Thoughts on MotoGP: Qatar

I watched last week’s Qatar Grand Prix live and meant to write a blog post about it during the week, but got distracted with other things.

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Races at Losail are usually very boring, I’ve seen MotoGP, GP2 Asia and the old Grand Prix Masters (the refitted Reynards driven by Mansell, Patrese, et al) race there and they were almost all processional affairs, not helped by a strange track surface which seems to cause tyres to completely ignore everything we know about them and to behave completely irrationally.

This race was fun. It started with Stoner taking his customary position up front, as he always does at this track. That’s fine, several series have tracks that are more suited to a particular rider or driver, can’t be helped. We all expected Casey to romp away with the race win and the focus was further down the order, on how well Rossi, Lorenzo and Pedrosa would perform. But… he didn’t. He crashed after only a few short laps! This threw the race wide open.

It was a great fight with lots of passing, yet the most interesting part of it was that compared to last year, the characteristics of each bike relative to the others had radically changed. Where last year the Ducati easily had a power advantage down the straights, at Qatar it was the Honda just as it was a few years ago. Where last year the Honda and Yamaha were more agile but suffered on the straights and the Ducati couldn’t turn to save it’s life but had a warp drive, so this year it seemed the Ducati was the thing to have in the corners.

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This could change the way this season is fought compared to the last few years. It meant Nicky Hayden could actually ride his bike properly and it was brilliant to see him in the top four on merit. Lorenzo fell back several places with his injury yet valiantly fought his way back up to 3rd. And this Spies chap is pretty handy isn’t he? Makes Toseland look a bit like an amateur, which is not easy, and while it would be great to see British involvement in the series you can’t really argue if they replace JT with the quality of Spies.

Whether the back end of the field has such a quality is another matter, I’d wager James is better than quite a few of them so on that basis it is a shame he didn’t change teams. But we’ve only had one race, so let’s give them the same chance he had before we completely write them off, and some had a good race.

In summary, I enjoyed the battle and the change in performance of the bikes, if it had been the same as last year I’d have enjoyed it but perhaps not as much. We now have the added twist of seeing whether those changes carry through at other tracks, I suspect they will, and how will the riders adapt? I really do think this is a more open year than we’ve seen for a while, unless Vale has something to say about it, and he has a points advantage now…

The next race was supposed to be the Japanese GP this coming weekend but the European travel chaos caused by the volcano ash has caused that race to be postponed to October 3rd. This is partly because their gear is still in Europe, and partly because there’s only a one week gap between this weekend and the Jerez GP on May 2nd which is the most-attended race of the season – they don’t want to jeapordise that race. Jerez should be a good one, I’m looking forward to it.


Race Review: GP2 Asia Qatar ’09

GP2 Asia Series (08/09)
Losail, Doha, Qatar
7&8 of 12
Held: 14-15 February 2009
Watched: 3 October 2009
Coverage: Eurosport / Martin Haven & Gareth Rees

This is the first ever GP2 night race but Qatar has hosted night events for MotoGP and World Superbikes before so this should be no problem for them.

Feature Race (34 laps)


1. Hülkenberg (ART) 2. Perez (Campos)
3. Petrov (Campos) 4. Kobayashi (DAMS)
5. Rodriguez (Piquet) 6. Yamamoto (ART)
7. Villa (Super Nova) 8. Valsecchi (Durango)
9. Mortara (Arden) 10. D’Ambrosio (DAMS)
11. Jakes (Super Nova) 12. Bonanomi (Meritus)
13. Parente (Meritus) 14. Nunes (Piquet)
15. Crestani (Ocean) 16. van der Garde (iSport)
17. Herck (DPR) 18. Ricci (DPR)
19. Razia (Arden) 20. Rigon (Trident)
21. Al Fardan (iSport) 22. Gonzalez (FMS)
23. Buurman (Ocean) 24. Porvenzano (Trident)
25. M.Dalle Stelle (Durango) 26. Nai Chia Chen (FMS)

[all Dallara-Renault-Bridgestone]

Kevin Chen was SEVEN seconds per lap slower than Hulkenberg in qualifying. Stunningly bad.

