Ryder Notes: Top Gun, or The Right Stuff?

New alpha male sighting


Maverick in low light. Marco Guidetti (THE)

So how come MotoGP found itself in a situation where the first qualifying session of the year couldn’t happen? A little history might help. When MotoGP first came to Qatar we raced in daylight in October, but the ambient temperature was nudging forty degrees. After a couple of years of those temperatures it was suggested that the race should be held at night under floodlights. After the track had spent another $50-million, equivalent to the original construction costs, installing lighting they wanted to be guaranteed hosts of the first round of the year. So we race in March in the dark at a time of year when it is perfectly possible to race in daytime temperatures.

That means we have to stretch the meeting over four days to avoid the dew point sometime after 10pm when enough water condenses out of the desert air to guarantee lots of front-end crashes. We’ve had rain here before and it has always been understood that it would be impossible to run under lights in the rain because of glare. Well, today we found out it would be impossible to run after heavy rain anyway because the track wasn’t designed with any significant drainage. Massive storms overnight saturated the ground and even though most of the tarmac dried there were rivers running across the track in several places, standing water and flooded run offs. There wasn’t a chance to test Loris Capirossi’s suspicion that it might be possible to run in the wet under floodlights.

So the grids for all classes will be taken from Free Practice times, as has happened before. That gives Maverick Vinales pole in his first ride for Yamaha and puts Andrea Iannone second in his first ride for Suzuki. All the riders at the front row press conference agreed with abandoning today’s action, frankly it would have been perverse not to. The only real interest was watching Maverick Vinales casually assume the role of alpha male of the MotoGP pack despite being sat next to the reigning world champion. I didn’t notice him interact with Iannone or Marquez as he answered every question first like a man alone on the platform. Without being cocky or rude he just assumed that we only wanted or needed to hear from him. Even Iannone, never a shrinking violet, was reduced to replies along the lines of “I agree with him.” Marquez occupied himself explaining the watch-giving and photography protocol to Moto3 kid Jorge Martin.
We always knew Vinales was good, special even. We are now learning from Iannone, one blinding lap notwithstanding, that the Suzuki is not the easy ride we had assumed from watching Maverick on it. He just made it look that way. Now he’s making it look even easier to ride the Yamaha. And all everyone else, even Marc Marquez, can do is watch as Maverick, the top gun with the right stuff,  ascends to the top of the ziggurat


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