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MotoGP Burnt Rubber: Qatar Roundup

Motor Oil's new post-race roundup begins with a look back at the weekend that was at Losail.

Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images

Welcome to Burnt Rubber, a new post-race roundup blog where I look back at the weekend's news and action with a bit more detail than the race recaps. The real world means I won't get to see every race live this year, so this feature will allow me to fill in the gaps where I may have missed them on race day.


Championship rankings after round one

Pos. Rider Bike Nation Points
1 Jorge LORENZO Yamaha SPA 25
2 Andrea DOVIZIOSO Ducati ITA 20
3 Marc MARQUEZ Honda SPA 16
4 Valentino ROSSI Yamaha ITA 13
5 Dani PEDROSA Honda SPA 11
6 Maverick VIÑALES Suzuki SPA 10
7 Pol ESPARGARO Yamaha SPA 9
8 Bradley SMITH Yamaha GBR 8
9 Hector BARBERA Ducati SPA 7
10 Scott REDDING Ducati GBR 6

Race highlights and interviews courtesy of BT Sport

Post-race thoughts

On paper, it looks like the more things change, the more they stay the same. A Yamaha wins the race, a Honda is on the podium, a Ducati is in there to spoil the broth, and a Suzuki doesn't have enough to get past a factory bike. It felt so much more different than that though.

Jorge Lorenzo had to work really hard for his win. The pure speed of the Ducatis of Andrea Dovizioso and, at least before he fell off, Andrea Iannone was scary. Lorenzo had made a great start to the first lap, but the Ducatis almost instantly flew past him on the home straight. The race would have been completely different if Iannone hadn't clipped the white line and lost the bike.

As it was, it almost seemed comfortable after that point for Lorenzo. The extra corner speed he carried over Dovizioso helped him take the lead, and then he looked like he'd be away. He'd gain two tenths in the twisty section of the track, but would then lose a tenth or two on the straight back. It was only when Dovizioso made an error with a couple of laps to go that Lorenzo really got away, but then he also never really looked in trouble once he got ahead.

Credit to Dovizioso's heart, though. He had a bit of a wobble and lost second to Marc Marquez with two laps remaining. Normally, that would have been it for Dovi, but he quickly regained his rhythm and used his extra speed over the Honda to reclaim the place, despite being under huge pressure from Valentino Rossi.
For his part, Rossi had a very quiet race. He was always there, without ever really being involved. The one time he got really close to the podium, when Dovizioso slid down to third, he couldn't make the most of his extra corner speed.

As for the rest, there isn't really a great deal to talk about. Dani Pedrosa always had the beating of Maverick Viñales, despite the phenomenal speed the Suzuki had been carrying all weekend. Cal Crutchlow was exceeding the limitations of his satellite LCR Honda before he fell off it. Scott Redding's ridiculously fast weekend couldn't convert into anything higher than tenth. Aleix Espargaro couldn't match his team mate's performance despite the improved Suzuki.

I don't imagine the year will follow this pattern, not one bit. The speed of the Ducatis will mean that Iannone and Dovizioso will be involved in the title battle this year, and if the Suzukis can manage to be more consistent they'll likely have a say too. As it stands though, as per, Jorge Lorenzo is the man to beat.

Weekend news

We don't normally get contract news until the European rounds begin, but this year we've started silly season early.

Yamaha announced on Saturday that Valentino Rossi has signed a two-year extension to his current deal, locking him down until the end of the 2018 season. This means Rossi will be a MotoGP Yamaha rider until he is 40. It's very rare you see a rider race this late into his life, but then Valentino Rossi is a rare specimen indeed.

They have also offered Jorge Lorenzo a two-year extension, one that he is yet to sign. The rumour is that he is holding out for an offer from Ducati, but with the pace of their two riders that may be a long wait. Valentino's years with Ducati should provide a warning to Lorenzo that the grass isn't always greener on the redder side, but they have found form again. That'll be one of the bigger stories to watch this year.

Further to this, Bradley Smith announced on Friday that it looked extremely unlikely that Tech 3 would renew his deal. Smith says that the team is considered a feeder team for fast, young riders, and that he no longer fit in that category, despite only being 26. Never fear, as before racing got underway on Sunday, it was announced that Smith would be the first factory rider for KTM, who join the championship in 2017. It's a huge deal for Smith, finally getting a factory ride for an exciting new project. Here's hoping they give him a competitive package to work with.

Finally, spare a thought for Danilo Petrucci. He recovered from a broken hand in time to get involved in practice, but then broke his hand again while riding. He'll miss the next two rounds, a big blow for a man who was quick last year and has a very quick bike underneath him.


