After the first day of action for the full grid at the Official MotoGP Qatar Test, it’s safe to say 2021 has started pretty well for Aleix Espargaro and Aprilia Racing Team Gresini as they finish top of the timesheets. The Spaniard set a 1:54.687 to beat Stefan Bradl (Honda Test Team) by 0.256s, with reigning World Champion Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) completing the top three as the new MotoGP™ season officially got underway.
The wind played a key role on Saturday after also proving bothersome at the Shakedown Test, but all 29 riders on the ground in Doha enjoyed some valuable track time despite another blustery day at Losail International Circuit.
Aleix Espargaro on his near brand-new RS-GP he ended the day just a couple of tenths shy of Aprilia’s best time at 2020’s Qatar Test and put in 57 laps. Updates have been made to the engine, chassis and exhaust and there’s a new carbon swingarm at the Noale factory, as well as two new aero designs that the riders are putting through their paces. Aprilia also have a holeshot device on the front and rear – along with Honda and Ducati. Lorenzo Savadori, on the other side of the garage, completed 42 laps, ending with 1:56.511 as a best time.
Meanwhile, it was a huge day over at the Repsol Honda Team as Pol Espargaro made his eagerly awaited debut for the Japanese giants. A hefty 68 laps were rattled off by the Spaniard on his HRC debut as he, Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol) and Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) all headed out on 2020 Hondas, with each rider’s two bikes having different exhausts.
Takaaki Nakagami – P11
“First of all, I’m really happy to be back on the MotoGP bike of course. It was tricky conditions today with strong winds, but after six or seven o’clock the wind got better and the conditions were ok. There is some good rubber down, so the grip level was good. Of course, for me it is a completely new bike and we have only had our first day on it. We still have a lot of work to do – I need to understand the new machine and especially the different engine character. We will keep working hard, but I am happy with today’s result. The pace was good, and I am really looking forward to day two.”
Pol Espargaro – P17
“I feel good, there was a lot of work and there will be a lot of work to feel the limits of the bike, but it was great to finally ride the Honda. Today was about getting comfortable on the bike and beginning to understand everything, I am happy with the laps we did. We kept it very simple today, but we made good progress. Already I am excited to get back out there tomorrow and keep working but for now it’s time to go back to the hotel and start to look at the data to see where we can go better tomorrow. Front end feeling is what I need to understand the most at the moment, I can see this compared to Stefan but this will come with more laps. This is the same anytime you get on a new bike.”
Alex Marquez’ day didn’t get off to the best of starts after destroying his RC213V in a final corner crash, but the double World Champion was soon back out to spin some more laps. Marquez was the second quickest Honda on Day 1, behind the aforementioned Bradl, and finished P10 just ahead of Nakagami.
“In the end it was quite a good first day, after we started out not so well with a crash on the first real exit out on track. It was not the way we wanted to start, but then we began to get the feeling back and we worked in a really good way. We even tried a few new things on this first day, so, it was positive. We have five days here, four after today, but we need to be patient and not wear ourselves out physically or mentally. We need to make only the laps that we need, test all the new things, and try to be clear with the work that we do. We need to get good information, and the team will start to work well together, so let’s see how tomorrow goes.”
Bradl was again donning the famous Repsol livery on track and for a lot of opening day, the German was at the summit of the timesheets. He has three chassis to try in Qatar: the ‘standard’ 2020 chassis, the chassis he ended the 2020 campaign on which has carbon bonded to the main beam, as well as an entirely new chassis that we saw the number 6 testing in Jerez a few weeks ago. Bradl was very pleased with his and the team’s progress so far, looking for more of the same over the remaining four days.
Stefan Bradl – P2
“I am happy overall because we have worked very well, been very productive and I feel comfortable on the bike. We kept working through our test plan and today our attention shifted more to parts and working on the chassis side. We’ve been finding good pace again and everything has worked very well so far, the goal is to continue in this direction. I’m happy to be riding and feeling like this on the bike. It’s the first test day for the other riders so I probably had some advantage from riding yesterday, we need to stay calm as everything is going to get closer as lap times improve. Happy for now, but still lots of work to do.”
Over at Team Suzuki Ecstar, who officially unveiled their 2021 livery ahead of the test, Joan Mir and Alex Rins were the last riders to head out on track. Similar to most teams, we didn’t see many changes to the bike, but we also didn’t see much change to their impressive pace. Third for Mir is a solid start to his title defence, with Rins also inside the top 10 in P8. The duo recorded a combined 91 laps, with test rider Sylvain Guintoli adding another 50 and Takuya Tsuda another 26. Tsuda was the first rider out on track for the Hamamatsu factory.
