Seven days ago we were digesting the first Free Practice Friday of 2021. A fantastic opening weekend of the MotoGP™ season followed on Saturday and Sunday, as we now turn our attentions to the second Friday of the season at the Losail International Circuit.
Two weekends at the same venue, like we saw a handful of times in 2020, is good when analysing what teams and riders have made progress, kept their performance or lost speed over the past week. And after topping the timesheets for a second Friday in a row, it’s safe to say Ducati Lenovo Team will be a happy camp once again.
Miller’s 1:53.145 was over two tenths quicker than he went last Friday as the Australian and teammate Francesco Bagnaia once again claimed a 1-2 for the Bologna factory. Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) went slightly faster in Doha to make it a Desmosedici triple threat at the pointy end of the timesheets, with rookie Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing) seriously impressing.
The Spaniard ensures the entire Ducati GP21 fleet sit inside the top five heading into qualifying day at the Tissot Grand Prix of Doha, and Martin’s 1:53.593 is over half a second quicker than he managed a week ago. That’s some serious progress from the Pramac rider. Judging from Doha’s Friday performance, Martin – a notoriously good qualifier – already has one-lap pace in his new MotoGP™ locker.
One rider who we know has one-lap speed in abundance is Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP’s Fabio Quartararo. As he was last week, the Frenchman is the best non-Ducati rider after Free Practice Friday and looks in good shape. Incidentally, Quartararo went ever so slightly slower at this stage of the Doha GP compared to the Qatar GP, but El Diablo is again batting in the ballpark.
As is Aprilia Racing Team Gresini’s Aleix Espargaro. The Spaniard’s side of the garage is oozing confidence, as we witnessed the elder Espargaro not needing to head out for a final time attack in FP2. It’s refreshing to see the Noale camp in fine form and the number 41 went just under a tenth faster than he did at this stage last week, confirming Aprilia have the pace. Another automatic Q2 place is all but confirmed in P6, two places better than last week, and it’s definitely possible we’ll see an Aprilia on the front row. Maybe.
Other notable riders who have continued to look solid at Losail include Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT), Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP). Morbidelli had a rollercoaster morning in Doha, two mechanical issues coupled with a P5, but P7 overall is consistent with last Friday’s showing.
Rins went a tenth slower than he did seven days ago but continues to show one-lap pace promise on the GSX-RR. We know how good Suzuki are in race trim, but qualifying is a continual weak point for the Hamamatsu factory, so another top 10 is good from the number 42. As for Viñales, a P9 and seven tenths off Miller doesn’t look too promising on paper, but that all-important top 10 is the thing that matters most. A couple of tenths slower than he was last Friday, there’s definitely more in the tank for the Championship leader.
Sticking with the good: Stefan Bradl (Repsol Honda Team). Once again, the German is doing a magnificent job standing in for eight-time World Champion Marc Marquez. Fastest Honda by over two tenths, inside the top 10 and well over half a second quicker that last week are the boxes ticked by HRC’s test rider, who looks well on course for matching – or bettering – his Qatar GP P11.
In addition, the KTMs of Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and Danilo Petrucci (Tech3 KTM Factory Racing) showed signs of promise in Doha. After languishing down in P19 and P20 last Friday, 1.3 seconds off the pace, the Portuguese and Italian duo came close to breaking into the top 10 this time around. Both into the 1:53 bracket, KTM look to have found much sought-after speed at Losail, but P11 and P12 aren’t where they’d want to be. Nevertheless, a better day for the Austrian manufacturer.
Sitting behind the RC16 pair is World Champion Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar). For the second weekend in a row, it looks like the number 36 will have to navigate Q1, and as we witnessed last Saturday, that isn’t easy. One-lap pace still hampers the two-time World Champion and Mir went slower on Friday than he did last week, aiding the two-place drop from P11 to P13. Should Mir and the team be worried? Yes. The reigning Champions always pull something out the hat on a Sunday, but not getting out of Q1 is a real possibility and starting outside the leading four rows will be a disaster. Not as much of a disaster as it would be for most other riders, but still a disaster.
Slipping from top 10s last week to outside the Q2 places this week, Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT) and Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) endured a tougher time of things second time around on Friday at Losail. The Doctor was P14 and over two tenths down on his effort last week, with Pol Espargaro slumping to P17 on the opening day in Doha. The latter was the slowest Honda, a complete contrast to last week where he was the quickest. Work to be done for the number 46 and 44 ahead of qualifying.
Qualifying day now rears its head in Doha. A star-studded Q1 line-up is going to leave a few riders feeling grey ahead of race day, but it’s going to be a fascinating watch to see who can get themselves into the pole position shootout. At the other end of the table, can anyone stop the Ducati armada?
Find out at 20:00 local time (GMT+3) on Saturday evening.
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