The 2016 Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar marked the beginning of a new era in MotoGP, that of Michelin tires and standard electronics across the grid. In the run-up to the race, hopes that some new faces would emerge from the pack and find their way to the podium had been soaring. Under the lights of Losail, however, defending champion Jorge Lorenzo held serve for Yamaha against a strong challenge from Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Marquez; the Usual Suspects had once again asserted their dominance of the sport.

The boys are back in town.

Qualifying had produced an ethnically-striated grid – Spaniards filling up rows one and three, with an all-Italian second row and an all-British fourth. Lorenzo laid down a fast lap early in the session, as did Marquez a bit later, and both held up despite Maverick Vinales and Andrea “Maniac Joe” Iannone taking serious runs at them at session’s end. Vinales missed out on the two hole by 4/1000ths of a second. Iannone could have easily moved up to the front row had he not been momentarily held up by Scott Redding, who appeared to be doing his best to get out of the way. (A track record final lap by Marquez was tossed when it was determined he had started it one second after the checkered flag had waved.)

Having watched six of the top seven riders in Moto2 jump the start, the start of the MotoGP tilt appeared somewhat sluggish, especially for Marquez and Vinales, who got lost in the sauce. Marquez, looking WAY more comfortable than he looked last season prior to switching to his 2014 chassis, escaped from the crowd to join the lead group in fourth position. Vinales, perhaps concerned about making an early-season mistake, found himself mired behind Dani Pedrosa, where he spent the entire evening.

Last season, it took Jorge Lorenzo until May to get his first win, let alone his first podium. He won the championship anyway, but it helps to get the first 25 points out of the way early.

The lead group formed up with Lorenzo leading the Dueling Andreas of the factory Ducati team, trailed by Valentino Rossi and Marquez. At the start of Lap 2, both Ducatis flew past Lorenzo, Iannone in the lead. Marquez slipped past Rossi on Lap 3 and began dogging Lorenzo on Lap 4. I was just getting comfortable with the idea of Iannone winning his first premier class race when he lowsided out of the lead in Turn 13 of Lap 6, leaving Dovizioso to slug it out with the Aliens. Sure enough, on Lap 9 Lorenzo found his way through on Dovizioso and that was that. Marquez and Dovizioso would trade places a few times over the remaining 14 laps, but no one was able to mount any kind of serious challenge to Lorenzo once he found his rhythm.

Tell Us Again What We Learned This Winter

Nothing. Elevated expectations for Vinales and Octo Pramac Ducati Brit Scott Redding didn’t pan out, at least in Round One. This is a good time to point out that the Qatar GP usually offers up a few surprises to which followers of MotoGP give too much weight. This is probably more true in 2016 than usual, given the technical changes everyone was dealing with. Here’s what we know at this moment:

Jorge Lorenzo remains the top dog.
  • The top riders have already adjusted to the Michelins and the control ECU.
  • Dovizioso and Iannone will do well at the long, sweeping circuits like Brno and Phillip Island. We don’t know how they will hold up at the cramped little joints like The Sachsenring and Motegi.
  • Marquez has finally learned that 16 points is better than none.
  • Rossi, now joined at the hip with Yamaha for the rest of his career, will have more fruitful days than he did today. Although he qualified better than usual, there was no late-race challenge from #46. His choice of the harder option rear tire proved to have been in vain.
  • Michelin has figured out a lot of stuff in a very short time. Many of the riders set their fastest laps of the day late in the race.
  • Iannone has replaced the departed Nicky Hayden in the competition for the absolute worst haircut on the grid. At this point, he’s winning by a mile.
  • The competition for the top riders has already begun.

Early Season Silliness

After two seasons in the wilderness (er, Ducati), Rossi knew he was onto a good thing when he returned to Yamaha. It’s no surprise that he leapt at the chance to sign a contract extension.

