After the first day of action for the full grid at the Official MotoGP™ Qatar Test, it’s safe to say 2021 has started pretty well for Aleix Espargaro and Aprilia Racing Team Gresini as they finish top of the timesheets. The Spaniard set a 1:54.687 to beat Stefan Bradl (Honda Test Team) by 0.256s, with reigning World Champion Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) completing the top three as the new MotoGP™ season officially got underway.
The wind played a key role on Saturday after also proving bothersome at the Shakedown Test, but all 29 riders on the ground in Doha enjoyed some valuable track time despite another blustery day at Losail International Circuit. And this time, having sat out the Shakedown, that included Aleix Espargaro on his near brand-new RS-GP he ended the day just a couple of tenths shy of Aprilia’s best time at 2020’s Qatar Test and put in 57 laps. Updates have been made to the engine, chassis and exhaust and there’s a new carbon swingarm at the Noale factory, as well as two new aero designs that the riders are putting through their paces. Aprilia also have a holeshot device on the front and rear – along with Honda and Ducati. Lorenzo Savadori, on the other side of the garage, completed 42 laps, ending with 1:56.511 as a best time.
Meanwhile, it was a huge day over at the Repsol Honda Team as Pol Espargaro made his eagerly awaited debut for the Japanese giants. A hefty 68 laps were rattled off by the Spaniard on his HRC debut as he, Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol) and Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) all headed out on 2020 Hondas, with each rider’s two bikes having different exhausts. Alex Marquez’ day didn’t get off to the best of starts after destroying his RC213V in a final corner crash, but the double World Champion was soon back out to spin some more laps. Marquez was the second quickest Honda on Day 1, behind the aforementioned Bradl, and finished P10 just ahead of Nakagami.
Bradl was again donning the famous Repsol livery on track and for a lot of opening day, the German was at the summit of the timesheets. He has three chassis to try in Qatar: the ‘standard’ 2020 chassis, the chassis he ended the 2020 campaign on which has carbon bonded to the main beam, as well as an entirely new chassis that we saw the number 6 testing in Jerez a few weeks ago. Bradl was very pleased with his and the team’s progress so far, looking for more of the same over the remaining four days.
Over at World Champions Team Suzuki Ecstar, who officially unveiled their 2021 livery ahead of the test, Joan Mir and Alex Rins were the last riders to head out on track. Similar to most teams, we didn’t see many changes to the bike, but we also didn’t see much change to their impressive pace. Third for Mir is a solid start to his title defence, with Rins also inside the top 10 in P8. The duo recorded a combined 91 laps, with test rider Sylvain Guintoli adding another 50 and Takuya Tsuda another 26. Tsuda was the first rider out on track for the Hamamatsu factory.
Further down pitlane, both Jack Miller and Francesco Bagnaia suited up and headed out in Ducati Lenovo Team red for the first time to begin a new era for both riders and team. Miller was fourth fastest at the end of the day, completing 54 laps in total and glowing that it felt “unreal” to be back. Both riders were on 2020 Ducatis as they got back into the swing of things but did try the new aero, with Miller saying he couldn’t find any faults. Bagnaia finished P13 but was only 0.8s off the top despite a crash at Turn 3.
Ducati test rider Michele Pirro was also circulating with new aero on the front of his GP21; a third extra aero vane was seen fitted lower down on the fairing. In addition, Ducati have a ‘salad box’ that looks slightly different to last year’s. Simon Crafar also reported that the Bologna factory are experimenting with a holeshot device at the front of the bike, along with Aprilia and Honda, so look out for that over the coming days…
Johann Zarco, meanwhile, was in Pramac Racing colours for the first time and from the outside, it looked like the Frenchman enjoyed his first day in his new office. The number 5 was atop the standings at stages in the afternoon, eventually ending Saturday sixth overall with less than half a second splitting him from Aleix Espargaro at the top. Zarco’s teammate Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing) was back on track for his second day as a MotoGP™ rider, albeit with a sore leg after his Turn 3 crash during the Shakedown Test. Despite this though, Martin was the fastest rookie in P18 after setting a 1:56.147 – just a couple of tenths slower than Pol Espargaro ahead of him.
The other two Moto2™ graduate rookies also got plenty more valuable laps under their belts. Enea Bastianini (Avintia Esponsorama Racing) was less than a tenth away from Martin in P20 while Luca Marini (Sky VR46 Avintia) finished P24 on the times. It’s a huge learning curve for all three riders in Qatar and there’s no doubt even more improvements will be coming over the next few days.
Over at Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira were both sitting near the summit in the early stages of the test. By the end of the day, Oliveira was the fastest RC16 rider on track, the Portuguese rider setting a 1:55.084 to finish fifth overall on his first day as a factory rider. Binder fell at Turn 2 but was perfectly ok to head out, ending the day in P12 after 52 laps.
New KTM rider on the block Danilo Petrucci struck a bright figure out on track alongside teammate Iker Lecuona as the Tech3 KTM Factory Racing pairing lapped on their new orange RC16s too. Like the factory riders, there weren’t too many differences with the bikes they were riding compared to the 2020 model, and Lecuona and Petrucci finished P22 and P23 respectively.
Test rider Dani Pedrosa, however, was trying out some innovations for KTM. As Simon Crafar reported from pitlane, Pedrosa was riding an RC16 kitted out with a new chassis, a whole new tail section and a new exhaust inside that tail unit. The famous number 26 was 26th on the timesheets and completed 48 laps, obviously not focusing on outright speed.
Over in the Yamaha ranks, there was a headline stealer as Valentino Rossi headed out on a familiar bike but in unfamiliar colours. The new Petronas Yamaha SRT rider began his new adventure with the Malaysian team and was seen trying two different tank covers, likely for ergonomics, as he did more than 50 laps. It was teammate Franco Morbidelli who was the quickest YZR-M1 rider on Day 1, however, as the Italian finished P7 and 0.487s adrift. Rossi was P14.
It was a big day for Fabio Quartararo too, who officially began life as a factory MotoGP™ rider at Losail International Circuit. The Frenchman was the busiest rider out there on Saturday after completing 69 laps on his new Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP machine, and was just over a second off the pace in P15 – one place behind Rossi. Maverick Viñales was the fastest Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP man on Day 1 though, notching up 51 laps and taking P9.
There doesn’t seem to be too much different to what we saw last season on the Yamahas so far, but there was plenty of data gathering going on. Test riders Cal Crutchlow, Katsuyuki Nakasuga and Kohta Nozane were once more sharing bikes, so it’s very hard to tell who set the fastest times on each of the bikes labelled ‘Yamaha Test 1’, ‘Yamaha Test 2’ and ‘Yamaha Test 3’ on the timing screens, but the Iwata marque have a wealth of information at their fingertips.