Formation Lap

Medium compound tyre this weekend. Like F1 there is a range of tyres, unlike F1 they use the same one for the whole weekend at the choice of Bridgestone.

Parente is new in at Ocean so he’ll take this race to acclimatise, he hasn’t raced since October.

Grid.. GO!

BIG CRASH on the start. Commentary says Yamamoto had stalled and he was hit. Huge impact as the back of the grid gets up to speed.

Safety Car

Yamamoto is ok. 3 or 4 others involved and those guys seem okay too. Buurman is one of them. Gonzalez another.

Safety Car is stopped at the beginning of the main straight to wait for the leaders, who reach it… and it doesn’t move. Front straight blocked with debris.

Replay: Buurman jinked right to avoid a slower car and rams Yamamoto, there’s no way he could have seen that car, he was unsighted due to the wing of the other car he was avoiding.

The field is now being led through the pit lane.

Very slow clear up. They don’t have a road sweeper, and they only have one man with a brush! They also only seem to have one Caterpillar lifter to move the cars..

32 to go – Perez leads. Al Fardan has stalled on pit entry. Eventually he gets in to the pits and is refired.
31 – Chen does the same. Gareth says it’ll be no loss if he’s not restarted.. Ah, they’ve found some more brooms.
29 – Main straight is now clear and the SC lights are off. Order: Perez, Hulkenberg, Petrov, Kobayashi, Valsecchi, Villa.
27 – D’Ambrosio pits from 8th or so. Rigon is in from a long way down. Tyre temps will be very low after this 20 minute yellow period, in which the SC was driving very slowly even for a Safety Car.

25 – Parente passes Mortara at turn one.
Kobayashi in trouble, Valsecchi and Villa pass him.
Petrov pits. Villa takes Valsecchi with the momentum from the other move. Good stuff.
24 – Rodriquez spins it at turn one, stuck in the gravel, he’s out.
21 – Villa passes Hülkenberg for 2nd, though they do need to pit. Petrov is fastest man on track.
20 – Perez pits from the lead. Kobayashi is dropping back again.
19 – Villa leads for one lap and then pits.

Petrov leads Perez after their stops, potential lead change between team-mates when it shakes out after Petrov put in solid laps – but Perez is now all over him.

16 – Perez passes Petrov, who’s shot his tyres with those fast laps. Hülkenberg has still to pit, he was pulling a gap on these two.

13 – Ahh, Villa has been given a drive-thru for pitlane speeding. He was driving well for a podium, too. Shame.
Della Stella is crawling around with a loose rear wheel. Hm.

Good racing between Valsecchi and the chasing d’Ambrosio, who makes a nice move on the main straight, the last of several clean attempts. No blocking or swerving here.

Bit of a stalemate for a while (that’s code for BORING).

6 – Provenzano spins at turn one, recovers through the gravel. I have never heard of him.
5 – Hülkenberg makes his pit stop from a huuuge lead. Slightly held up by a DPR car also pitting, from almost a lap down.
Nico H. rejoins the track still with a big lead! The entire length of the pit straight (and Losail has a long straight).
3 – Provenzano is off again, looks like a wheel hub breaking..
2 – Hülkenberg has a 16sec lead and Kobayashi’s tyres have come alive! He’s chasing Petrov for 3rd now, I didn’t notice that earlier. Tyres are an oddity here it seems.
1 – Last lap.

FLAG – Hülkenberg wins!

Top Ten Margin Pts
1 Hülkenberg 34 laps 10+1
2 Perez 13.295 sec 8
3 Petrov 14.343 sec 6
4 Kobayashi 14.746 sec 5
5 D’Ambrosio 23.419 sec 4
6 Valsecchi 33.919 sec 3
7 Mortara 35.214 sec 2
8 Razia 35.341 sec 1
9 Jakes 41.162 sec
10 Crestani 43.774 sec

Hülkenberg picks up the point for Fastest Lap. True FL-setter Parente was outside the top ten, this rule prevents backmarkers pitting for new tyres every few laps and doing qualifying runs to get the point. Keep scrolling down for Sunday’s race.

