Leading the way on Friday at the Barwa Grand Prix of Qatar is Ducati Lenovo Team’s Jack Miller as the Australian picked up where he left off in testing. Miller’s 1:53.387 was just 0.007s away from the all-time lap record, and team-mate Francesco Bagnaia made it a Borgo Panigale factory 1-2. An infinitesimal 0.035s split the two red machines, with Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) completing the top three after ending the day 0.188 off Miller.
After a scorching FP1 was completed earlier in the day, the Losail floodlights were switched on for FP2 and Miller, Bagnaia, Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) and Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) all almost immediately set laptimes quicker than Franco Morbidelli’s (Petronas Yamaha SRT) FP1 pace. That was before the Red Flag came out due to track conditions, with some debris scattered across the track on the start/finish straight. However, after a quick clean up operation, the MotoGP riders were back out with one thing on their mind: securing a place in the top 10 and therefore a provisional place in Q2.
Aleix Espargaro was the first rider to venture into the 1:53s under the evening lights and briefly went an incredible seven tenths clear, before Rins then cut the deficit to just under half a second. It then fell a little quieter at the top but with just under 15 minutes to go on the opening day, Quartararo slotted into within a tenth of Aleix Espargaro to make it four manufacturers in the top four: Aprilia, Yamaha, Ducati, and Suzuki. Soft front and rear rubber was the choice for pretty much every rider as the first shootout of the year began.
On his next lap, Quartararo made good on his earlier threat and did demote Aleix Espargaro to P2, with Quartararo’s fellow Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP rider Maverick Viñales taking over in P3. Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) and Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT) were next to climb the ladder into P5 and P6, with rookies Enea Bastianini (Esponsorama Racing) and then Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing) enjoying some time in the top 10 too.
With nine minutes left, Bagnaia then took charge and did so by an almighty 0.275s. That lap was within half a tenth of Marc Marquez’s (Repsol Honda Team) all-time lap record, a 1:53.380, and Miller was next to challenge as he crossed the line within just 0.007s of Marquez’ time and took over in P1. It was soon a Ducati 1-2-3 as well, with Zarco going 0.199s behind Miller and the top 10 positions chopping and changing.
Quartararo was then glowing the timing screens with red in the opening three sectors, but the Yamahas were losing touch in the last sector as the superior grunt of the Ducatis kicked in. Nevertheless, El Diablo was able to grab P3 to break the Ducati trio apart. Bagnaia then threatened to reclaim top spot but Pol Espargaro’s (Repsol Honda Team) second crash of the day, this time at Turn 15, meant the Italian couldn’t complete his lap due to yellow flags.
In the end then, it’s Ducati and Miller who take first blood in 2021 and Bagnaia is forced to settle for second. The Italian makes sure it’s a Bologna 1-2 at the top though, with Yamaha looking good and Quartararo the quickest YZR-M1 rider so far in third. Zarco is looking like a serious contender on the GP21 too and finishes Friday in P4, with Rins going well on the soft tyres – something that bodes well for Suzuki to shrug of their sometime Achilles’ heel of one-lap pace – to claim P5.
Jack Miller – P1
“It was a bit of bumpy start due to the crash in FP1, but then the day ended well. In the afternoon, the wind made the conditions difficult, but towards the evening, I found the feeling with my Desmosedici again; I set a very good lap time with the soft tyre, which is just 7 thousandths off the track record. I’m delighted: it was important to close these first two sessions well because tomorrow in FP3, with the higher temperatures, it will be tough to improve. We were all very close today, and I expect very fast times in qualifying. I am excited and eager to head out on track again tomorrow“.
“I’m delighted! Today it was important to finish in the top ten: the FP3 session will be held during the day, and with the heat, it will be difficult to get the same times like tonight, and on top of that, it will be windier than today. During the first time attack, I set a very good lap time, and if I hadn’t run into the yellow flag on my second attempt, I probably would have improved it even more. I am satisfied because I feel very comfortable with the bike. Tomorrow, in FP4, we’ll work on the race pace, which is still the only detail we need to focus on“.
Fabio Quatararo – P3
“I‘m so happy to finally make our first laps of the 2021 season. We didn‘t ride with the best tyre option in FP1 because we needed to save the soft tyres for later, for the right moment. We tried something on the first run of FP2 that I didn‘t like, but it‘s good to have been able to try it. Now we know. It was also good to do the two time attacks at the end. It was tough, because our competitors are fast, but I‘m happy that I‘ve done two great laps. There were some small mistakes to improve on, but overall I‘m happy with today.”
Johann Zarco – P4
“I’m very happy with how we finished this day. In FP2 I did very well and this will be fundamental for tomorrow because in these weather conditions with the asphalt so hot it will be very difficult to improve the times in FP3. We are ready, I feel good and I have a good feeling with the bike, in FP2 with the soft tires I improved a lot and we made a big step forward.”
Alex Rins – P5
“Today was a good day, we achieved the target we set, and we did a good lap time. I’ve also improved my time compared with the test here, so I’m satisfied. It seems like qualifying tomorrow will be interesting and the race too, the times are tight with a lot of fast riders! So we’ll continue working hard and trying to improve all the time.”