Right, so Rossi and Lorenzo were reportedly offered contracts for 2017-18 simultaneously, by email. Rossi signs his immediately. Lorenzo does not. Rossi suggests Lorenzo is shopping Ducati. (Lorenzo is, in fact, shopping Ducati.) Lorenzo fires back that Rossi had no choice because no one else would want him. Boom. Bradley Smith, on the verge of eviction by Tech 3 boss Herve Poncharal, signs a deal with KTM for next year, leaving Yamaha a spot with which to woo Alex Rins.

I would say the odds of Lorenzo moving to Ducati in 2017 increased at the close of Lap 1, when the lead group entered the front straight. Lorenzo, at the front of the pack, could only sit and watch as both factory Ducatis effortlessly blew past him, Grant-through-Richmond style, forcing him to push harder in the turns than he might have wished for the rest of the race. The speed of the Desmosedici (Iannone was clocked at 218 mph on Saturday) combined with the skills of Jorge Lorenzo herald a formidable force if, indeed, Lorenzo elects to switch. He would probably enjoy, too, the prospect of winning a title or three at Ducati, which The Doctor was unable to do, albeit during the pre-Dall’Igna era.

Meanwhile, Jorge Lorenzo would be wise to leverage his bargaining position before deciding to sign a new contract with anyone.

Here’s an easy one: If/when Lorenzo bolts for Ducati, Yamaha will immediately sign the 21 year-old Vinales for as long as they can. He’s the hottest property in MotoGP right now, despite his mediocre performance today. Honda, on the other hand, needs to decide soon if they really want another two years of hard-luck Pedrosa, or if the future wouldn’t look much brighter with Marquez and Vinales (or Marquez and Rins) fronting the Repsol factory team.

The Big Picture

I’m not even sure there IS a big picture so early in the season. Iannone’s impression of Lorenzo’s 2014 crash in the desert has needlessly put him behind the eight ball for the rest of the year; why he was pushing so hard so early in the race, with all that bike beneath him, is a mystery.

The 2016 Ducati Desmosedici is notable for its winglet design. Andrea Iannone opted for four winglets while Andrea Dovizioso used just one pair.

The 2016 Ducati Desmosedici is notable for its winglet design. Andrea Iannone opted for four winglets while Andrea Dovizioso used just one pair.

Rossi, his meal ticket punched for the next three years, may have lost a bit of intensity – about racing, that is. He seems fully charged up for a season-long verbal feud with Lorenzo, and would probably welcome Marquez back into the fray as well. Dorna, it seems, is not amused by Rossi’s baiting of his two Spanish rivals, and may try to convince him to cool his jets. Having a 27 year-old Rossi snarling and snapping at you was once a frightening prospect. A 37 year-old Rossi, who has been beaten by both Lorenzo and Marquez: not so much. Yamaha may live to regret their pre-emptive signing of Rossi, especially if it ends up costing them both Vinales and Rins.

Those hoping to see a continuation of last season’s drama between Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez will have to wait as the Doctor seemed more intent on roiling things up with Jorge Lorenzo.

Two Weeks to the Middle of Nowhere

The grid has a little time to screw things back together before heading off for a back-to-back, Round Two in Argentina and Round Three in Austin. Even old econ majors like me are not too geeked up about hearing the teams yammer on about analyzing all the data they collected this weekend. Whatever. It’s good to have the bikes back on track competing in anger. It’s great having Nick Harris calling the shots in the booth. It’s good for the sport to have Marquez competitive again this year. It will be good – next year – to have more bikes on the grid. And it will be fascinating to see which bums end up on which seats as the season rolls on.

For now, Lorenzo rules.

