This weekend will see the commencement of the 2021 MotoGP championship for PETRONAS Yamaha Sepang Racing Team’s Franco Morbidelli and Valentino Rossi with the Grand Prix of Qatar. It will be the first MotoGP race since 2019 at Losail International Circuit, after the 2020 edition was cancelled for the premier class.
The event will signal the start of Morbidelli’s third season with the Malaysian squad, a pairing that saw him become vice-champion last year. The Italian enjoyed a successful pre-season test at the Qatar track and will be hoping to use that momentum to start the season with a great result at the first round. Although Franco has not finished inside the top-ten in his two premier class Qatar races, he does have good form at the circuit after winning his Moto2 race there in 2017.
This Sunday will see the 9-times World Champion Valentino Rossi continue his new challenge as he enters his first race as a PETRONAS Yamaha SRT rider, and his first with fellow Italian Morbidelli as his team-mate. Valentino has good form at Losail having previously visited the MotoGP podium eight times previously, including victories in 2010 and 2015. Combining this past experience with the positive pre-season test, Rossi will be hoping for a good start to his 2021 campaign.
The Grand Prix of Qatar will begin for Morbidelli and Rossi at 3.40pm local time (8.40pm MYT) with Free Practice 1 on Friday, before the first MotoGP race (22 laps) of the 2021 season gets underway at 8pm local time (1am MYT).
I think we are ready for the first race of the season. We worked hard in testing, tried several things and then focused on setting up the bike for the Qatar track. The set-up is never perfect, you can always find things to change and improve, but I think we have a really good base. To have a good race there you need to be fast, have a good pace, to be consistent and understand which is the right tyre. It’s hard to know from testing what the target should be, but we want to aim to be in the top-five and to fight for the podium – we think it’s possible. We’ll see where we are though on Sunday.
After testing in Qatar, I feel quite strong and the balance of the bike is good. I achieved my best-ever lap of the circuit, which was an important and positive thing to do. I think there are a lot of riders on different bikes that are also strong, but we’re definitely in the pack with them. Our race pace looks to be good, so I feel like we are ready to start the season in Qatar this weekend. There is a really good atmosphere in the team; we’ve worked well and in the right direction. I’m excited to start the season properly in a few days’ time.