Joan Mir – P3
“My feeling jumping back on the bike was good, and I’m happy because it’s important to be competitive as early as possible. I was able to work on the bike and the settings because I already felt pretty comfortable. We tried some new things and we completed our goal for today. Getting on the bike and riding at full speed is the best way to get back into it, the bike is an animal and it’s hard when you haven’t ridden for a few months because your body is not used to it, but it feels great! I’m looking forward to tomorrow and continuing our work.”
Alex Rins – P8
“Today went well! I’m so happy to be back riding my bike! We did some work on the electronics side and general setup. I was able to complete a lot of laps and gain a lot of information. Despite the wind, I was feeling better and better with every lap. I did a best time of 1’55.198, which feels OK for the first day. So I go into tomorrow ready for more and pleased with the progress so far!”
Sylvain Guintoli – P25
“Conditions were not perfect because it was quite windy out there, but we were able to complete our planned program anyway. We worked on the chassis and swingarm and also some other areas. It was really interesting and I’m pleased with the work we’ve done. We already have a good base, so we’re just looking to improve by small margins here and there. I hope the conditions are better tomorrow, I think it will be a little easier because more bikes have been on track now.”
Further down pitlane, both Jack Miller and Francesco Bagnaia suited up and headed out in Ducati Lenovo Team red for the first time to begin a new era for both riders and team. Miller was fourth fastest at the end of the day, completing 54 laps in total and glowing that it felt “unreal” to be back. Both riders were on 2020 Ducatis as they got back into the swing of things but did try the new aero, with Miller saying he couldn’t find any faults. Bagnaia finished P13 but was only 0.8s off the top despite a crash at Turn 3.
Jack Miller – P4
“It was a positive first day of testing. I haven’t ridden the Desmosedici in a long time, but I felt comfortable right away. Today’s goals were to find back the feeling with the bike and to adapt to my new team. The strong wind partially disturbed our activity, making it difficult to try a time attack, but I tested a new fairing and am happy with it. Now we just have to continue working in this direction also in the coming days”.
Francesco Bagnaia – P13
“It was a tough first day, mainly dedicated to finding the feeling with the bike after the long winter break. Today’s conditions weren’t perfect due to the strong wind, but despite a small crash at Turn 2 towards the end of the day, we managed to get some interesting runs in. I did a few laps with the new fairing, and the feeling was positive. Starting tomorrow, we’ll work more concretely on the bike’s set-up”.
Ducati test rider Michele Pirro was also circulating with new aero on the front of his GP21; a third extra aero vane was seen fitted lower down on the fairing. In addition, Ducati have a ‘salad box’ that looks slightly different to last year’s. Simon Crafar also reported that the Bologna factory are experimenting with a holeshot device at the front of the bike, along with Aprilia and Honda, so look out for that over the coming days…
Johann Zarco, meanwhile, was in Pramac Racing colours for the first time and from the outside, it looked like the Frenchman enjoyed his first day in his new office. The number 5 was atop the standings at stages in the afternoon, eventually ending Saturday sixth overall with less than half a second splitting him from Aleix Espargaro at the top.
Johann Zarco – P6
“A very positive day, I’m really happy, as the first day I could not hope better. With the bike I had a great feeling from the beginning and with the team we were able to work well from the beginning. We still have to work on some things but I feel that we are going in the right direction.”
Zarco’s team-mate Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing) was back on track for his second day as a MotoGP rider, albeit with a sore leg after his Turn 3 crash during the Shakedown Test. Despite this though, Martin was the fastest rookie in P18 after setting a 1:56.147 – just a couple of tenths slower than Pol Espargaro ahead of him.
Jorge Martín – P18
“I’m satisfied with today, I’ve improved by more than two seconds and I feel that I have more and more feeling with the bike. Today we focused on the electronics and we tried different settings. Tomorrow we hope to do even better.”
The other two Moto2 graduate rookies also got plenty more valuable laps under their belts. Enea Bastianini (Avintia Esponsorama Racing) was less than a tenth away from Martin in P20 while Luca Marini (Sky VR46 Avintia) finished P24 on the times. It’s a huge learning curve for all three riders in Qatar and there’s no doubt even more improvements will be coming over the next few days.
Over at Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira were both sitting near the summit in the early stages of the test. By the end of the day, Oliveira was the fastest RC16 rider on track, the Portuguese rider setting a 1:55.084 to finish fifth overall on his first day as a factory rider. Binder fell at Turn 2 but was perfectly ok to head out, ending the day in P12 after 52 laps.
New KTM rider on the block Danilo Petrucci struck a bright figure out on track alongside teammate Iker Lecuona as the Tech3 KTM Factory Racing pairing lapped on their new orange RC16s too. Like the factory riders, there weren’t too many differences with the bikes they were riding compared to the 2020 model, and Lecuona and Petrucci finished P22 and P23 respectively.
