The final test before the 2016 MotoGP season begins concluded on Friday night under the floodlights of the Losail International Circuit in Doha, Qatar. The test helped to solidify Jorge Lorenzo as the title favorite, as the 2015 champion took his Yamaha M1 to the top of the timesheets on both Wednesday and Friday. Yamaha returned to their dominant pre-season form as Valentino Rossi took the third fastest time on Wednesday before suffering a fall on Thursday, and using Friday to run race simulations. Maverick Vinales of Suzuki who posted the fastest time at Philip Island two weeks ago was in the hunt all week and finished on top of the timesheet on Thursday, and finished with the second fastest time overall. Vinales’ form have many in the Suzuki garage hopeful that with the introduction of the seamless gearbox as well as the standard electronic control unit (ECU) for all teams that Suzuki might find their way onto the podium in 2016. Honda once again was the disappointment of the test. Both riders struggled all week, with Marc Marquez fourth fastest overall, while Dani Pedrosa could only finish 10th fastest after three long nights in Qatar. Marquez crashed his Honda RC213V on both Thursday and Friday, and was unhappy with both the electronics and the new Michelin tires. While Honda were competitive at Philip Island two weeks ago, most analysts chopped that small victory up to the fast winding turns of the infamous circuit off the coast of Melbourne which disproportionally favor the Honda bike. As was the case in Malaysia in early February, the Honda struggled to not only reel in the Yamaha, but was being overhauled by both the Ducati and Suzuki factory teams. Marquez who has been blessed with arguably the fastest bike for his first three seasons in the premier class will have to cope with a lesser machine. The global reach of Honda is a startling display of competence and resource. There should be no questioning the ability of Honda to sort their issues, but the 2016 season will start with a laundry list of issues to solve.
From a purely aesthetic point of view, the Ducati GP16 and its wings stole the show. The Bologna based team released its 2016 MotoGP challenger since the last test and it sports at least three separate winglets. Both Andrea Iannone and Dovizioso were upbeat about their hopes for the 2016 season despite failing to post outright fast laps, focusing instead on race pace and race simulations, the Ducati riders would finish the test 6th and 8th respectively. Several teams experimented with wings on the front of the bike for increased downforce last year but Ducati have certainly raised the bar with their extreme wing design. Over the course of the Qatar test, both Honda and Yamaha ran their own wing configuration, albeit a much more concerned single wing design. Many in the paddock see the introduction of the wings as a violation of the purist form of motorcycle design, and expect FIM, the motorcycle racing governing body to issue revised regulations on the implementation of them in the near future.
The switch from Bridgestone to Michelin tires for the 2016 season is a topic of much conversation. Loris Baz of Avintia had a horror crash down the main straight in Malaysia as his rear tire exploded nearing 370 kph/210 mph. Since then the French based outfit has come under increased scrutiny for their tire design. For any tire manufacturer taking over a whole series, the challenges of creating multiple sets of tires for every team and every rider comes with a host of challenges and potential miscues. Each rider has a different set of preferences, which may have been reinforced by the previous tire design. Many riders were vocal about their discomfort with the Michelin’s even before Baz’s crash. Two weeks after the Malaysia test, thirteen riders crashed during three days of running at Philip Island, an abnormally high number. Michelin, whose tires supply hundreds of race teams around the world vowed to double their efforts to accommodate the riders feedback and improve safety. In Qatar, the tires were unfortunately once again the topic of much debate. Valentino Rossi, Marc Marquez, Pol and Aleix Espargaro, Hector Barbara, MotoGP rookie Tito Rabat, and Loris Baz all had crashes, with many deflecting blame on the unstable Michelin tires. If this is true, or simply the justification for a lapse in judgement by the world’s best motorcycle racers we’ll never know. Regardless, the Michelin tire controversy has yet to subside, and with only two weeks until MotoGP returns to Qatar for the first race of the season, Michelin have their work cut out for them.
Other notable events included Scott Redding of Pramac finishing the week 2nd fastest behind Jorge Lorenzo. The Brit who finished in the points in 13 out of 16 races in 2015 for Marc VDS joined Pramac alongside Jack Miller who returned from a tibia fracture to finish the week 19th fastest. With the introduction of a standardized electronic control unit (ECU) for all teams, despite running a 2015 Ducati, Redding was fast all weekend. Despite the success of Pramac, Suzuki, and LCR Honda, the Aprilla team left Qatar feeling deeply disappointed. Having run essentially a production bike for their inaugural season in 2015, the Venice based team revealed their full fledged MotoGP machine last month in a private test at Aragon. Stefan Bradl and Alvaro Bautista finished 18th and 21st. It was also released that Ducati will have to cancel their private test for the GP16 with Casey Stoner. FIM rules say that no team may run testing at a circuit where a grand prix is to be held within 14 days. How this obvious rule was overlooked by Ducati must come as a surprise, and will surely leave many MotoGP fans let down.
MotoGP returns to the Losail International Circuit on March 18th – March 20th for the first race of the 2016 season.
Fastest Times From the Qatar Test 2016
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