Viñales and Morbidelli were close in sixth and seventh, respectively, finishing within three tenths of Miller as Aleix Espargaro slipped to P8 at the end of play.
Maverick Vinales – P6
“We had to wait a long time to start the season. I think we picked up in FP1 where we left off during the Qatar Test. Everything was working well and I felt fantastic on the bike on track, keeping the lines and riding smoothly. In the evening we felt a little bit different than we did during the test. For sure, the track is not in the same condition, but we are certain that we will be able to improve during the race weekend. The bike is working well, it‘s just the conditions that are different, so we need to understand the set-up. For tomorrow we will focus on the balance of the bike to see if we can improve. I know we will fix it. I can‘t wait for tomorrow to put in some nice laps.”
Franco Morbidelli – P7
“I’m pretty happy about today. I was fast in the afternoon, but then at night we tried the medium rear tyre and we struggled a little bit with it. I still managed to get into the top-ten though, which was really important today because tomorrow it will be difficult to improve the times. You could see that so many riders gave their maximum tonight. There are things that we need to improve, to do better, so we will check what we can do and then try. It will be difficult but I think we can manage to reduce the gap. It will be important to make a good qualifying, but overall I am happy with our performance today.”
Aleix Espargaro – P8
“I am satisfied with this start. After the tests, which went well, I had some doubts because when the race weekend begins, the values on the pitch can change. Instead, we confirmed our level today too. I am especially happy with how easy it is for me to be fast with the new RS-GP. It is a fun bike to ride. I feel like I am exploiting it well and the times show that. Now I want to focus on qualifying because I think it is possible to do well in those conditions too. There will be a lot of aspects to assess on Sunday in the race with a completely new bike, from how it performs in the slipstream to fuel consumption. We are tackling one session at a time, but with a very positive spirit.”
Valentino Rossi finished inside the top 10 for the second session in a row, the nine-time World Champion taking ninth, and Pol Espargaro grabbed a vital P10 despite his late tumble. Two crashes in one day aren’t what HRC’s new recruit would have been looking for, but the number 44 has some good speed.
Valentino Rossi – P9
“I’m happy with this first day. I feel really comfortable in the team, there is a nice atmosphere and we are working well in the garage. Our target for today was to try to stay inside the top-ten, because tomorrow it will be difficult to improve the lap time, and in the end I was P9. I feel also happy with the bike and I have already bettered my time from the test, which is good. We now need to work, to try to improve some small details for tomorrow and also we know that the tyre choice is not an easy one to make. For me this is going to be crucial; we think that it will be hot tomorrow but less so on Sunday. Our main aim tomorrow though will be to make a good time attack and start in a top position.”
Pol Espargaro – P10
“I feel happy today because after a week off, I was able to be as fast as I was during the test more or less and the top guys didn’t all manage this. I was five tenths from first and I would have been even closer if I was able to finish the lap. This means I am getting closer but to get these lap times you need to get close to the limit and I found the limit twice today, it’s not ideal at all but to be fast sometimes you need to fall. It’s better to crash now than in Qualifying or the race. Tomorrow in the morning it will be difficult to improve our times so to be in a provisional Q2 spot now is good, but if we need to push in the morning then we will. A positive first day of the season.”
Reigning World Champion Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) misses out on what could prove to be a crucial top 10 place as his title defence begins, but the gap could hardly be smaller: just 0.013s.
Joan Mir – P11
“It was a difficult day and I think missing the last day of testing here has had an impact on our performance because we still had to adjust some things on the bike to become a little more competitive. We were pretty strong on times, but there’s still work to do. The main thing is that we know where we can improve for the coming days.”
Alex Marquez – P12
“It was a positive day, we took a step forward as we improved our lap times compared to the tests, so I’m happy with that. But we’re not in Q2, so tomorrow the key will be to find a good rhythm first of all in FP4, then Q1 will be important to try to be in Q2 for qualifying to get a good position on the grid, so the race is easier. But in general we can be happy with a step forward, we tried different things this afternoon in the front part of the bike that helped me get a better feeling and more power, so tomorrow we need to continue that progress.”
Jorge Martín – P13
“During FP1 I suffered a bit, I found some difficulties with the rear, but in the afternoon I found my confidence again, improving my times compared to the tests. I’m very satisfied because I finished just two tenths from the top ten, very happy with the work we have done today, I’m ready for tomorrow.”
Takaaki Nakagami – P14
“Today was a bit of a struggle for us because in the most important session, in FP2, we had some issues from beginning to end with the front brake. During the session we tried to fix the issue, to change the material, but unfortunately, we couldn’t find a solution. The good thing is that we already know where we need to improve tomorrow. We’ll try to be optimistic; tomorrow is another day and we’ll try to do better and bring a good result.”
With the cooler evening temperatures allowing the riders to set their best times of the day compared to when the sun was beating down in FP1 though, the same could well happen again in FP3 – so will an automatic place in Q2 be a struggle for Mir?
