If last weekend’s final testing sessions are anything to go by, Yamaha look like bouncing back from their nightmare 2018 MotoGP campaign in 2019 after Spaniard Maverick Vinales topped the timesheets, with YZR-M1 riders occupying four of the top seven slots in Qatar.
The 2013 Moto3 world champion, who ended the Japanese giant’s run of 25 races without a win in Australia in October, was fastest of all the 23 riders present, even though he admitted that he will need to improve his race pace for when the opening round of the 2019 season takes place at the desert circuit next month.
“Honestly, I have been riding really good on the track,” he said after the test. “I felt like I was going very fast with the amount of grip that the track provided today. But we need to improve. I don’t have really good grip on the edge, so we need to keep working, especially in that area. On the acceleration side we improved quite a lot since Sepang, and at the moment I’m quite satisfied with what we have in the braking area. My race pace is not bad, I tried ten laps just to understand how the bike is doing, but it was very cold for the medium tyres. Anyway, I rode quite well, with quite a good rhythm. Maybe I could have pushed a little more. However, we still need to improve for the race. I think we are going to be ready. The race will be very important for us. Our bike has really positive points, but also a few negatives, so we now need to come to a conclusion and see where we can improve.”
French rookie Fabio Quartararo, riding for the new Petronas Yamaha squad, was a surprise second place, just 0.233 seconds behind Vinales, with Alex Rins third on his Suzuki.
Conditions at the test were very windy, affecting lap times and bike set-up. The Qatari track has historically been Ducati territory, but the best of the Italian bikes was Danilo Petrucci, in a lowly 10th. He said: “Today we faced a bit more difficulties than expected as the conditions were quite windy, which prompted us to change the setup of the bike. However, we reacted quite well because, once I put the soft tyre on, we were able to post the best provisional time right away. Then, we switched our focus back to the race, running a simulation together with Andrea and trading positions, like what we did in Malaysia. I’m happy with the feeling with the bike: despite the colder track temperatures, we managed to be fast and I’m confident we’ll be ready come race time.”
Qatar has not been the happiest of hunting grounds for world champion Marc Marquez, whose only MotoGP win at the venue came as part of his devastating start to the 2014 campaign. The Repsol Honda rider ended the official test fourth, and ominously declared himself in good shape for the race, adding: “I feel ready today, ready to start the season. Like yesterday we did a lot of laps, worked well and made some more steps. We’re still not 100% but we have a good feeling. Qatar is a track where normally we struggle, but at this test we are there with everyone else. It was a bit difficult with the wind and the temperature on track tonight but we still did what we needed to.”
MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi finished fifth on the second Monster Yamaha, with Jorge Lorenzo sixth on his official debut for Repsol Honda despite not being at full fitness, and Franco Morbidelli seventh on the other Petronas M1.
Cal Crutchlow, now Britain’s only MotoGP rider, had a tough test down in 17th. He took to Twitter to declare the test as ‘three days of my life that I won’t get back’ although he did add that he feels that the lowly position was not truly representative of his race pace.
The 2019 MotoGP world championship kicks off under the floodlights in Qatar on March 10.