As season starts go, that was one of the better ones for the spectator. Three decent races and an exciting premier class contest to get our teeth into on a Sunday night meant that MotoGP was back with a bang for 2012, answering questions and — in true racing style - raising plenty more.
A rider can play their cards close to their chest during testing. False timing markers, soft tyres, hard tyres, no race simulations, hot laps, press release hot air and sandbagging can all be used to disguise the reality of each rider's situation. Qatar might be a unique event, but there are no secrets anymore.
Watching each practice session, Casey Stoner's problems seemed more plentiful than they did one week ago. Yes, we knew that the Honda RC213V was not a perfect bike just yet — what we didn't know was that it had a bigger chattering problem than a crowded cinema. Whilst the World Champion said in testing that he couldn't feel much of a difference between the original model and the version with the additional four kilos required by the regulations,hbn it seems that the engineers are certainly noticing it now. The Australian was back to wrestling with a bike in Friday practice to avoid a crash, something that he is capable of after his time at Ducati but not a situation that will make him go any faster.
Not one that will help his next problem either. Arm pump is the bane of the MotoGP rider's existence and something that is normally rectified as part of a 'two for one' deal at their hospital of choice: "Free compartmental syndrome surgery with every 100g of titanium removed," or similar. Most get the issue seen to with surgery in the off-season, but Stoner has chosen to nurse the condition and try to ride around it. He could do that in practice, in which he puts in a handful of laps in every stint, but by lap 19 in Qatar he was dropping a second every time past the start/finish line.
Race winner Jorge Lorenzo wouldn't have caught Stoner at the same pace, but he and Yamaha confirmed that theirs is the strongest package on the grid. Interestingly, despite the Hondas passing him on the straight when Stoner and Dani Pedrosa made their respective moves early on, the Yamaha was only a maximum of 7km/h down on Pedrosa's RC213V in terms of top speed. If Lorenzo could counter that deficit with strategy at Qatar, then he can do it again at Jerez.
A final note for this week on Lorenzo: He is now the only rider to have won at Qatar in three classes. It isn't just Stoner who likes the desert.
Special mention must go to Cal Crutchlow for a phenomenal weekend, in which he allayed any fears that he would be playing catch-up with Andrea Dovizioso in the Tech3 team this season. Only one other rider recorded a faster lap time in the race, and his front-row grid position won a bet that resulted in his dad shaving off his moustache.
As for the CRT bikes, they did about as well as expected. Credit is due for Yonny Hernández, who managed to qualify within a couple of seconds of a nine-time World Champion despite being 35km/h down on him through the speed trap. Nobody was lapped this time — Jerez may be a different story.
Ducati should have had an advantage in one respect at Losail: Their mechanics are used to late nights working on the bike. Valentino Rossi vented his spleen on Italian TV after the race after a dismal finish to a hard weekend, and it was a full six hours before anything resembling an optimistic comment from him could be filtered through the big red press release machine for public consumption. For a second year in a row, the Qatar GP has done much to bring realism into play and shatter hopes of a miracle turnaround.
We want more close races (not exclusively a 1000cc phenomenon, as there were a handful of even closer podium battles in 2011), more tyre wear drawing the leaders into late fights, more riders showing rostrum potential… and Valentino Rossi there to challenge them.
Next week: A look at the Italian stallion proving this writer wrong and taking Moto3 by storm.
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