2016 MotoGP Qatar Results
Pos. Rider Team Time
1 Jorge Lorenzo Movistar Yamaha
2 Andrea Dovizioso Ducati Corse +2.019
3 Marc Marquez Repsol Honda +2.287
4 Valentino Rossi Movistar Yamaha +2.387
5 Dani Pedrosa Repsol Honda +14.083
6 Maverick Vinales Suzuki Ecstar +15.423
7 Pol Espargaro Monster Yamaha Tech3 +18.629
8 Bradley Smith Monster Yamaha Tech3 +18.652
9 Hector Barbera Avintia Racing +21.160
10 Scott Redding Octo Pramac Yaknich Ducati +24.435
11 Aleix Espargaro Suzuki Ecstar +35.847
12 Eugene Laverty Aspar Ducati +41.756
13 Alvaro Bautista Aprilia Gresini +41.932
14 Jack Miller Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda +41.982
15 Tito Rabat Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda +54.953
Not Classified
Stefan Bradl Aprilia Gresini 11 Laps
Loris Baz Avintia Ducati 14 Laps
Cal Crutchlow LCR Honda 16 Laps
Andrea Iannone Ducati 17 Laps
Yonny Hernandez Aspar Ducati 21 Laps
2016 MotoGP Top Ten Standings After 1 Round
Pos. Rider Motorcycle Points
1 Jorge Lorenzo Movistar Yamaha 25
2 Andrea Dovizioso Ducati Corse 20
3 Marc Marquez Repsol Honda 16
4 Valentino Rossi Movistar Yamaha 13
5 Dani Pedrosa Repsol Honda 11
6 Maverick Vinales Suzuki Ecstar 10
7 Pol Espargaro Monster Yamaha Tech3 9
8 Bradley Smith Monster Yamaha Tech3 8
9 Hector Barbera Avintia Racing 7
10 Scott Redding Octo Pramac Yaknich Ducati 6
  • Old MOron

    Hmm could the early signing of Vale cost Yamaha the opportunity of signing Vinales and Rins? Good thought, Bruce. I suppose it will cost them the opportunity to sign one of them, but prolly not both. They’ll put whomever they get on Smith’s vacated seat. They shouldn’t have too much trouble attracting a rider if the Honda continues to work for nobody but Marquez.

    “Sure enough, on Lap 9 Lorenzo found his way through on Dovizioso and that was that. Marquez and Dovizioso would trade places a few times over the remaining 14 laps, but no one was able to mount any kind of serious challenge to Lorenzo once he found his rhythm.”

    I kind of agree with you that the second half of the race seemed rote, but Dovi pulled a nice surprise at the beginning of the final lap, then ended his race with a masterly riposte to Marc’s lunge at the final corner. It was a gratifying end of the race from that perspective.

    • Bruce Allen

      Riposte, is it? Very cool. I love throwing terms into these things that only you and a few other literati understand. I thought “ethnically striated” came from pretty far out in left field. ;-D

      • Old MOron

        Yes, full marks for “ethnically striated”. Well done.

      • JMDonald

        Show off. Well done sir.

      • Ozzy Mick

        What’s the world coming to when a motogp report forces its readers to look up a dictionary! I thought ‘striated’ was a typo and was supposed to be ‘saturated’.

        • Old MOron

          Ha ha, a seppo sent you to your dictionary? Welcome back, Mick!

          • Ozzy Mick

            Hey, thanks Old MO, good to be back!

          • Old MOron

            Hey Mick, didn’t you ride some sort of tour of Malaysia? How did it go? Got any stories to tell? It gets boring, waiting for Bruce to post his next pearls of Moto GP wisdom. How about a trip report? Maybe a picture or two?

          • Ozzy Mick

            Hey Old MO, you’re right, did a short tour up the highlands in Malaysia, had a ball along with a couple of mad Norwegians, blasting past mobile chicanes, then letting them all pass when we stopped for scenic shots!
            Would love to share piccies and share more stories but this isn’t quite the right place for it, I guess. I tried signing on to MO’s Forum but failed!
            I’m happy to post my email address here if permitted. Any ideas?

          • Old MOron

            Naw, don’t post your email address. You’ll get spammed out of existence. I guess you’ll just have to pepper you posts with occasional Malaysian anecdotes, or something.

        • Bruce Allen

          If my, um, manhood was the size of my vocabulary, I would rule the world. Just sayin’. Welcome back!

          • Ozzy Mick

            Thanks Mr. Allen, good to be back and looking forward to more of your usual dry, dark humour, unbiased analytical skills and creative writings. It takes creativity to link your vocabulary with the size of your manhood.

