The 2016 MotoGP season finally got underway in Qatar on Sunday after months of anticipation, and although it may have lacked in drama, it didn’t disappoint in intrigue.
Jorge Lorenzo ran out the weekend’s big winner with Andrea Dovizioso just behind in second on the new winglet-inspired Ducati, but what did we really learn from Sunday’s action?
Where else to start but the reigning World Champion?
Lorenzo produced another masterclass to earn his spot on the top step of the podium at the Losail International Circuit this weekend. The Spaniard pounced at just the right time and never looked back as he held off Dovizioso and Marc Marquez to start in the fashion he’ll look to continue in this season.
There is no doubt he is the man with the target firmly on his back, but after this showing, it doesn’t look like he’s bothered by it one bit. In fact, I would go as far as to say he thrives on it and that’s one thing that the rest of the paddock should certainly be afraid of – he’s going to take some stopping this season to not repeat his heroics of 2015.
Iannone – oh, what could have been?
For me, Andrea Iannone proved to be Ducati’s best chance of grabbing that elusive MotoGP victory that has escaped the Bologna outfit for so long.
Of course, Dovizioso’s second place cannot be discounted, but the Italian never really looked like upsetting the odds and dispelling the dominance of Lorenzo on Sunday. Unlike his team-mate, Dovizioso hadn’t matched the Spaniard in the majority of sessions over the course of the opening weekend.
Maniac Joe saw his challenge end in a puff of smoke as he clipped a white line inside one of Losail’s many long right-handers and watched his Desmosedici fly off into the gravel trap.
Having shown real pace throughout the weekend that could’ve matched, if not bettered Lorenzo, Iannone deprived us of what could’ve been a classic.
The young pretender taking down the almighty champion; alas it wasn’t to be and it really is difficult to tell whether Ducati will get a better chance at a win this season unless a certain Mr Casey Stoner decides to make a wildcard comeback.
Havoc at Honda
Worryingly for Honda, the struggles that plagued the Japanese team in 2015 appear to show no signs of vanishing as the flag dropped on the new campaign.
Marc Marquez produced a phenomenal ride to haul his bike into third position. To put that into perspective his team-mate, Dani Pedrosa, could only muster a lonely fifth place – a massive fourteen seconds off Lorenzo in first!
Honda have struggled to find the right balance with a number of things. Take your pick from electronics, chassis and the engine all mixed together with the new Michelin tyres and things just look to be really off kilter.
While the rest of the field moves forward each time they take to the track, Honda are falling further behind – Marquez wreaked of desperation last season and was evidently riding right on the edge of what he and his bike were capable of on Sunday, it may not be long before we see the big red panic button hit by the Spaniard once again.
The Doctor signs off on a clean bill of health
“I’m going to take my time to decide my future”, were the words of Valentino Rossi at the pre-race press conference last Thursday morning.
So is it really any surprise that the Italian penned a new Yamaha contract by Saturday? Absolutely not.
If there’s one thing we’ve become accustomed too over the Doctor’s career it is that he never fails to surprise and it certainly was a big shock when the announcement came out about a new two-year contract extension.
Unfortunately, Rossi didn’t pull off any major surprises on track finishing in fourth place on Sunday, but at this stage of the season any rider will tell you points are points. While the Italian gets used to the new tyres and electronics, his loyal supporters may have to watch fierce rival and team-mate Lorenzo claim a few wins.
But the encouraging sign was his finishing distance from the Lorenzo at the race conclusion on Sunday, at times last year he wasn’t even in the same shot as the race winner.
Could a tenth World Championship be on the cards? Only time will tell, and he has one determined Spaniard to beat.
While the first round of the season didn’t exactly produce the racing on track, it certainly did whet the appetite for what is to come in Argentina in two weeks time.
MotoGP is back, not quite with the bang we were hoping for, but more of the quiet closing of the back door. Roll on South America…