After the thrilling end to the 2015 campaign, excitement levels are peaking ahead of the MotoGP season curtain-raiser, which will be staged at the Losail International Circuit in Doha, Qatar, this weekend.
Jorge Lorenzo won the championship on the final day of the previous campaign, overhauling his Yamaha team-mate Valentino Rossi, who had led the way for much of the year. Those two will be seeking to get off to a strong start again in 2016, although Honda’s Marc Marquez will also be on the hunt for a third title in four years after underwhelming in 2015.
Either way, the first race of the season is always a very special occasion and a grand prix that will reveal plenty about what to expect in the months to come.
Here are the key viewing details for the race weekend, the schedule for the grand prix and a look at a trio of riders likely to be in the hunt for podium positions in what will inevitably be another gripping edition of MotoGP.
|MotoGP Qatar Grand Prix 2016: Schedule|
|Thursday, March 17||Free Practice 1||4:55 p.m. - 5:40 p.m.|
|Friday, March 18||Free Practice 2||3 p.m. - 3:45 p.m.|
|Friday, March 18||Free Practice 3||5:55 p.m. - 6:40 p.m.|
|Saturday, March 19||Free Practice 4||4:55 p.m. - 5:25 p.m.|
|Saturday, March 19||Qualifying 1||5:35 p.m. - 5:50 p.m.|
|Saturday, March 19||Qualifying 2||6 p.m. - 6:15 p.m.|
|Sunday, March 20||Race||6 p.m.|
With the popular Rossi chasing a record 10th world title for long spells of last season, the vast majority of fans weren’t rooting for Lorenzo on the final-day showdown in Valencia.
Still, you have to admire the diligence and determination of the Spaniard, who reeled in his illustrious team-mate in the second half of the calendar, including a vital win to take the title in the 18th and final round of the season.
Here are the highlights of that momentous day, at the end of which Lorenzo won his third MotoGP title:
The stars seem to be aligning for Lorenzo this campaign. The Michelin tyres that will be used this season look set to hinder Rossi’s qualifying performance—an area in which the Italian struggled so badly in 2015—and that should allow the world champion an edge in trying to better his results in the opening races last season.
Indeed, Lorenzo was unable to get on the podium in Qatar, the United States and Argentina, before winning the next four in succession. Conditions could also level the playing field, too; as the MotoGP FanClub feed noted, incredibly, there has been rain in Qatar during the build-up to this one:
A win for the Spaniard here seems on the cards based on his efforts in testing, the tyre set-up and the positive momentum he’ll carry into the campaign after last term. Lorenzo has won at this venue in MotoGP on two separate occasions, and he looks well placed to make it a third triumph on Sunday.
Having dominated in 2013 and 2014, the young Spaniard was not expected to relinquish his stranglehold on the competition. But he struggled in the early weeks of 2015, with three retirements in the first seven races and just one win in the first eight; in 2014, he won the first 10 in succession.
This time round, the 23-year-old is once again among the favourites to take another world title. He’s a rider who continues to look like the class act in the field when he gets it right, and having rode the waves of momentum in his first two title triumphs, Marquez will be matured following the chastening experiences of last term.
As the MotoGP Twitter feed reminded us recently, there were still some moments to savour from the young man in the last campaign:
Marquez needs more suitable support from his team, too. The winter didn’t yield too many positive signs for Honda, admittedly, although on the final day of pre-season testing they did make some encouraging progress. However, the man himself has hinted getting a win here could be tough.
“The Losail layout may not be the most favourable of the season for our bike, but in the past we’ve scored a podium and a win here with the RC213V, so we’ll fight to get the best result on Sunday,” he said, per MotoGP.com. Still, he’s clearly keen to get the season under way, as is evident by his Twitter feed:
Expect Honda to get better as the season goes on, meaning a repeat of the 10-win opening sequence from 2014 looks unlikely for Marquez.
Still, focusing squarely on the opening race weekend, he has proved the quality is there previously to finish in the upper echelons of the field in Qatar. However, Lorenzo has looked in imperious fettle during the offseason and will most likely have too much for the Honda man, meaning Marquez will have to make do with a minor place on the podium.