          • Ozzy Mick

            Thanks Mr. Allen, good to be back and looking forward to more of your usual dry, dark humour, unbiased analytical skills and creative writings. It takes creativity to link your vocabulary with the size of your manhood.

          • Old MOron

            For once I’m not waiting for MOronic video to accompany the review!

  • Gruf Rude

    Not sure I’m looking forward to three more seasons of Rossi’s whining . . .

    • spiff

      I didn’t listen to the post race interviews. What was he complaining about?

    • spiff

      I didn’t listen to the post race interviews. What was he complaining about?

    • Old MOron

      In the post race interviews that I’ve read, Vale simply said he wasn’t fast enough. Are you talking about the FP4 incident?

      • Gruf Rude

        The initial pre-race press conference where he made it a point to imply that the Spanish riders had conspired against him in last year’s season and his BS complaint about Lorenzo slowing him in practice.

        • Old MOron

          Fortunately I missed the pre-conference. I join you in hoping for less talk and more action.

  • Konstantin Troitskiy

    I would suggest a minor correction to the text: “Whatever. It’s good to have the bikes back on track competing in anger. It’s great having Nick Harris calling the shots in the booth. IT’S GOOD TO HAVE MYSELF MAKING THESE REVIEWS HERE FOR YOU GUYS. It’s good for the sport to have Marquez competitive again this year. It will be good – next year – to have more bikes on the grid. And it will be fascinating to see which bums end up on which seats as the season rolls on. Thank you Bruce.

    • Bruce Allen

      I don’t recognize the name–unless you have a great-great-great grandfather named Leon?–but I welcome the kind words. Looking forward to having you join the discussion.

  • Mahatma

    Let’s hope for alittle more excitement in the upcomming races.Apart from a few good laps at the end,nothing much happened.Ducatis are looking good.

  • Curtis Brandt

    Welcome back, Bruce. Looking forward to the rest of this season and your thoughts along the way.

  • JMDonald

    There are a lot more races ahead. I cannot predict anything. It is a lot easier to maintain the proper emotional distance needed to enjoy the sport this year. The plan is to sit back and enjoy the season. This stuff beats March madness any day of the week.

  • TroySiahaan

    Good stuff, Bruce. My take:

    – Ducati, once again, proved they can make big power. Yamaha (Lorenzo, anyway), once again, proved that dyno chart bragging rights mean nothing. Once it was time to get serious, J-Lo pulled the pin and leapt so far ahead in the squiggly stuff the Ducs couldn’t make up the gap on the straight. Same thing happened last year. By mid-season, the Yamaha (and Honda to an extent) found more power while losing nothing in the corners. I hope I’m wrong, but I get the feeling history will repeat itself.

    – Honda looks to be in trouble already. MM93 rode the wheels off his bike only to see Dovi gap him on corner exit. The Honda can’t seem to put the power down effectively. Honda will get results only because of MM’s sheer talent.

    – Yamaha and Rossi are in this for the long haul – as in, VR46 will be bringing Yamaha revenue long after he hangs up his leathers. Yamaha signed a merchandising deal with VR46 apparel, Yamaha sponsors the VR46 rider academy, and VR himself will likely be a brand ambassador for years to come. Look beyond the on-track results (which Rossi is still able to deliver – fourth is nothing to sneeze at), and the Yamaha/Rossi pairing starts to make more sense.

    – After all the hoopla about tires and electronics, the best riders on the best bikes were still the ones at the front. Granted, it was pretty cool seeing more tire smoke coming off the rear tires. :-)

    – Moto2 was super strange. Don’t know why it took so long to crack down on Morbidelli after penalizing the other seven or so guys immediately. The stewards really screwed up that one on many fronts. Either way, bummer for Folger. Happy for Luthi. I like that guy. Watch out for Lowes, though. He seems like he could be the real deal this year.

    – As has become par for the course, Moto3 was the best race of the weekend.

    Bring on Argentina!