* * *
Sprint Race (23 laps)

Yelmer Buurman does not take the start after yesterday’s crash, it seems because they haven’t been able to repair the car in time rather than for medical reasons but I’m not completely sure.

Grid is the finishing positions from the Feature with the top 8 reversed.

1. Razia 2. Mortara
3. Valsecchi 4. D’Ambrosio
5. Kobayashi 6. Petrov
7. Perez 8. Hülkenberg
9. Jakes 10. Crestani

Pastor Maldonado’s seat has been taken by Nico Hulkenberg for a few races and this will be Nico’s last event of the GP2 Asia season.


Front row slow away, Campos guys [Petrov and Perez] away fast from row 3 and jump into 1st and 2nd by the first turn!
Kobayashi and d’Ambrosio dropped from 4th/5th to 7th/8th on the start.

22 to go – Perez leads Petrov, only just.
21 – Hülkenberg and Razia run wide into the dust!
19 – Jakes re-passes Crestani at turn one (didn’t realise he’d gone back..).
18 – Now he takes someone else.. can’t identify.

Parente is off-track, through the gravel, rejoins bringing lots of dust and crap on to the circuit. A few drivers have done this now, it doesn’t help the grip which is pretty bad as it is.

Perez, Petrov, Mortara, Hülkenberg, Valsecchi, Razia, D’Ambrosio, van der Garde.

16 – Top 3 well clear of the rest of the field which is still running in close proximity to each other. Bonanomi in the Qi Meritus Mahara car passes Rigon for 14th.

Meritus race in the GP2 Asia Series in place of Racing Engineering who only race in the European series, all the other teams race in both.

14 – Bonamomi racing closely with Nunes and takes the place, some close hard and fair racing!

12 – Perez and Petrov have cleared off in to the distance but Mortara has dropped into the clutches of Hülkenberg. Nico has been looking after his tyres much more effectively than his rivals who have all slowed down somewhat compared to earlier.

11 – Hülkenberg now racing Mortara, can’t quite make it work. Rear-facing onboard! We can see Valsecchi and Razia coming up behind them.

Kobayashi is dropping down the field, he’s 14th.

8 – Hulkenberg passes Mortara for 3rd just as we go to a commercial break! Now, can Valsecchi and the three guys behind him capitalise? Only a quick break, wow, Nico hit the warp drive, he’s suddenly 3sec up the road one lap after the pass!

6 – Parente gets really crossed-up in the dust and loses a bundle of positions. The Hulk is 1sec/lap faster than the two leaders, but may not have enough laps to catch up.

4 – Provencano spins into the gravel, elsewhere so does Chen. Replay: Crestani runs wide and Provencano loses control into the gravel trap! Avoidence or coincidence, hard to say.. Frankie Provencano has graduated from Formula Master.

2 – Mortara in 4th is bottling up a lot of cars behind him, big train has caught him up all the way down to 11th! And now they are all catching Chen, who did a 2 minute lap last time compared to 1m41 for the leaders…

Perez suddenly jumps forward in lap time, a clear 2sec faster than before.

Sergio Perez wins!

Top Ten Margin Pts
1 Perez 23 laps 6+1
2 Petrov 2.355 sec 5
3 Hülkenberg 11.929 sec 4
4 Mortara 19.454 sec 3
5 Valsecchi 21.735 sec 2
6 Razia 22.618 sec 1
7 D’Ambrosio 24.029 sec
8 van der Garde 24.346 sec
9 Jakes 25.253 sec
10 Villa 26.074 sec

Perez gets the point for Fastest Lap. A great result for the Barwa Campos Team, 2nd and 3rd in the Feature race and a 1-2 in the Sprint!


Kobayashi 39
Valsecchi 29
Hülkenberg 27
Perez 25
Rodriguez 22
D’Ambrosio 21
Petrov 19
Villa 12
Mortara 11
Bamber 8

The next race was at Sepang seven weeks later supporting the Malaysian Grand Prix.
Now that we’re in the off-season I will catch up with those rounds soon – I hope!