Iker Lecuona – P22
“I’m happy, because I was finally jumping back on the bike today after a long time. It felt a bit strange in the beginning, because I was training a lot during the winter, but the MotoGP machine is obviously completely different to what I am practicing with at home. Physically it’s very demanding, but I’m satisfied. I was working a lot on myself. Today we didn’t change a lot on the base setting, apart from the final runs, where we were working on the bike a little bit. Overall, I’m glad about today. We still have four days to test here, so we keep calm and continue working.”
Danilo Petrucci – P23
“I’m really happy to have complete this first day. It was important. Although of course the main thing is to get used to the bike and find a good base setup. We tried a lot of things, some worked, some didn’t. For KTM and for the team it’s the first time having a rider with my size, so we have to find a decent balance. In general, I like the RC16 a lot! The engine is very smooth and I enjoyed riding. We know it’s a long process, but I think we are already on the right path. It’s just day one. Fortunately, we have another four days and some ideas, so I’m already looking forward to tomorrow.”
Test rider Dani Pedrosa, however, was trying out some innovations for KTM, riding an RC16 kitted out with a new chassis, a whole new tail section and a new exhaust inside that tail unit. The famous number 26 was 26th on the timesheets and completed 48 laps, obviously not focusing on outright speed.
Over in the Yamaha ranks, there was a headline stealer as Valentino Rossi headed out on a familiar bike but in unfamiliar colours.
The new Petronas Yamaha SRT rider began his new adventure with the Malaysian team and was seen trying two different tank covers, likely for ergonomics, as he did more than 50 laps.
It was team-mate Franco Morbidelli who was the quickest YZR-M1 rider on Day 1, however, as the Italian finished P7 and 0.487s adrift. Rossi was P14.
Franco Morbidelli – P7
“It’s been a nice day and it’s good to be back at work. I felt good, especially late in the night when I really started to feel like myself back on the bike, I had again the feelings that I know from this bike and I think we are already on a good level. Of course there are things to improve, but we are not too far from the top guys so I’m happy with that. I’m also happy that this bike is the same but different, it feels the same as last year but we are faster on the straight. Tomorrow we have some electronic upgrades to test, so let’s try to improve again. It has been a great first day at the office!”
Valentino Rossi – P14
“It was a little strange to begin with because the winter break was longer than normal, so at the start the MotoGP bike is always really impressive and is so fast after three months of not riding it! It was the start of a new adventure today and I was very excited for my first day with Petronas Yamaha SRT. It was a good day, my pace was quite good all day and I enjoyed it a lot; at the end of the day my result was not fantastic but we worked well and the atmosphere in the team is really good. Today we basically worked on the standard bike and we haven’t tried a lot of new things, only a very few laps with the new chassis, that we want to keep testing in the following days. We still have in front of us a long testing plan, to help us improve.”
It was a big day for Fabio Quartararo too, who officially began life as a factory MotoGP rider at Losail International Circuit.
The Frenchman was the busiest rider out there on Saturday after completing 69 laps on his new Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP machine, and was just over a second off the pace in P15 – one place behind Rossi. Maverick Viñales was the fastest Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP man on Day 1 though, notching up 51 laps and taking P9.
Fabio Quartararo – P15
“It was a positive day. Honestly, I needed a bit of time to get used to riding a MotoGP bike after the long winter break. Still, I was happy to be riding again. I can’t wait for tomorrow, because it will keep getting better and better. I’m looking forward to getting in more laps, getting faster, and also doing a time attack tomorrow – that’s the main plan.”
Maverick Vinales – P9
“It’s good to be back on track and riding the bike. Today I focused on getting into the rhythm, we didn’t try anything specific. So far, the feeling is positive, but it’s still very early in the testing process. We will keep working. In the upcoming days we will be riding many more laps to try to be faster.”
Massimo Meregalli – Monster Yamaha Team Director
“After months of no riding, the team is thrilled to be back in action. Especially, Maverick and Fabio are both happy to be on the bike again. However, we immediately had to put our heads down and get to work. Today was our first testing opportunity of the 2021 season, and Yamaha has come prepared: we have a lot of new items to try in this Qatar Test. We also have three test riders on track, besides Maverick and Fabio, to help us collect as much data as possible as we prepare for the start of the 2021 MotoGP season in three weeks‘ time.”
There doesn’t seem to be too much different to what we saw last season on the Yamahas so far, but there was plenty of data gathering going on. Test riders Cal Crutchlow, Katsuyuki Nakasuga and Kohta Nozane were once more sharing bikes, so it’s very hard to tell who set the fastest times on each of the bikes labelled ‘Yamaha Test 1’, ‘Yamaha Test 2’ and ‘Yamaha Test 3’ on the timing screens, but the Iwata marque have a wealth of information at their fingertips. Bikes will be back on track again tomorrow.
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