Championship standings after round one

Pos. Rider Bike Nation Points
1 Thomas LUTHI Kalex SWI 25
2 Luis SALOM Kalex SPA 20
3 Simone CORSI Speed Up ITA 16
4 Hafizh SYAHRIN Kalex MAL 13
5 Dominique AEGERTER Kalex SWI 11
6 Danny KENT Kalex GBR 10
7 Franco MORBIDELLI Kalex ITA 9
8 Alex RINS Kalex SPA 8
9 Sam LOWES Kalex GBR 7
10 Luca MARINI Kalex ITA 6

Race highlights courtesy of BT Sport

Post-race thoughts

Well, what a hot mess that start was. Was there a flicker of the lights? Were a few people too eager? Did they all deserve penalties?

I'm a firm believer that if you move, it's a jump start, advantage or not. That means the penalties were right. The thing is, the official ruling is down to interpretation on whether the rider got an advantage or not. So while there were several jump starts, most of them then stopped again. By their own interpretation, they didn't get any advantage, but still got penalties? Sigh.

The silliest one was the case of Franco Morbidelli. He jump started, didn't stop AT ALL, was up to second by the first corner, but didn't receive his penalty until the penultimate lap. His was the most obvious jump start of them all, and they didn't pick up on it until the end? Another sigh.

The race itself was actually quite fun. Jonas Folger was away and clear after three laps, and should have won the race comfortably, except he seemingly decided he'd had enough and chucked it off the track.

That left a good battle out front between Morbidelli and Tom Luthi, which ultimately proved pointless with the 20 second penalty dished out to the Italian. It was a good fight though, and thankfully Luthi won out, making the race ending a little less controversial. There was a similar battle between Sandro Cortese and Simone Corsi for third, with a late penalty for Cortese making their battle pointless.

Huge props to Luis Salom for somehow weaving his way through the field and taking a canny second from the race. The Speed Up chassis is far inferior to the Kalex, yet, as Sam Lowes proved last year, you can get results from it.

Speaking of Lowes, he and Alex Rins deserve a huge amount of praise for their rides. Part of the early batch of penalties, they found themselves in the 20s in terms of position, but still made their way back up for huge points finishes, Rins in eighth and Lowes in ninth. Lowes even managed to score the fastest lap of the race. He's quick this year, he's definitely going to be a strong contender.

Johann Zarco performed similar magic, finishing 12th after his drive through put him well down the pack, but he didn't have the pace he showed last year all weekend. If he's to defend his title, he's going to have to do it the hard way.

Tenth place for Luca Marini shows that he's more than just Valentino Rossi's half-brother. The trick for him now is to prove he can do it when the field isn't obliterated by jump-start penalties.


Championship standings after round one

Pos. Rider Bike Nation Points
1 Niccolò ANTONELLI Honda ITA 25
3 Francesco BAGNAIA Mahindra ITA 16
4 Romano FENATI KTM ITA 13
5 Enea BASTIANINI Honda ITA 11
6 Nicolo BULEGA KTM ITA 10
7 Jorge NAVARRO Honda SPA 9
8 Livio LOI Honda BEL 8
9 Philipp OETTL KTM GER 7
10 Jakub KORNFEIL Honda CZE 6

Race highlights courtesy of BT Sport

Post-race thoughts

The best race of the night was, as per usual, in the baby class, where eight riders could have won the race. It was typically close right up to the death, with literally a tyre's width between Niccolo Antonelli and Brad Binder. Both were involved at the top end of the championship last year, involved in several race-winning moments, and they're going to be involved in the title shuffle come November.

Romano Fenati will feel disappointed in himself after letting slip what was a guaranteed podium. The pole-sitter was second before running wide at the start of the penultimate lap, and never got his rhythm back enough to get back on the rostrum.

There was a very impressive showing from his rookie team mate though. Nicolo Bulega knows how to mix it, and sixth is a very good showing for a first race in the class. He's going to be one to follow as he gets used to the bike and the championship.

Enea Bastianini will be disappointed too. His bike just didn't have enough to keep him truly involved at the front, but the pure pace of the man meant he kept with the rest. He'll be hoping for better.

Massive shoutout to Francesco Bagnaia. The Mahindra is not a good bike and should not be on the podium, yet here we are. Great ride from the Italian, and it'll be interesting to see if he can keep it up.

Not a good start to the year for Leopard Racing though. The move to KTM doesn't seem to be working thus far, although it is early days. They'll be hoping for better finishes than the 12th and 13th Joan Mir and Fabio Quartararo could manage.

Questions of the week

How much difference do these big wings make in MotoGP?
Ducati set a speed record in warm up. Jorge Lorenzo had the beating of Valentino Rossi. All three of these bikes have big wings on the side, for aerodynamic purposes. Are they that much of a factor, or are they just damn quick bikes?

Does the jump-start penalty system need looking at?
Yes, yes it does.

Who is truly the quickest rider in Moto2?
That's a fun thing we're going to find out together.

Is Moto3 going to be the best class to watch this year?
Of course.

Next time

Round two comes to you from the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit in Argentina, over the weekend of April 3rd. Make sure you join us for full weekend coverage.