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After a stunning season opener, motogp.com sat down with commentators Nick Harris and Matthew Birt to see what they thought about the start of 2017, the standout performers, and what they want to see next time out…
Highlights: Viñales wins thrilling debut race with Yamaha
What did you think of Qatar?
Matthew Birt: “I thought it was the season opener we’d all anticipated and hoped for. We were asking if anything could top 2016 after all the records were broken and the great races we had last year, but we got another classic from the word go and it’s set us up for a mouthwatering 2017 season. It was a tough act to follow last year, but it looks like we’re in for another treat. It lived up to its billing.”
Nick Harris: “It was fantastic. After 2016 I came to Qatar asking if it could be as exciting – but it had absolutely everything that MotoGP is about. Even the drama getting started, that just added to the drama before the lights went out.”
Who was your standout performer of the race?
MB: “That’s a tough one because there’s probably three outstanding candidates. The most obvious is Maverick Viñales, because he won the race, but that wasn’t a shock. The two things he could have caved into were overconfidence and pressure, but he’s a very level headed guy, cool and calm. And he dealt with the pressure impeccably. It shows how mentally clinical he can be. Johann Zarco as well was phenomenal, to lead on his MotoGP debut. Very rarely do we see rookies ride away from the best in the world! But I think for me, the man of the night was Aleix Espargaro. Most would agree the Aprilia isn’t on the level of the Honda, Ducati, Yamaha and Suzuki - but there he was, right on the exhaust pipes of the factory Hondas. It gives him loads of confidence, and it’s great for Aprilia. To be that close to Marc and Dani – and only 7 seconds off the winner…”
What do Viñales, Dovi and Rossi think about Zarco?
NH: “I don’t think you can pick one! Maverick Viñales rode a brilliant race. For a 22 year old, he has an old head on young shoulders and he was superb. I was very impressed with Andrea Dovizioso and especially Valentino Rossi. Rossi didn’t look like he was going to be in it – but produced a superb race. You just wonder where that story is going to end. And Zarco was staggering, to lead the race on his debut. He grabbed the bull by the horns. He showed what a super MotoGP rider he’s going to be.”
What wasn’t quite what you expected?
MB: “Other than the weather…the most obvious is Jorge Lorenzo. I didn’t expect him to turn up and win it, but I thought he would be a little bit stronger than he was. It’s just a time issue – it’s easy to forget that the Yamaha to Ducati is a massive change in bike performance. He needs time, it’s as simple as that. Dovizioso was at the front but this is his fifth year on the Ducati. Lorenzo comes from a bike he’s been on since 2008. He knew what to expect from the Yamaha – every little movement, and he was ahead of the bike. The Ducati isn’t his bike yet. But he’s far too good of a rider, super talent that he is, and he’ll get it right.”
Lorenzo endures difficult Ducati debut in desert
NH: “I think we expected too much of Lorenzo. He picked up valuable points and he got a race on the Ducati under his belt, and he’s now been to Jerez testing. But I thought Alvaro Bautista was going to have a really good race after all the testing we’ve seen, and he crashed out so that was disappointing. I thought he was going to be pushing for a podium finish. And Andrea Iannone was impressive getting the Suzuki in the mix, but then crashed out fighting for the lead.”
Now, it’s Argentina. What are your thoughts ahead of Termas de Rio Hondo?
MB: “I’ll be interested to see how Maverick goes on another new track, although I don’t think it will be any issue at all for him. He’s got that M1 to fit him like a glove. I think Marquez will be back after the wrong tyre choice in Qatar – you can’t keep a good man down, and he does like that circuit. I think Dovizioso will be a threat as well, and Valentino. He’s got momentum now. When it comes to the crunch, Valentino tends to deliver. And I’ll be interested to see how Iannone bounces back.”
NH: “More of the same is what we want and I have no doubt that’s what we’ll get. I’m sure the same three from the podium in Qatar will be there, and Lorenzo maybe. Andrea Iannone, Alvaro Bautista could be pushing for a podium. Qatar was disappointing for Cal Crutchlow so he could be up there. If it’s as good as it was last Sunday, we’re in for an amazing season.”
Argentina gets underway from 7th April at Termas de Rio Hondo - remember what happened last year? Check it out before we go west for the next one!
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