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New rules. New tyres. New electronics. Same stunning Jorge Lorenzo.
With 21 years of experience reporting on MotoGP™, Matthew Birt knows the championship inside-out. For the 2016 season he remains with the motogp.com team to bring you exclusive news and opinion from inside the paddock.
You can change from Bridgestone to Michelin tyres and change from sophisticated bespoke electronics to a more basic level of rider aids with the new unified software.
But what you can’t change is the fact that Lorenzo right now is the most complete and fastest motorcycle racer on the planet. End of.
The only change was that in Qatar he didn’t lead every single lap like he did when taking seven wins in 2015.
The rest had an ominously familiar feel to it. Once he had clear track in front of him, Lorenzo made riding faster than anybody else look like a jolly Sunday cruise to the coast.
It looked effortless and faultless and was definitely peerless. An exhibition of man and machine in perfect harmony and clear evidence that the new technical revolution may well just have played right into the right hand of MotoGP™’s smoothest operator.
Michelin’s new generation rubber was expected to suffer a big drop off in performance in the second half of the race. Lap times would fluctuate as rear tyres were spinning, sliding and smoking.
Lorenzo’s awesome lap record of 1’54.927 though came on lap 20 of 22. That was just 0.384s off his pole time. No wonder Michelin was just as jubilant as Lorenzo.
The reduction of advanced and overkill electronics also places greater emphasis on rider input. Not so much he who dares wins but he who cares wins.
Lorenzo cares for his motorcycle like no other. His braking technique has such finesse that he releases the front brake early to carry rolling speed and momentum into the corner while not overloading Michelin’s front tyre on entry. His throttle control means that even when the grip is deteriorating, it still looks like he is on rails and he can generate unrivalled corner speed and drive grip. I was waiting for him to struggle a bit in the final laps. But he just got quicker and his bike barely moved a millimetre.
Meanwhile Andrea Iannone’s warp speed Desmosedici – or Bologna bullet as I like to call it now - blasted through the speed trap in Qatar at a record 218.22mph.
The impressive aspect of Ducati is they have brutal horsepower to burn, but unlike Honda, they can put that power to the ground.
Marc Marquez lost close to 0.5s alone in the drag race out of the final corner alone. Bit like taking a chopstick to a gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
The Honda doesn’t lack power. They just can’t use what they have. The RC213V motor is still too aggressive and with more basic anti-wheelie and traction control now, it’s a mentally and physically taxing machine to ride hard and fast.
Ducati’s engine performance is out of this world. But they need an alien on board to return to the heady days of Casey Stoner.
Don’t get me wrong. Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso are proven world-class talents and with the influence of Gigi Dall’Igna they have elevated Ducati to a competitive level that seemed a distant dream back in 2013.
One of the big surprises of opening night for me was the performance of Valentino Rossi.
I can’t recall a time in the past when he’s been in the leading group for 22 laps and never made a single overtake. Not even one lunge or daring dive up the inside. In fact, Rossi never even showed a wheel to anybody in front of him.
It’s a fine line though between first and fourth in MotoGP™ these days.
Broken down over the race distance, he was only losing 0.1085s per lap to Lorenzo. Break that down even further and that’s a loss of around six-thousandths-of-a-second per corner. So Lorenzo pulled about half the width of a front tyre on Rossi in every corner during the race!
Close, but no cigar.
Rossi didn’t quite lap fast enough while Lorenzo lapped it up following his first win in Qatar since 2013.
As he crossed the finish line, entered Parc Ferme and later when joining the podium, he put his thumb and forefinger together and moved them across his closed mouth. He can be booed and belittled but the message was crystal clear. After all the controversy at the end of 2015, Lorenzo’s gesture spoke more than a thousand words.
He’ll do his talking on the track.
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#TBT to 3rd place at the QP of 2005 China GP!! ✌️
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