    • Old MOron

      You may be right that Ducati’s power is not enough to overcome Lorenzo and the Yamaha. But I’m holding out hope, at least for the tracks that have long straights. If the Maniac Joe hadn’t crashed out, maybe he could’ve duffed Jorge up a bit. Hey, it’s good to have hope.

      • DickRuble

        I don’t know.. I would think for long straights you need power and the Ducks would be at a disadvantage. They may fare better on tracks where early acceleration (torque) out of the corners is key.

        • Old MOron

          That’s an interesting consideration, and it certainly applies to Duc v. Honda. But I recall the Maniac and Dovi catching Jorge near the end of the long straight. They might need that distance against the Yamahas to build up speed.

      • TroySiahaan

        I hope I’m wrong and the Ducati boys can bring the fight to J-Lo. Nobody wants to see the top guy check out after a few laps.

  • Vrooom

    So glad you’re back Bruce! Hard to call Vinales in 6th on a relatively new manufacturer a disappointment, but after the way he qualified, it is. When is Iannone going to stop crashing!! Anyone but Lorenzo or Marquez in 2016!

    • Bruce Allen

      I agree. It was Vinales’ best ever finish in MotoGP, over 20 seconds in front of teammate Espargaro. I’m disappointed only because I had tagged him for the podium. Good call.

  • schizuki

    Love the move to BeIn Sports. That pre-race show was a nice primer for new fans. Wish that host would stop saying “Brilliant stuff”, though.

    • Bruce Allen

      He can’t help it. He’s old, and British. At least we’re spared a bunch of “jolly goods” and “pip pips.”

    • Ian Parkes

      Don’t have a problem with that – It’s random EMPHasis on THE wrong words that GETS to me.

    • Jeroen Philippe

      Here in Belgium we have very good commentary by Didier de Radigues. His co-host however continuously refers to Lorenzo as “you’re gay”.

  • john phyyt

    Come on Honda!! Both Ducati’s made your bike look slow . Japanese losing “engineering” face to those Italians! Shame.
    Give the boy more horsepower NOW!

    • Ozzy Mick

      Nothing new here – they did it in ’07. Mind you, they did have Stoner!

  • Shlomi

    If only Iannone keept is wheels up we would have know the true potential of the Ducati. Dovi is clearly not Ducati #1 rider. Issue is that this track is Ducati territory. If Ducati didn’t win here, the next chance is Philiip Island which is way too late in the calendar.
    One thing is clear, MM is not so magical when his bike isn’t the best bike on the grid.

    • Ian Parkes

      Dunno about Marquez needing the best bike but he needs a bike that suits him. Interesting to see how many people lost the front on the Michelins. Marquez and Rossi both make the most of good front grip, so if the Michelins have a rear grip bias those riders need to adapt more. Advantage again to the smoother Lorenzo.

      • Shlomi

        Out of the top tier riders only Iannone lost the front and he admitted he went over the white line. The tier 2 riders (Crutclow and others) tends to ride over thier heads frequently to catch up the front groups, so crashing more frequently. I think what made the difference for Lorenzo, was his pick of the soft rear tire. He was able to enjoy the grip, yet the tire grip didn’t fade away. Lordnzo fastest lap was lap 20 !
        Still if only Iannone kept his bike up, what a race we could have had….

  • Ozzy Mick

    The only thing I look forward to in the motogp is not the processional ‘racing’, but the return of The Man – Brucey Baby!
    BTW, why can’t you be in 2 places at once and also report on the World Superbikes? I ALMOST made it there this year but couldn’t – bah!

    • Born to Ride

      Don’t ask Bruce about WSBK. He gets testy.

      • Ozzy Mick

        Oh yeah? Any idea why? I noticed he ‘Liked’ my comment but did not respond…

        • Old MOron

          Yeah, I noticed that, too. Bloody favoritism! Aside from that, it has to do with the fact that MO won’t pay for WSBK articles. I know that our MOrons are race fans. I blame it on VerticalScope. I’m tempted to call them dirty names right now, but I’ll restrain myself.