The 2014 MotoGP World Championship finally got underway this evening under the floodlights of the Losail circuit in Qatar. Having launched their new livery just yesterday, the newly named Movistar Yamaha MotoGP riders were out feeling their way on the night track for the first time this year.
With little rubber down on the circuit and some sand blowing across from the desert, grip issues became the number one problem to solve for both Valentino Rossi and teammate Jorge Lorenzo. Just 15 minutes in the session was red flagged to allow a clean up of some of the debris on track left by rider Jonny Hernandez’s earlier crash.
Rossi returned to the track in thirteenth position after the clean up and began to work on his set up, gradually moving up the timesheets, running as high as fifth before dropping two places to seventh behind highest placed factory rider Dani Pedrosa in sixth at the end.
In true Lorenzo style, the Mallorcan was one of the first out of the pit lane as the session began, eager to get to work on his set up ahead of this weekend’s opening round of the championship. Unlike the satellite and open class riders who had the fortune to test in Qatar two weeks ago, Lorenzo had no data to go on and struggled to find a way round the lack of grip he encountered on the track. He ended the first practice of the weekend in ninth position, just under 1.5 seconds from the front.
Monster Yamaha Tech3’s Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro both enjoyed a successful and competitive start today for the first practice session of the Grand Prix of Qatar. Both finished inside the top 5 and confidently set fast lap times on the opening day.
Smith produced a superb performance to outline his firm intentions for the 2014 season. The young British rider produced a best lap time of 1:55:816, and completed the first practice of 2014 in 3rd place and just over half a second from the leading time. Having spent the winter test period experimenting with varying aspects of his Yamaha YZR-M1 MotoGP bike, Smith opened his season very positively, with his free practice time today half a second quicker than his qualifying time from last year.
Espargaro rode a strong first practice session to finish within the top 5 of the MotoGP grid. The young Spanish rider, who produced the fastest top speed of 346 Km/h at the Losail International Circuit, completed a best personal lap time of 1:56.020 which resulted in 5th position. Despite his rookie status and riding with a healing collarbone, the reigning Moto2 World Champion impressively completed the practice session less than a second off the fastest lap time.
The first free practice saw the NGM Forward racing rider Aleix Espargaro on top of the time sheets already at the beginning of the session, while he was using the hard tyre, riding in 1.55”. The Spaniard was able to further improve his lap time, when he put the soft tyre, recording his best time of 1’55.201, securing the fastest time of the first free practice session of the 2014 season.
It was a very good start also for team mate Colin Edwards who finished in 8th position recording his best time of 1’56.626. Colin worked in preparation of the race, continuing the positive work done on this track during the last pre-season test.
Valentino Rossi - 7th / 1'56.542 / 18 Laps
“The track is in quite a bad condition but I think it’s quite normal for a first practice. There is a lot of sand and not a lot of rubber down. Also a lot of riders except the factory riders have been here for three days and have done a lot more km and a lot more laps so it’s normal they are stronger than us. Now the work for the weekend will be hard to reduce the gap. I have a lack of grip front and rear, on corner entry and also on acceleration the bike moves very much. I think the condition of the track is getting better and it will get easier.”
Jorge Lorenzo - 9th / 1'56.668 / 15 Laps
“I’m a little disappointed because hearing the comments of the riders that were here two weeks ago it seemed the tyres were working really well. Having arrived here it seems the track is a little worse, the feeling of the rear tyre is more or less the same as in Sepang, with little grip and traction. We didn’t have three days to test here like the top five so our problems are bigger. We must hope that the tyre gets better and we can improve the grip on the rear.”
Wilco Zeelenberg - Yamaha Movistar MotoGP Team Manager
“The first practice is done so 2014 has officially started! It’s very obvious that many guys have already been around the track because you can see how fast they are. For us there’s some work to do before the race on Sunday. We are struggling for grip so we need to improve but it looks like we are not the only ones. We have some work to do!”
Massimo Meregalli - Yamaha Movistar MotoGP Team Director
“Since the beginning we were expecting that some of our competitors could be in front of us because they tested here ten days ago. For sure the condition of the circuit didn't help us either as we couldn’t work properly on the bike because of the lack of grip and the dirt on the track. We have a lot of work to do but I’m optimistic that as the conditions improve we can get our speed back. We know what we have to do as both riders complained about the same issues. Both need more grip front and rear so we will work on this and let’s see what happens next practice.”
Bradley Smith - 3rd / 1:55:816 / 17 Laps
“Today was a really good start for us. The track conditions were different to when we tested here, probably due to a sandstorm which happened recently. However, the grip improved during the session and I was able to do 1:55 lap times again. As I could keep this rhythm quite easily I decided that it wasn’t worth pushing to the absolute limit, as it was still a bit too risky with the conditions, so I will wait until tomorrow as the grip will improve for sure. Of course, I am happy with 3rd and we are close to Bautista who is on the same tyres. Anyway I’m confident that we will get closer to the top as the track gets better, but the 3 days of testing has definitely helped us. Our aim is to stay in front of the factory bikes, for as long as possible”.
Pol Espargaro - 5th / 1:56.020 / 17 Laps
“I am happy with the performance I made today. My shoulder was still hurting a little but I can ride which I am pleased about. It was a bit painful on the straight when the bike is moving, and also in the long left corner when I had to lean down the outside of the fairing. The track conditions were also a bit different to the test we did here; it’s colder and there is less grip. I didn’t want to ride at 100% because of this as I think tomorrow will be better for traction after the track has been cleaned a bit more. The factory bikes will catch up, but I’m sure we can improve as well and I am just really pleased that the season finally started. At the end a top 5 result during my first ever MotoGP session is not bad at all”.
Aleix Espargaro - 1st / 1'55.201 / 13 Laps
“It’s a great start and it’s a good feeling to be on top of the time sheets. We know that we had some advantage compared to the factory riders, because we were testing here two weeks ago and we started the practice session already with a good set up. Anyway I’m happy because I was fast with both soft and hard tyre. I’m sure that tomorrow everybody will improve, but we also have room for improvement so I’m really excited to this start of the season. The most important thing is to keep on working and being focused, it’s just the first free practice and my target is to fight for the podium on Sunday."
Colin Edwards - 8th / 1'56.626 / 16 Laps
“We tried the soft tyre at the beginning of the session and then we switched to the hard tyre. All in all it was a good session and I did my best lap with the hard tyre. I’m adapting my riding style to the bike instead of trying to change the bike set up. I need to ride the bike on the rear and of course it’s not natural after 22 years but this is a new challenge that I take with great enthusiasm. I’m also very happy with Aleix’s result, he is doing great and I’m really excited for him."