Simon Says: First corner key to Ducati's hopes

Our resident MotoGP™ expert Simon Crafar feels the power of the V4 can prove decisive, but the Bologna Bullets need to mind their tyres

Ducati were super impressive at the Qatar Test. It doesn't take much research or memory to know this circuit traditionally suits their machine.

Ducati had a new front aero wing, electronics, a new fairing with some sort of downforce attachment on it, Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) did his best laps and race simulations with the new fairing, and new chassis parts which Team Manager Davide Tardozzi confirmed. The fast guys were Jack, Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) and Johan Zarco (Pramac Racing). The rookies, Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing), Enea Bastianini (Avintia Esponsorama Racing) and Luca Marini (SKY VR46 Avintia Racing)  were very impressive but they understandably need more time to be a real threat, which I'm convinced they will be.

I believe it is a circuit that suits Ducati partly because of the big, long straight. They lose a bit on the infield but they more than make it up on the straights. Personally, I would hate to race against them because even if you execute a pass in the corners they'll keep passing you back on the straight and wear you down, forcing you to take risks with the front tyre.

The thing I’m worried about for Ducati is that their race runs were good, but they weren’t awesome. To me the Yamahas, Suzukis and Pol Espagaro (Repsol Honda Team) felt just as strong, if not stronger. Looking on from the outside, Ducati seamed to eat rear tyres compared to their opponents in Qatar. So, the only way I see Ducati winning is if they get to the front and control the pace of the race in order to save their rear tyre for the fight at the end, much like Andrea Dovizioso did in the past.

If the inline fours are unimpeded at the front I think they can run a pace that will make the Ducati rear tyre suffer and still have more left at the end for the sprint to the line.

However, before you Yamaha and Suzuki fans get too excited, Ducati arrived in Qatar with a new start device, this time for the front of the bike and I got to watch all riders practice starts, every day. Jack Miller is an absolute starting machine. He put the Ducati and its double start devices to incredible use and to me clearly looked the most consistently fast to the first corner. The Yamaha, with a rear start device only, suffered more wheelie and inconsistency. KTM, Honda and Aprilia now also have two start devices. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) looked very impressive off the line from the very first night on the totally revamped RS-GP.

The GSX-RRs of Joan Mir and Alex Rins (both Suzuki Team Ecstar), with their front start devices only, also showed impressive speed and consistency. That's how I saw the start pecking order right up until the closing hours of the Test, when finally Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) cracked it and put some good starts in. Then Pol and Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) sorted it out on the Hondas, looking fast too.

As you may have guessed, I believe a lot is resting on who gets to the first turn ahead. Pressure, butterflies in riders stomachs and the deafening noise of all your opponent's machines make a race start very different to a practice start. The outright speed of the Ducati and the consistency of Jack Miller's work (the man I never saw do one bad practice start in 3 days) mean I'll be surprised if he is not first into turn one, and, even if he isn't, he, Pecco and Johan should be able to put the Duc power to use next time down the straight to hit the front anyway.

If they play their cards right they'll be hard to beat.

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