The riders are expecting all their rivals to get quicker in Doha as the top six from last Sunday previewed an unpredictable Round 2
And just like that, we’re back for Round 2 of the 2021 MotoGP™ World Championship season. Remaining at the Losail International Circuit, the top six in the standings looked ahead to the Tissot Grand Prix of Doha as last Sunday’s race winner Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP), Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing), Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team), World Champion Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar), Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) and Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) sat down to explain how everything could change this weekend.
In 2020, we saw five circuits host back-to-back Grands Prix. Only the Circuito de Jerez-Angel Nieto witnessed the same winner twice in a row, giving us an early indication that Yamaha and Viñales can’t go into this weekend complacent – and they won’t. Title race leader Viñales was quick to suggest that no weekend is ever the same, and he expects all of his rivals to gain some speed. Therefore, he and Yamaha need to find something extra to stay ahead.
“No! It’s never perfect, very difficult to be perfect at all the tracks,” began the Spaniard, dismissing the thought that his opening race of 2021 was perfect. “We have to improve and do something different his weekend. Not every weekend is the same, we saw last year that when there was two weekends in a row, everything changed a lot. So we have to be ready for any situation. Anyway, we know we have a good potential and we will try to fix it if we cannot go at the maximum.
“I think all the riders can make a step, we will also try to make a step. It is very important to improve day by day and for sure all the riders siting here, and in the top 10, will be faster. We will try to be a little bit faster, and we will see. What we can understand is the tyre demands are very high, we need to manage really well and for sure we will work on that during the weekend.”
Viñales is right. In 2020 we learned that a lot can be very different despite racing at the same circuit one week after the next, but at the same time, riders and teams who were quick at the first weekend were also able to maintain – and improve – heading into the second.
One rider who did exactly that at Misano was Qatar’s third place finisher Bagnaia. A maiden MotoGP™ podium came the Italian’s way at the San Marino GP, before he looked set to win the Emilia Romagna GP. Both he and Zarco will be hoping to manage the rear tyres better so they can put up a fight in the closing stages, but the duo isn’t worried about potentially not winning at a track that is a favoured Ducati stomping ground.
“I think it’s as Maverick says, the construction of the tyre is always hard to manage. My race, staying second, me and Pecco and then try to follow Maverick I think helped me a lot to be competitive until the end and even have…. Mir at the end overtook me, almost at the end of the last lap and this gave me the possibility to overtake him again,” commented Zarco.
“For Pecco, I think he doesn’t want to lead the race again to save the tyres. This is the key point, the one who leads the race maybe will have more problems in the second half but at the same time we need to be fast so let’s see how to manage this Sunday. Our target is to have more possibility to be fast at the end of the race like Maverick did, and fight with him or another rider, to be able to fight for victory, not just a podium chance.
“If we don’t get any victories in Qatar, we don’t need to be worried because we are so competitive,” continued the Frenchman, responding to whether Ducati should be worried about not winning either race in Qatar. “If we can be in the top three all the race and finish on the podium it is a good sign for the future. We don’t need to be worried in that case but the target is to win and we know we have the chance to do it and we have to manage it, to some solution to have this chance during the race to not struggle too much with the rear tyre.”
Bagnaia agrees with his Bologna bullet compatriot. “I think the same. Yamaha and Suzuki have been very competitive like us. In the first part of the race we were very competitive, opening up a gap, and we were losing time in some acceleration that cost us the race but for me we don’t have to be worried. We know this track is good for us, but it’s also good for other bikes.
“We have the possibility to win for sure but we have the possibility at other circuits, like we saw last year. Sometime I was struggling and Johann and Jack were fast, sometimes I was fast and the other riders were struggling. We know the package is very competitive and the possibility to win or be in the top three is very possible. The great objective to this year is to be competitive and constant in every situation and at every circuit.”
Before that though, Pecco touched upon his race and how the overall pace was eight seconds quicker than it was in 2019. Bagnaia also notes that the pace increase from the San Marino GP to the Emilia Romagna GP was half a second, backing up Viñales’ point.
“I think if I make the first corner first again I will try to do the same. In these days I was asking if it was better to manage the tyres with a slower pace, but if I think going slowly for sure the Yamaha riders, Suzukis riders were overtaking me and make the pace. Looking at the result two years ago we were faster by 8 seconds. So the pace was strong and very demanding for the rear tyre, also the wind was pushing you wide and the only way to turn the bike was with the rear,” said Bagnaia.
“Looking at the data, we know where to work. Following the Suzuki and Yamaha, we have understood a good thing for this weekend. The forecast looks the same for Sunday, with a lot of wind. I think we will arrive more prepared. Never say never for the result, like Maverick said in the second race of the two it was always different. In Misano the pace was half a second faster, so, we don’t know what the pace will be but I think we can fight again for the victory.”
Two riders who were able to perform well in consecutive weekends, at the same track, in 2020 were Mir and Rins. Most notably at the Red Bull Ring and MotorLand Aragon. Both missed out on a podium last weekend – Mir by a matter of metres – but the duo also showed, once again, mesmorising Sunday pace. Mir and Rins did admit that starting in the front group, or being in the front group from Lap 1, is essential if they are to win in Doha.
“It was a difficult weekend because I struggled a lot to find the correct feeling with the front, I was having a lot of problems and this was making everything really difficult. Hopefully in warm up we found something interesting and I got the feeling again a bit better, and I was able to make a good race,” started the World Champion.
“I expect to change a little bit the qualifying or the first laps of the race. We were really strong in the last part but also, we recovered, we closed a lot the gaps and also used more the tyre than normally what you have to. It will be important to start with the first group and then manage the race with them and to see in the last part of the race where we are so this is the main goal for the weekend.
“Last year, we showed really good potential in the second races. I remember in Austria and Aragon, in the second race we found something more. It is positive to have two races for us and I’m looking forward to it and it’s not a disadvantage at all.”
Rins then explained his thoughts on last weekend: “I think we did a good race but, in the end sixth was not enough for us. We need to improve small things that I did during the race. The target is quite clear, we have good pace and we have the machine to go on the front, so let’s improve the start because my start from last week was a disaster.
“Let’s improve the start and try to fight for the top positions from the beginning, I mean, let’s keep the tyres and also let’s see which strategy Ducati will make, because now Pecco already lead one race and he knows the way to do it now.”
Fifth place Quartararo also admitted that he’s understood some things from last Sunday’s outing, with the Frenchman looking to be a smoother operator in Doha. “Yeah honestly it was a tough race because a soon as I overtook Jack, I had good pace but I felt the rear tyre drop immediately. I slowed down the pace but automatically my rear tyre was spinning a lot, I think that it’s also great because last year in that situation I would have dropped many positions,” replied El Diablo.
“I found another way to make a great lap time, with braking. Braking so hard but it was tough. Exit of Turn 6 was one of the worst points but it’s good because I can see the data of the winner last week. We saw some points where we were really aggressive for nothing, so I think I’ll be a bit smoother during the weekend and I think it will help a lot.”
Qatar vs Doha: the same circuit, but a completely different weekend. The riders will all – hopefully – find improvements, some more than others. It’s going to be another fascinating MotoGP™ encounter across Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the desert, with the first premier class track action getting underway with FP1 at 15:40 local time (GMT+3). – www.motogp.com