MotoGP: Neil Morrison – Five notes from the Qatar Grand Prix
Throughout the 2020 season Neil Morrison will be providing Racing Lowdown with some exclusive analysis of the Moto2 and Moto3 classes. This will take the form of the five topics that Neil is most interested in before and after every Grand Prix. With the new season around the corner we sat down with Neil to find out what he felt were the key talking points following the recent group test at Jerez.
1-Close racing? It’s almost guaranteed in Qatar
If you combine the winning margin from the three classes in 2018 the winning margin was 0.162s and if you did the same for the three races last year it amounted to 0.102s. What can we take from that? Qatar produces spectactularly close racing across the board and never is this more evident as in Moto3 where the winning margin hasn’t surpassed one tenth of a second for five years. We should have another great day of racing tomorrow.
2-We’ve got some genuine surprise contenders
In Moto2 at the final test we saw some interesting names at the front of the class for the first time. During the test Joe Roberts was inside the top six and after the first day of running at the Grand Prix he was fastest. No-one inside the paddock seemed more surprised than Joe himself that he was fastest but a change to the bigger front tyre, the Kalex chassis and a new rider coach and crew chief has put Roberts into the conversation for the podium contenders. Tetsuta Nagashima, Bo Benschneider and Nicolo Bulega are all guys without a Moto2 podium but have all looked strong in testing and on Friday. Could we see a genuine surprise on race day?
3-Have the true contenders been keeping their powder dry?
With so many surprises have we perhaps seen one or two of the real contenders keep their cards close to their chest? Looking at Luca Marini he finished 16th and 10th at the pre-season tests but his race pace in Qatar looks strongest. Augusto Fernandez was 18th at the Jerez test and 21st fastest at the final test in Qatar but here at the race weekend he has found a radical improvement for his rear grip issues and looks strong. Lorenzo Baldassarri wasn’t in the top 10 once during pre-season but he’s a known quantity at the Losail International Circuit. He was only 0.122s off the win two years and won last year. Don’t underestimate him in the desert.
4-How good is the 2020 KTM in Moto3?
Honda decided that the bike they ended the 2019 season was going to be strong enough in the Moto3 class. They’ve made minimal changes to their bike over the off-season with a new gearbox the only difference. KTM on the other hand have brought a completely new machine. They’re new engine has more grunt because of an increase in horsepower and they have a slimmer, more agile chassis. On the opening day of practice Raul Fernandez was first and Darryn Binder was second. Can they translate that into the race? If they can win a race here it would be KTM’s 100th Grand Prix victory and their first Qatari win since 2014 and it would certainly hint that the KTM riders-whether it’s Fernandez, Fenati, Toba or someone else-could challenge Honda for the rider’s title.
5-Keep your Ai on the prize
Ai Ogura has finished first or second at each of the pre-season tests and ended last year in terrific form. He spent the pre-season focusing on his one lap pace because that was the weakness in 2019 and he would always get stronger as the race progressed. He’s a confident, head strong and hard working rider and people that have worked with him, all the way back to the Asia Talent Cup, speak very highly about him. He’s looked strong all winter and on the opening day of the season here in Qatar he looks good. Can he repeat what his former teammate, Kaito Toba, did last year and come away from the opening Grand Prix of the year victorious? I wouldn’t bet against it.