Many of the 2021 MotoGP grid have been left chasing shadows at the Losail Intenrational Circuit, unable to find consistency not just from last weekend’s Qatar Grand Prix but seemingly even between pit exits in last night’s time attack sessions.
Inconsistency has been something of a buzzword this weekend, in large part because of weather conditions at the desert circuit. High winds coming from multiple directions have made things changeable as well as reducing grip by dumping sand and dust on the circuit.
The net effect has been that many riders were unable to come to grasp with the changing surface, with Repsol Honda rider Pol Espargaro in particular sounding frustrated after qualifying 15th for the Doha GP, a full row of the grid further back from last weekend.
“I’d love to tell you what happened but honestly I haven’t got a clue,” he admitted afterwards. “What makes me most angry is that we can’t control the situation.
“I couldn’t make one lap in qualifying, then I stopped, put in a second tyre and all my rhythm changed. I wasn’t expecting how the bike reacted with the second tyre, and we just don’t know. It’s really frustrating for me.
“We’re going to start the race, we’re going to overtake and we’re going to be somewhere, but we’re not going to know what happened – or how the Ducatis managed to find two seconds.
“The first tyre just didn’t work for us, but it happened to Miguel [Oliveira], to [Enea] Bastianini and I think to [Maverick] Vinales. He was complaining a lot then improved 1.5s in his second lap.”
Franco Morbidelli is another rider who sounded completely lost after qualifying, with the Italian relieved to hear when questioned about conditions that his rivals were experiencing similar issues.
“I am so glad to hear that a lot of the riders are confused, because I am too!” laughed the Petronas Yamaha rider. “I really am!
“I don’t know what’s going on, but something is going on. I hope that whatever it is, it goes away as soon as possible, because it makes working like this really tricky.
“I don’t want to dare to point at tyres, or at shock, or at chassis. I don’t want to point at anything because I’m not certain of anything and it could be any of them.
“I’m not having good feedback from the rear of the bike, but it would be tyres, swing arm, shock… It’s something related to the rear of the bike, but we’ve been going backwards and forwards changing things.”
However, one person who was less guarded about what he believes the problem to be was Red Bull KTM’s Miguel Oliveira, with the Portuguese rider laying the blame firmly at the feet of control tyre manufacturer Michelin for delivering tyres which had already been through heat cycles at last weekend’s race.
“We got a front tyre which was vibrating on the right side, which is disappointing,” said the 2020 double race winner, “but we had to run it all the way through Q2.
“In the end we couldn’t even match our best laptime from Q1, and it was very hard to repeat the time from yesterday for some reason.
“For some reason we’ve got more pre-heated tyres fitted on our rims, and it seems to be that the tyres have different behaviors between them. Some are working, some aren’t working so good, and when we’re searching for performance it doesn’t allow us to go faster.”
In a statement, Michelin denied that its reallocation of tyres has had any affect on performance.
“We have done extensive tests on our tyres which have been kept in this pre-heated state,” they said, “and these tests show that it does not negatively affect their performance.
“Our technicians carefully monitor and log the time that each individual tyre spends in warmers, and this ensures that none of the tyres is kept on warmers for anywhere near the maximum time limit.
“To highlight this point, yesterday Jorge Martin and Enea Bastianini did their fastest laps during FP2 on pre-heated tyres!”