taka and Alex would love to change that though!
Following on from his comments about where he feels he is on the Yamaha priority list, this weekend Franky Morbidelli was asked if the issues from last weekend had been resolved and where he felt things were now. Franky said that with regards to the issues suffered last weekend there is still no clear answer so the team have changed ‘all things that they had doubts’ about to see if that helps.
In relation to the priorities at Yamaha, Franky responded that he really appreciates Yamaha’s support. He also said that the facts show that he is not the top of the priority list, but that doesn’t mean Yamaha doesn’t care about him. He explained that Yamaha have other riders to care about (Viñales, Quartararo and Rossi) as they are Factory riders while he is “just a satellite rider.” Personally, I’m still not over the fact that the guy who finished 2nd in the world last year is one of only 3 people (and the only Yamaha rider) on older machinery this year.
Lin Jarvis also weighed in on the issues Franky had last weekend, confirming what Franky had said. Jarvis said that although they knew the problem was with the start device they didn’t know what had actually caused the problem, so the materials will be sent back to Japan for analysis. Anyway, I’ve got everything crossed that things pick up soon and that Franky will be back racing at the front.
He didn’t have the best starts to the weekend though – he was ‘meatball’ flagged not once, but twice during FP1 as smoke poured from the rear of his Yamaha. Rumour has it (there was no confirmation from the team) that it was simply a case of a mechanic overfilling the oil on both bikes…
FP1 was topped by Aleix Espargaro, while Jack Miller took the honours in FP2 – a session that once again proved to be crucial for progression to Q2 as FP3 was basically a write off as a mini sand storm blew sand all over the track making conditions tricky. In fact, the session was such a write off that Miller, Zarco, Marini and Martin didn’t even venture out on track.
With one minute remaining on the clock in Q1, Joan Mir was top with Luca Marini sitting in 2nd spot but with red sectors lighting up the timing screen nothing was certain. In the end, it was Joan Mir and Miguel Oliveira who progressed through to Q2 as Marini was bumped down to 3rd in Q1 and 13th on the grid. I’d put money on no one expecting Luca to out qualify his brother this quickly – Valentino Rossi suffered the worst qualifying of his 25 year GP career this weekend, lining up 21st on the grid.
Q2 ended with a rookie – Jorge Martin – on pole position, with his Pramac Ducati team mate Johann Zarco in 2nd! Martin becomes the first rookie since Marc Marquez in Austin in 2013 to qualify on pole for his second MotoGP race, as well as becoming the 7th different rider to take pole position in the last 7 races. Martin and Zarco secured the first Ducati 1-2 in qualifying since Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso at the Aragon GP in 2018. Joining the Ducati duo on the front row would be Maverick Viñales who would no doubt be looking to double up with another win.
Rookie Martin was playing down his chances of a podium in parc ferme, saying “tomorrow is another day to learn, for sure not my day to win.”
If I needed some calming down following the Moto3 race last weekend, this weekend I may have needed some kind of sedation to bring me back down for the MotoGP race after watching John McPhee being wiped out AGAIN. This time it was last season’s frequent flyer Jeremy Alcoba who was involved and John saw red – there were fisticuffs in the gravel and both riders have been given delayed pit lane starts for the next race and a 1000 Euro fine.
I know I am probably quite biased on this one – I am a big fan of John McPhee – but I think the penalty was harsh, particularly for John. I’d have thought that previous form might have been taken into account, but I don’t work in the steward’s office. I’m not saying that I condone throwing punches, but I do understand how this could have happened in the heat of the moment.
Anyway, John has since issued an apology for his side of the incident in the gravel – something that I thought was very professional of him. Losing his rag like that is something that I’ve never seen him do, but a bike to the head will cloud your judgement somewhat I’m sure! I’m just hoping now that he can ‘pull an Acosta’ and win from pit lane like 16 year old rookie Pedro Acosta did this weekend after being ‘punished’ with a pit lane start following misbehaviour in FP.
Sam Lowes certainly cheered things up with a second Moto2 win on the bounce, and in turn became the first British rider to win the first two races of the season in the intermediate class since Mike Hailwood in 1966! I have a feeling Sam could well be breaking more of these records as the season goes on – and it’s been a long time coming.
So, it was finally time for the second MotoGP race under the lights at Losail and we were in for a cracker!
The lights went out and unsurprisingly it was a Ducati that pinched the holeshot again – this week though it was pole man Jorge Martin who took advantage ahead of his team mate Zarco, and Miguel Oliveira who had shot down the inside to grab 3rd into the first corner from his 12th place start!
