MotoGP Qatar: Race Preview – Bikesport News

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MotoGP

Picture: GeeBee Pictures


MotoGP is back in business as the Qatar GP kicks off the 2022 season with a guaranteed show under the lights of Lusail.

2021 has seen every manufacturer claim a podium and heralded some of the closest top 15 finishes ever in premier class racing. More records were broken, new winners emerged and some precedents were set. France obtained its first world champion of the queen category. We say goodbye to the race for legends and winners. But it’s already a chapter in the history books, and now we’re about to open the cover to 2022 and welcome the new. As we do, the title page carries a simple message: welcome back to the greatest show on Earth. Please keep your hands and feet inside the roller coaster at all times.

It’s the Lusail International Circuit that hosts the now iconic lighted opening round, and in 2022, 24 riders are waiting for the lights to go out – 14 of whom are world champions, which is a new record. Five are top class rookies, 12 are top class race winners. We have eight world championships. One wears the crown. Another signed 2021 with the momentum and still more reset, recharged and returned to battle with a bit more in the tank for 2022…

Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) is set to grab headlines as defending champion and track winner in 2021. Yamaha are the most successful constructor at Lusail and they have taken both track wins in the year last year, so it’s also a good omen for Quartararo, his teammate Franky Morbidelli (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP), the two-time Qatar winner Andrea Dovizioso (WithU Yamaha RNF MotoGP) and his new teammate, rookie Darryn Binder. But pre-season testing saw some looks of displeasure for the Iwata brand in their ongoing battle to increase top speed, among other things, and it seemed the reviews were mixed. Now the proof of the tests will be in the race, so what does Yamaha have in the locker… and will there still be harmony between man and machine?

For many races in the second half of 2021, and sometimes ominously, that harmony has been personified elsewhere: Ducati. Pecco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) had a few stumbles on his way to the top step of the premier class, but when he got there he couldn’t stay away. After an all-Ducati podium to end the season as well, the momentum was on and hopes will remain high through to 2022. Testing wasn’t the all-out assault on the timesheets some were expecting, but the maps could stay close to chests. Bagnaia, Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team), Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing), Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing MotoGP), Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) and Luca Marini (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) are a fairly experienced armada for the factory of Bologna, and Lusail is tied as the second most successful track. Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) and Fabio Di Giannantonio (Gresini Racing MotoGP) both look quite fast, adding further intrigue to the fight for Rookie of the Year.

What about Suzuki then? Compared to Yamaha specifically, it was a pretty stellar pre-season for the Hamamatsu factory. Smiles, gains and quietly confident progress seemed to sum up 2020 MotoGP world champion Joan Mir and teammate Alex Rins, with one thing on their shopping list – more power – seemingly delivered. In Qatar, Suzuki didn’t do better than fourth, so a podium would be a good way to highlight that progress and start building a foundation. Mir and Rins will also be exceptionally keen to avoid a repeat of what happened on the line at number 36 last year when two Ducatis powered Mir to the post.

Someone who knows that feeling at Lusail is eight-time world champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team). Number 93 has more MotoGP wins than the rest of the grid combined, but a couple have escaped to Qatar thanks to Dovizioso and time will tell if the 2022 edition will be any different. It’s been a long road to recovery, but the Honda rider has recovered, and dealing with that might be enough of a challenge for the rest of the grid on its own. Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) also appears to have hit a key milestone with the all-new RC213V, and Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol) and Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) will be looking to prove the same.

For KTM, Lusail is not the best place to start the season, having never been the friendliest match for the RC16. The Austrian factory’s best result on the track is a P8. However, new Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team principal Francesco Guidotti has already said during testing that the plan is to find a new base from which to continue development, so the fact that Qatar is another different track is useful in itself. So is the talent pool: Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira remain with Red Bull KTM Factory Racing and both are looking to make 2022 the third year in a row that they have both won premier class victories. There are also two new kids on the block at Tech 3 KTM Factory Racing: 2021 Moto2 champion Remy Gardner and the rookie who nearly beat him to the crown, Raul Fernandez. They will seek to hit the ground running.

Finally Aprilia. Now on the MotoGP podium and heading into 2022 with a new, lighter and seemingly even improved RS-GP, pre-season has seen the Noale factory make headlines. Aleix Espargaro is now an established favorite with the brand and took the best factory result at Lusail with sixth, but Maverick Viñales is a bit more settled now too. Number 12 was also the top step driver at the 2021 season opener, and also won at Lusail before that, but with a different manufacturer. Can Aprilia swing out? Will the top five or the podium be waiting for you? Who will emerge victorious from the battle of teammates? We are about to find out!

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