MotoGP: Neil Morrison – Five notes after 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.
Nagashima is better than anyone had given him credit for
Nagashima’s ride on Sunday was phenomenal. Having qualified 14th there would have been no-one in the paddock giving him a chance of making the podium never mind winning the race. Last year we saw some strong free practice performances from Nagashima but it never really came together in the races for him.
What he did on Sunday was very impressive. Afterwards Remy Gardner commented that it probably wouldn’t be sustainable for the season to ride like that because Nagashima came past at such a rate of knots that it was “win or crash.” To get to the front was impressive but to gap the field was even more so. Definitely a better rider than we had given him credit for but now we have to see if he can sustain this form.
Moto2 is wide open in 2020
There were guys that I expected to be fighting for race wins and the title and they had desperate days. Luca Marini, Jorge Martin and Augusto Fernandez all came away without any points and there were some guys at the front that we just wouldn’t have expected to see up there. Nagashima, Joe Roberts and a few others surprised us.
Coming into the season I thought we had seven or eight potential winners and twelve riders that would be capable of finishing on the podium. Now? You’re looking at a lot more guys that could win races. Enea Bastianini had a great ride, Remy Gardner was strong and a few others too. I think we can look at ten riders for race wins and half the field for podiums.
How much can be read into a strange Qatar Grand Prix?
I would put some caution onto the Moto2 results though because this race was held in strange conditions. The timing of the race weekend changed with the cancellation of the MotoGP race. AS a result the three day test was held at a very different time to the races. The latest that Moto2 riders were on track during the test was a lot earlier than when they raced. This changed the conditions a lot because by pushing Moto2 into a later starting slot the temperature and humidity were very different.
Speaking to Dunlop they said that the cooler temperature and higher humidity can cause a faster cooling effect on the tyre. If you’re not using one side of the tyre, for instance the left hand side at Qatar for the end of the lap, it can cause this side to drop temperature dramatically. This caught a lot of riders out with a lack of front feeling in the race.
Qatar might not be a fair indication of how the championship will play out. Will we see Bastianini, Roberts, Nagashima and others stay in the title fight? Maybe but maybe not. I’d not bet my mortgage on any of them yet. Qatar was a strange race with strange track conditions and it will be once we get back to Europe that a clearer picture will start to develop.
Could the title contenders come from the podium?
Albert Arenas, John McPhee and Ai Ogura finished on the podium in Qatar. Since 2007 only once has a rider that didn’t finish on the podium at the first race of the season gone on to win the title. That was Mike di Meglio in 2008 and from Sunday’s performance you’d have to think that these three have a chance because they all rode great races.
It was different for them all too. Arenas ran very well from the front with McPhee putting pressure on after coming through the pack to attack on the last lap. John might have missed out on the win but this was a race that would give you confidence in him being at the front every weekend this year. He kept a calm head in the middle of the pack and had his way through successfully.
This was a very good ride. Ogura had a typical race of his where you don’t notice him for 16 laps and then in the final two laps he comes good and ghosts through to the podium. Obviously he had the benefit of Jaume Masia’s track limits penalty but Ogura is capable of pushing for the championship this year.
Moto3 is going to be as close as ever
We had a dozen race winners and only two races were decided by a winning margin of more than one second. We saw on Sunday that 16 riders were covered by 1.6s going into the final lap. It was fast and unpredictable throughout and you’d certainly expect that we could have ten different winners this year. Moto3 and Moto2 look like being terrific in 2020.