MotoGP Friday Practice Combined Times
Two familiar names ended the opening Moto2 Free Practice Friday at the top of the timesheets: Sam Lowes (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team) and Marco Bezzecchi (Sky Racing Team VR46). Thanks to a 1:58.959, Lowes takes charge of proceedings at the Barwa Grand Prix of Qatar, his FP2 best beating 2020 title rival Bezzecchi to the honour by 0.104s. New Italtrans Racing Team recruit Joe Roberts claims P3 at the end of Day 1, the American 0.313s shy of Lowes’ time.
As the sun fell below the horizon and the floodlights lit up Losail International Circuit, every rider was immediately able to better their morning times. Lowes was lapping extremely consistently and with 20 minutes to go, 2020’s third place finisher was over half a second clear of his nearest rivals. Roberts, last year’s polesitter, did then cut the gap to 0.4s as we started to see some riders push for quick times, with plenty of eyes turning towards the top 14 places and automatic Q2 promotion.
Bezzecchi then slotted into P2 with just under 10 minutes to go, the difference down to little over a tenth, but the Italian remained the only rider to get near to Lowes’ effort. Plenty of chopping and changing occurred inside the top 10, but the fastest duo from FP1 would lead the way again – this time the opposite way around.
Roberts finished P14 in FP1 but strung together a good run at the end of the day to finish third, with Xavi Vierge (Petronas Sprinta Racing) and Remy Gardner (Red Bull KTM Ajo) rounding out a very strong fastest five at the end of the first day of Moto2 action in 2021.
After a P4 in the opening Free Practice session, Bo Bendsneyder (Pertamina Mandalika SAG Team) continued to impress on the Kalex chassis and finished Day 1 in P6, just under half a second from Lowes. Seventh fastest Nicolo Bulega (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) rose up from P18 to safely cement a place in the top ten as Raul Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo) claimed quickest rookie honours on Day 1 once again in eighth. Jake Dixon (Petronas Sprinta Racing) and Jorge Navarro (MB Conveyors Speed Up) finished P9 and P10, with the leading 10 competitors are split by 0.597s heading into qualifying day.
Jake Dixon – P9
“It’s been a bit of a strange day really, one of two halves. The morning was hot and dry, then this afternoon was warm but humid. We definitely had two different weather conditions today. I didn’t feel as good as I had done throughout the test but it is what it is. Tonight we’ll do some searching through the data to see what we can find there, but we’ll continue chipping away. As my team-mate Xavi is a good gauge and he was faster than me in straight line speed, so it will be good to look at the data to understand why. It’s something we need to dig further into and then see what we can do tomorrow.”
Marcel Schrötter (Liqui Moly Intact GP), his rookie teammate Tony Arbolino, veteran Tom Lüthi (Pertamina Mandalika SAG Team) and Aron Canet (Inde Aspar Team) completed the fastest 14 on Friday.
Ai Ogura and Idemitsu Honda Team Asia teammate Somkiat Chantra crashed in FP1 and FP2 respectively, both riders were unhurt.
Moto2 Friday Practice Combined Times
And… we’re off! After the first full day of 2021 race weekend action for Moto3, it’s Kaito Toba (CIP Green Power) who heads the timesheets after an impressive day’s work from the 2019 Qatar GP winner. It was almost unbelievably close at the top, however, with Jaume Masia (Red Bull KTM Ajo) 0.042 back, followed by Gabriel Rodrigo (Indonesian Racing Gresini Moto3) 0.068 off, Sergio Garcia (GASGAS Gaviota Aspar Team) within 0.096 and Jason Dupasquier (CarXpert PrüstelGP) impressing to end the day just 0.099 off the top. Even the man in sixth, Niccolo Antonelli (SIC58 Squadra Corse), was only three thousandths further back…
The morning session opened with Pedrosa Acosta (Red Bull KTM Ajo) on top as the rookies continued to impress, but the veterans turned the screw on the timsheets by the end of play. Izan Guevara (GASGAS Gaviota Aspar Team) also suffered his first World Championship crash in the afternoon, but rider ok. There were no other incidents to report, helping most get in a full day of running and every rider improved by the end of play.
Behind the five riders – six, being generous about three thousands for Antonelli – within a tenth at the top, Jeremy Alcoba (Indonesian Racing Gresini Moto3) was P7 and only 0.182 off Toba, flanked by John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing) as the Scotsman was 0.037 in further arrears. Andrea Migno (Rivacold Snipers Team) and Maximilian Kofler (CIP Green Power) completed the top ten, the gap between the two an infinitesimal 0.005.
If Q2 were decided now, it would be Carlos Tatay (Avintia Esponsorama Moto3), Dennis Foggia (Leopard Racing) – who didn’t run much in FP1 – Ayumu Sasaki (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) and the aforementioned Acosta who would be heading through. Darryn Binder (Petronas Sprinta Racing) was the first to miss out, Guevara was 20th, and the returning Tatsuki Suzuki (SIC58 Squadra Corse) in P24 after Day 1, so they’ll be some of the key names looking to move forward in FP3.
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