With the Grand Prix of Doha done and dusted, it’s time to take a look at the five things we can take away from the weekend.
Two rounds of the 2021 season have already come and gone, with the next race at Portimao a week and a half away.
Of course, being so early on in the season nothing is certain yet, and there will definitely be more surprises to come in the future races. But let’s have a look at what we can take from Round 2.
1. Ducati have work to do
Coming into the second round, I was fully expecting to see the factory Ducati have a solid weekend. After quite a disappointing first race, with Jack Miller down in ninth and Pecco Bagnaia only just getting a podium finish, they would’ve hoped for a stronger display.
This, however, was not the case come race-day. In fact, it was the opposite as both Ducati’s came across the line to finish in sixth and ninth, on a track they were expected to dominate.
It would be unfair to point the blame at a specific issue, but it would be hard to lay the blame on the bike itself as the satellite-Ducati team, Pramac Racing, ended the Grand Prix of Doha in second and third.
Miller’s result was the standout, finishing in ninth two weekends in a row on the track Ducati have won at the past two years MotoGP have visited Qatar (2018 & 2019). The Australian spoke of issues with the rear-tyre after the Qatar GP last week, and that could’ve been the problem again this weekend.
But with the two Pramac’s at the front for the majority of the race, and Johann Zarco leading in the Riders’ Standings, it is clear that the factory team need to reset and come back stronger.
2. Aprilia look strong
In Last Lap’s Aprilia team preview ahead of the season, I labelled the Italian team as 2021’s dark horse. So far, they seem to be living up to that.
Lorenzo Savadori is continuing his struggle on the RS-GP, especially after picking up a shoulder injury earlier in the year, but Aleix Espargaro looks very good.
Compared to how results have gone in recent years, Aprilia will be confident at how 2021 has begun for them, with a seventh place finish in Round 1, and a tenth place finish this weekend.
These results aren’t exactly glowing, but in the past the Aprilia has looked a handful to ride. This year however, Espargaro seems very confident. Across the weekend, the Spaniard was consistently in the top-10 and it looks like that will continue to be the case throughout 2021.
Of course, it’s hard to call that a certainty after just two rounds, which have taken place at the same track, but after years of struggle, Aprilia finally look to be on their way up.
3. This could finally be Yamaha’s year
How many times have Yamaha come out the blocks looking like they will be a dominant force in the premier-class, especially in recent years?
Whilst this could be the case again as the year unfolds, there looks to be a bigger sense of confidence within the Yamaha squad that they can be genuine title contenders in 2021 compared to the past.
Maverick Vinales took a commanding victory in Round 1, then Fabio Quartararo did the same again this weekend, and there was no kind of response from their rivals in either race as soon as they took the lead.
Vinales just needs to find that extra bit of consistency to be a championship contender, and Quartararo knows how to lead a race as we saw last year and this weekend. But we need to see that across the whole season, not just at the beginning.
I won’t be entirely convinced that this will be Yamaha’s year until the French GP, however the early signs are looking promising.
4. We haven’t seen the best of KTM
Losail has been known as a track that doesn’t favour KTM’s bike, and that was shown again this weekend as the Austrian manufacturer struggled to get to the front. Brad Binder achieved a finish of eighth place, yet the second bike of Miguel Oliveira was down in 15th.
This doesn’t make for the best reading, especially as KTM looked to be front-running contenders heading into this year, but as the MotoGP paddock heads to Europe, I think we’ll see the RC16 come alive.
The next track on the calendar is Portimão, where Oliveira took a commanding pole-position and converted that into a dominant victory on his Tech3 KTM in 2020, so we should expect to see him up there again this year.
Last year, the Austrian-squad were a common part of the fight towards the front of the grid, so I would be very surprised if they suddenly dropped off.
If the KTM machine is where it was in Qatar when we head to Portugal, then that should be a cause for concern. I don’t believe it will be though, and I think we will begin to see KTM at the front in the coming races.
5. Petronas SRT look a bit lost
One of the biggest talking points of the Grand Prix of Doha was Valentino Rossi achieving his worst qualifying position in MotoGP. Add Franco Morbidelli looking uncomfortable on his SRT bike with a 12th place finish to that list, and it’s fair to say the team look to be having issues.
Across the entire weekend, Rossi only broke into the top-ten on the timesheets once (ninth in FP3), and Morbidelli was fighting mechanical problems throughout Friday, and looked frustrated.
After a 2020 campaign that saw the outfit finish as runner-up in the Teams’ Standings, I don’t think anyone expected to see SRT struggle like they did this weekend.
Portimão is a chance for the Malaysian-squad to brush off this bad result, and come back stronger. The team have shown they can be a consistent front-runner, and at one point last year looked to be favourites for the championship, but after the result in the Doha GP, the SRT outfit need to bounce back quickly.