Reigning World Champion Francesco Bagnaia has left his competitors with a resounding message: catch me if you can! The Ducati Lenovo Team’s star performance at the two-day Qatar Test, ending with a remarkable 1:50.952 lap time, marks a historic moment as the first sub-1:51 lap ever recorded on two wheels at Lusail. The Italian’s achievement sets the stage for an electrifying start to the season in the desert on March 10th.

The #1 is accompanied by teammate Enea Bastianini at the top, while Aleix Espargaro and his Aprilia once again maintain pace with the 2024 Desmosedicis to round out the top three.

Ducati dominate in the desert

Indeed, it has proven an exceptional Test for the Bologna bullets, with six of their seven full time riders in Qatar finishing inside the top 10. That includes Marc Marquez, who has started to give a glimpse of what he can do with the Ducati on one lap, claiming fourth on the timesheets, though he did suffer his first crash as a Gresini rider with just over 20 minutes left in the Test.  

Prima Pramac’s Jorge Martin claimed P7, while it proved a very positive Test at the VR46 garage. Marco Bezzecchi didn’t enjoy the best of times in Sepang, but on Day 2 here in Qatar, he was the first rider to go under Luca Marini’s Official Lap Record, while Fabio Di Giannantonio’s incredible testing form continued with both riders sitting inside the top 10.

Aprilia raise the stakes

The Noale factory may just prove to be the biggest thorn in the side of Ducati machinery in 2024 if testing has been anything to go by. Aleix Espargaro, who hit the deck at Turn 5, was consistently at the business end of the timesheets, while factory teammate Maverick ViĂąales claimed P6, and displayed a consistent high 1:52/ low 1:53 pace on his longer runs on Tuesday.

The emergence of Raul Fernandez (Trackhouse Racing) in Qatar has proven a real highlight, and the Spaniard ends the Test in P5. Teammate Miguel Oliveira cut a dejected figure by the close of Monday’s action, but his fortunes seemed to have improved on one lap pace, getting into the 1:51s and finishing P12.

Factory KTMs beat the lap record

It also looks like a satisfactory couple of days for KTM in Qatar, with both Brad Binder and Jack Miller (both Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) going under the lap record, while the former finished inside the top 10 times of the Test. It wasn’t all smooth sailing with Binder forced to stop on his longer run with technical issues while Miller crashed, though he came out of it relatively unscathed. 

It seems that they have also decided on their air intake, with their RC16s equipped with the older one on Tuesday. All in all, it’s been a strong testing programme from the Austrian brand, but one feels they may just have been holding something back ahead of the start of the season proper.

Over at Red Bull GASGAS Tech3, rookie wonder Pedro Acosta claimed P15 in just his third MotoGP™ Test, while he put in a convincing longer run where he lapped in the 1:52s. The 19-year-old has shown he certainly has the speed to mix it with the big boys in MotoGP™, and we now wait with bated breath to see what he can do on racing debut at Round 1.

Yamaha make a step forward, but is it enough?

The progress of the M1 has been closely watched during the recent testing sessions in Qatar and Sepang, and it appears that the Iwata factory has taken a step forward by bringing an improved package for Fabio Quartararo and Alex Rins. Quartararo, the 2021 World Champion, finished in P14 at Lusail and managed to break into the 1:51s, while Rins secured P16.

However, despite the improvements, it’s evident that the Yamaha camp isn’t entirely satisfied with its current setup. Both Quartararo and Team Director Maio Meregalli express concerns about the lack of sufficient progress during the 2024 pre-season. They emphasise issues with rear grip, although efforts have been made to address this, such as testing a new longer exhaust to enhance power delivery, with hopes that it will optimize performance with the new soft tyre during time attacks.

LCR take bragging rights over under-the-weather HRC

HRC faced a challenging conclusion to the pre-season as both Luca Marini and Joan Mir struggled with illness in Qatar, yet they persevered despite the setbacks. Mir’s notable improvement, shaving off 1.1 seconds from his qualifying lap in 2023, is a silver lining, though it only secured him P19, just ahead of Marini.

LCR Honda can leave with a sense of accomplishment over their factory counterparts, with Johann Zarco and Takaaki Nakagami outperforming the HRC duo, albeit being clustered together from P17 onwards.

From a technical perspective, there is plenty of optimism coming from their camp, particularly surrounding the new engine and the new double-stacked aero which has helped the rear tyre. The Achilles heel remains rear grip though, with too much spinning coming out of corners and then down the straight, and that will be among the focus of their attentions ahead of Round 1 in a few weeks.

That’s a wrap from the 2024 Qatar Test. A Bagnaia blockbuster leads the way as Ducati delight in the desert. Aprilia and KTM aren’t far away though as the Japanese brands continue on their road to recovery. The next time we see bikes on track will be at Round 1 at the Qatar Airways Grand Prix of Qatar from March 8th. It’s going to be unmissable, so make sure you join us then!

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