The F1 paddock this season have been known for keeping the worst secrets, like George Russell’s move to Mercedes that took a while to be confirmed. It’s been touted for a while now that the Losail International Circuit in Qatar will host an event this year, as F1 has been reviewing options to replace the Australian Grand Prix since mid-August.
The FIA has officially confirmed the 20th round of the 2021 season will be held at this track on the weekend of 19-21 November, a part of the Middle East finale as F1 then travels to the new Jeddah street track in Saudi Arabia, before concluding at the updated Yas Marina track in Abu Dhabi. The other interesting news is that Qatar will join the F1 calendar for 10 years from 2023 onwards as it has the FIFA World Cup to focus on in 2022, which suggests either F1 will either lose a race or is aiming for a 24-race calendar.
The Losail Circuit is 22 miles north of Doha, the capital of Qatar, and has a single stand of around 8,000 capacity, which they could expand for the F1 event. It holds an FIA grade 1 license and is 5.38km in length with a 1.06km start/finish straight which would be perfect for a DRS zone very similar to Bahrain. Since 2008 it has been known for night racing. The fastest time set at Losail by any motorsport is 1:35:741 set by Nico Hulkenburg in GP2 Asia qualifying in 2009.
Losail has been on the MotoGP calendar since 2004 and has been its season opener since 2007. World Superbikes have also raced throughout the years as the track favours two wheels compared to four, especially if you look at the twisty nature of sector two. The last four wheel action on the track was the World Touring Car Championship action in 2017.
The closest Losail has come to Formula 1 was the GP2 Asia series in the 2008-09 calendar, when it was a part of the six track championship. A worthy note is that Sergio Perez competed in that season of racing, finishing second in race one and winning race two, thus being the only driver on the current F1 grid to ever to compete there.
Will Lewis Hamilton make this his 30th different track to win on? Hamilton has done well at first time attempts in 2020 as he won at Mugello, Portimao and Imola, but 2021 is very much a different season for him and Mercedes.
The 2021 calendar is now complete, still with a record-breaking 22 events if not the 23 they wished. But sure that number will more than likely come next year with the Miami International Autodrome in May.
Round two under the Qatar lights found some riders floundering and some soaring. If it was thought to be a repeat of last weekend then audiences were in for a shock.
The qualifying had the biggest surprise which came from the rookie, Jorge Martin who took pole! With a 1.53.106 second lap, snatching it from Vinales, who was confident he had done enough at the flag. Next position went to Martin’s team-mate and Vinales ended up 3rd to round off the front row. The Suzuki’s still seemed to have issues with qualifying and ended up in 8th and 9th. Rossi made changes to his bike which turned out to hinder his chances at getting another 4th in qualifying this time and ended up 21st on the grid.
All riders started Sunday on both rear and front soft tyres again, with the exception of Oliveira, Binder, Lecuona and Petrucci. Perhaps they had thought a different strategy may help them in the closing section of the race. Once again, the wind was blowing and causing sand to go across the track, meaning the tyres would degrade quicker.
The two front Ducati’s got a flying start, with Martin leading Zarco but it was Vinales that went backwards as Aleix Espargaro came through and took 3rd place from the Spaniard, a very surprising Oliveira, who was 12th on the grid, shot into 4th . The next 22 laps were sure to be exciting!
By lap three, Rins had already made the fastest lap, eager to make it to the front early on, now in 3rd place, he started putting pressure on Zarco.
Lap four was Bagnaia’s turn to take fastest lap. But it was the Suzuki’s that were looking menacing as Mir came through to 5th place and Rins took 2nd from Zarco. However, the Ducati took back the position on the straight.
Meanwhile the factory Yamahas were sticking to their plan, which was to conserve tyres and were in 9th and 10th place.
With 17 laps to go Martin was still leading, in only his second Moto GP race, from Rins and Zarco.
Performing well in the flowing corners, the Suzuki was putting pressure on the rookie, but the straight, once again was the time for Zarco to pounce, re-gaining 2nd.
Trying to hunt down Martin, Rins took back 2nd place from the Frenchman on turn 10 – lap 8. He knew he had to breakaway from Zarco before the straight. With 13 laps to go Oliveira started to go backwards, unfortunately, the tyre choice didn’t seem to be any better.
The two Petronas riders were struggling as well – not even in the top ten.
The top nine riders however, were starting to breakaway from the rest of the pack and were creating their own race. Martin still lead, now half-way through the 22 laps, whilst Vinales was bringing up the rear. The first six bikes were all four Ducati’s and the two Suzuki’s. Espargaro on the Aprilia, was the only bike not with it’s teammate, out in front of the two factory Yamaha’s.
Mir and Miller were battling for 5th place on lap 13, Mir touched Miller going underneath him to take the position. But, coming onto the straight Miller (43) went wide and and seemed to go straight into Mir, forcing him to go all the way back to 9th. There was an investigation from the stewards but both times were seen as racing incidents.
Things went from bad to worse for Alex Marquez who had a second DNF in a row as he crashed on lap 14.
However, things were looking good for Quartararo (20), who was moving through the front pack and was now 4th, behind the Ducati’s, with 8 laps till the end. Battling for the position alongside Rins, he knew he had to create a chance in order to get on the podium. His teammate was now in 7th with Mir still in 9th place. It seemed the Yamaha’s tactic was paying off.
With six laps till the end, 20 took 3rd place from 43, it was taken straight back on the start-finish line but a mistake going into the first corner from Miller meant Quartararo re-took 3rd once more. The battle for the podium was heating up.
The two Frenchmen then fought for 2nd on lap 18. Zarco tried to defend but Quartararo’s Yamaha had conserved tyres better and was stronger on the corners, meaning he was able to take 1st place as well on turn 14, leading into turn 15, from Martin. The rookie had shocked everyone by leading for most of the race. Martin wasn’t going to give his position away easily and on the straight the Ducati roared past the Yamaha. But, Quartararo re-gained first place soon after.
With four laps to go it was anyone’s call who would win. Quartararo now lead Martin, Zarco and Vinales.
Top Gun’ briefly took 3rd place from Zarco, which took Zarco out of the top three for the first time the whole race.
‘El Diablo’ started to pull away from the two satellite Ducati’s and with Vinales putting pressure on Zarco, Zarco decided he needed to try and make a pass on his teammate. Martin went defensive with two laps to go, not wanting to give away his position. Vinales couldn’t keep up with number 5 and Rins took 4th place from him into turn one on the last lap. The penultimate corner of the last lap was Zarco’s last shot at 2nd, after admitting in the post-race interview he was acting as a “… bodyguard for Martin…” he decided to over-take his team-mate to finish 2nd.
It was Quartararo that took the chequered flag, taking his fourth Moto GP victory alongside fellow Frenchman Zarco. The first time in 67 years that two Frenchmen have stood first and second on the podium in the premier class. Martin finished an impressive third to round off the podium. Fourth was Rins, fifth Vinales, sixth and seventh place were the factory Dukes and Mir managed to make up two places since the collision with Miller to finish seventh.
Zarco stood on the podium for the 50th time and now leads the championship with 40 points. Proving to be consistent with two second places in a row.
This thrilling battle was the closest Moto GP race in 73 years. Teams learnt from last weekend and everyone seemed far stronger.
There is now a two week gap until the next event, but the big news is Marc Marquez is said to be making a return in Portugal, which leads into the many European races. Will we see a fit, strong and hungry Marquez? Will the other riders be too far ahead of him? Or will we witness a masterclass performance?
Whatever the outcome, it is sure to be a thrilling ride.