Stefan Bradl topped the opening day of 2021 MotoGP pre-season testing – reserved for the rookies and test riders – at Qatar’s Losail International Circuit, amid tricky conditions.
Riding in high winds and with intermittent sandstorms blanketing the track, Honda test rider Bradl’s best time of 1m55.614s, set in the closing minutes of the evening test, was two seconds off the lap record pace. However, it was a considerable improvement from the 1m59s that was all he could manage while the sun was still up.
Bradl was eligible for the test even though he may yet race for the team in the opening rounds, as he is still officially Honda’s test rider despite being lined up to continue standing in for Marc Marquez in the race line-up until the six-time champion is fit to return.
The second and third fastest times were set by Yamaha’s test team.
With three riders – Cal Crutchlow (pictured above), Katsuyuki Nakasuga and Kohta Nozane – sharing three bikes, it was not made official which rider set each time, but it’s believed that both machines’ best times were courtesy of the recently-retired Crutchlow in his first outing in his new role.
Fourth was best of the rookies Enea Bastianini, the Moto2 champion making his MotoGP debut.
He ended up 2.5s behind Bradl but fractionally ahead of veteran Ducati test rider Michele Pirro.
Bastianini’s fellow rookies Luca Marini and Jorge Martin were eighth and 10th, 2.7s and 3.2s off Bradl respectively.
Martin was lucky to walk away from a massive crash on the exit of Losail’s Turn 3, with one observer describing the scene to The Race as “looking like a plane crash”.
The Spaniard explained afterwards that he hit a bump on the exit of the corner and lost control, getting into a tank slapper that resulted the crash.
Thankfully, he escaped uninjured, but will require a new bike for tomorrow’s second day of action.
Aprilia was able to participate in the shakedown test with its race riders via its status as the last remaining concession team, meaning it gets additional test and development allowances until it achieves improved results.
But with weather conditions so bad, lead rider Aleix Espargaro elected not to participate and to save tyres for the weekend instead. His team-mate Lorenzo Savadori, finally confirmed for the second seat only yesterday, was seventh.
On Friday the entire MotoGP grid will take part for the first time in the three-day contest, with the rest of the field joining the test riders and rookies for the first track action since Portimao in November.