The 2019 MotoGP World Championship enjoyed its first qualifying session of the new season in Qatar, with impressive-looking rookies and a tight field meaning it was to be a fantastic session.
Maverick Vinales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) took his second pole in successive grands prix after his wet weather pole in Valencia last November. Vinales reeked of confidence, lapping on his own in what were treacherous conditions – and his aggression on the brakes into the final corner was spectacular, the weight catapulting onto the front tyre. Despite being just under two tenths shy of Marc Marquez’ (Repsol Honda Team) outright lap record from Friday night, Vinales took pole by nearly two tenths, and consistently fast times posted in FP4 suggest he could be in the frame for the victory tomorrow.
But it will a difficult race for Vinales. Despite having a pace as strong as anybody, he will have to fight against bikes which are between 15kph and 20kph faster than him in the front straight.
One of those bikes is the Ducati Desmosedici GP19, and in particular the one ridden by Andrea Dovizioso (Mission Winnow Ducati). The Italian has been almost invisible throughout the weekend, but in the long runs he has perhaps the best pace, and when it mattered, he showed he had the one-lap speed to give him a good grid position, finally taking second place.
In the past, the equal pace with his rivals would have been enough for Dovi, thanks to the straight-line speed of the Ducati. However, in Q2 Marc Marquez displayed the new engine in the Honda in its full potential, drafting past Danilo Petrucci (Mission Winnow Ducati) on his way to the back of the front row.
Marquez had looked uncomfortable throughout the session, and in the end it was the tow provided by Petrucci that fired him onto the front row. Marquez also suffered two crashes on Saturday, in FP3 and FP4. The suggestion of a slightly weaker front end on the 2019 Honda compared to its predecessor means that its pilots could be some of those most at risk if the temperature is low tomorrow, and that seems to be what caught both Marquez and his Repsol Honda teammate Jorge Lorenzo out in Saturday night’s sessions.
Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Racing) took the fourth fastest time despite a crash late on in Q2. In this, Miller scored the first point in the sub-championship going on this season with himself, Danilo Petrucci and Miller’s Alma Pramac teammate Pecco Bagnaia, who are all fighting for the second spot in the factory Ducati team for 2020 alongside Dovizioso.
The middle of the second row sees the surprise of the weekend so far, with Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) qualifying fifth on his MotoGP debut. Quartararo has been fast all weekend, especially over one lap, and he put that into perfect practice in Q2. Like Vinales he will have his work cut out tomorrow against bikes which are so much faster than his, but already this weekend has been a big success for the Frenchman, beating both his teammate, Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) and Yamaha stablemate Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) in in his first ever premier class qualifying, and supposedly all with five-hundred revs taken off the top of his M1’s motor.
The second row for tomorrow’s MotoGP race will be rounded out by Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda CASTROL), who made a stunning return after an injury from which he is still recovering to qualify sixth on a motorcycle with which he does not feel completely comfortable. Crutchlow is worried for the race, just to finish, if it starts at the planned 8pm, so it will be interesting to see what he can achieve tomorrow.
Danilo Petrucci has some outstanding-looking race pace, but he will be hoping Ducati’s holeshot device will propel him past some of the riders in front of him tomorrow, so that he can use that pace, after qualifying only seventh, in front of Franco Morbidelli and Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU on row three.
As disappointed as Petrucci will be, the feeling will be similar for Alex Rins (Team SUZUKI ECSTAR) after the Spaniard only managed tenth place on the grid for the opening race after such an impressive preseason. Rins will be joined by his teammate, Joan Mir (Team SUZUKI ECSTAR) and Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) on the fourth row tomorrow.
Francesco Bagnaia was the fastest of those riders who did not make it through to Q2, and will start thirteenth tomorrow. On the face of it, especially with fellow rookies Quartararo and Mir in fifth and eleventh respectively, thirteenth doesn’t seem so fantastic for the reigning Moto2 World Champion, but the Italian will share the fifth row of his first GP with some hefty names: Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo.
Rossi’s problems started on Friday evening, when an out-of-balance front tyre destroyed itself in five laps and left the Italian out of Q2 overnight. FP3 was too hot, too windy and too dusty for The Doctor to make an improvement and get into the top ten, and then a difficult Q1 saw him end his Saturday early, qualifying only fourteenth for the opening round of the championship. Unfortunately for Rossi, he has become only too accustomed to failing to make it out of Q1, and now tomorrow he faces another big fight back – one which, on paper, he seems entirely incapable of achieving. Rossi needs something big overnight if he is to make a good result tomorrow night.
Lorenzo’s problems also started when he failed to make the top ten on Friday night. The Spaniard then suffered a nasty high side on the exit of turn six early on in FP3, meaning he had to miss the rest of the session. After starting Q1 quite strong, the Repsol Honda rider looked good to advance to Q2, but a crash at the start of his second run ended those hopes, and he will start fifteenth tomorrow.
Seventeenth on his debut MotoGP grid is what faces Red Bull KTM Tech 3’s Miguel Oliveira tomorrow, as the Portuguese starts between the Spanish duo of his KTM stablemate Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) in sixteenth and 2014 Moto2 World Champion Tito Rabat (Reale Avintia Racing) in eighteenth.
Andrea Iannone (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) will head up row seven tomorrow for his debut on the RSGP. Iannone had a bike problem at the end of Q1, although it didn’t seem as though he had the speed to make it to Q2 regardless. The Italian will be joined on row seven by Karel Abraham (Reale Avintia Racing) and Johann Zarco who will make his Red Bull KTM Factory Racing debut from twenty-first.
Hafizh Syahrin (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) still looks to be struggling to adapt to the RC16, and the Malaysian will start twenty-second tomorrow, in front only of Aprilia wildcard Bradley Smith (Aprilia Factory Racing).
Featured Image courtesy of Yamaha corporation