Aleix Espargaro quickly bumped Miguel back to 4th before Rins also made his way through on the Portuguese rider. On lap 3 Aleix made a move on Zarco for 2nd and did briefly get through only for Zarco to take 2nd right back, while Rins took his chance and passed Aleix too.
A lap later Rins made his way past Zarco for second, but it didn’t last long and as they completed lap 4, Zarco and his Ducati powered alongside Rins on the straight and then nipped through to 2nd at the first corner. Rins and Zarco had a little back and forth before Rins made 2nd place his own and set his sights on Jorge Martin who was still leading the race. Further back Fabio Quartararo was swarming all over the rear of Pecco Bagnaia for 8th, with the pair both making their way past Jack Miller.
By lap 11, Jorge Martin was leading by 0.5 seconds over the back and forth of Rins and Zarco while further back Joan Mir was beginning to make moves as Pecco ran Aleix Espargaro wide and Mir and Miller pounced on the opportunity seeing Aleix drop 3 positions in the blink of an eye.
At this point I did wonder if I was still watching a Moto3 race – there was a lead group of 9 riders as Martin lead Zarco, Rins, Pecco, Jack, Mir, Aleix, Fabio and Maverick across the line to start another lap! Rins had a massive moment at turn 9 – he lost the front and somehow saved it, as further back Fabio moved through on Aleix Espargaro.
On lap 13, Joan Mir ran Jack Miller a little wide to pass him for 5th position and on the next lap the pair collided causing an investigation in race direction – the decision was no action required although the World Champion felt strongly that Jack should have been penalised saying that he felt the manoeuvre was “over the limit”, while Jack said that he felt Joan was to blame but that he would prefer not to talk about it and that he could not understand Joan’s frustration.
Back on track, Alex Marquez crashed out for the second race in a row and Iker Lecuona ended his race in the gravel on the same lap. Lap 15 was a busy one for Fabio – he moved through on Rins for 4th only to be passed back a few corners later, this happened a couple of times but Fabio came out on top to hold 4th as further back his team mate Viñales was making moves on Aleix.
By lap 18 Fabio was up to 2nd place having passed Johann Zarco and at turn 4 he passed Martin for the lead. Martin did pass Fabio back on the straight but once Fabio made his way back through he was off, just as Maverick had been last week. On the final lap Zarco made his way through on his rookie team mate, but Martin was able to hold onto 3rd place and take his first MotoGP podium in only his second race!
Fabio Quartararo won the race ahead of Zarco and Martin, with Rins, Viñales, Bagnaia, Mir, Binder, Miller and Aleix Espargaro the top 10 finishers.
Fabio Quartararo and Johann Zarco gifted France their first ever 1-2 in the premier class as Fabio reached the podium for the first time since his win at Catalunya last year and Johann became the first Frenchman to reach 50 podiums across all GP classes.
I was delighted for all 3 podium finishers, but the highlight for me was Jorge Martin in 3rd. He rode so well and lead for a big part of the race but to finish 3rd as a rookie so quickly is great. He said that he thought he had ridden a really mature race and that if it hadn’t been Zarco that had passed him on the last lap he’d have had a go back, but he knows that Zarco has a different role in the team (to win the championship).
Talking of the championship – it is now being led by none other than Johann Zarco. I can feel that race winning backflip coming – it’s surely only a matter of time!
Parc ferme was full of people dedicating races to others – Jorge Martin dedicated his podium to Fausto Gresini with whom he won the Moto3 World Championship, while Fabio dedicated his to his team who have been in Qatar for the best part of a month now – and people being happy for each other which I love. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good rivalry, but sometimes there’s nothing better than seeing riders get off their bikes and congratulate each other!
Zarco made a point of saying that he was so happy for both of the men on the podium with him – his countryman and his team mate. My favourite part of the whole weekend was watching Fabio and Zarco singing La Marseillaise together on the podium – it was so joyous and Fabio said later “singing the French anthem with Zarco today was the best moment I ever had.”
So, we leave Qatar behind and move on to Portugal where many will be looking to improve on their performances so far. I do feel though that whatever has happened in Qatar can be taken with a pinch of salt – Qatar is often not indicative of how the rest of the season will pan out. I’m quite sure that the Hondas and KTMs who were particularly disappointed with their performances in Qatar will be much happier upon their return to Europe, particularly Miguel Oliveira who won the last race held on European soil, at Portimão funnily enough. I bet he is looking for a repeat performance, but there will be many others hot on his heels…