The lights were on at the Losail International Circuit but the red start lights fell for the first of nineteen Grands Prix in 2021. Through tricky and blustery conditions in Qatar Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Miguel Oliveira challenged for the top ten of the premier class before classifying 13th, one position ahead of teammate Brad Binder.
- Oliveira opens Red Bull KTM Factory Racing chapter with three points
- Binder 14th after vibrant start but affected by front tire wear
- Lecuna just misses out on first MotoGP points at Qatar
Hours of work and hundreds of testing laps around the Qatari facility finally counted for something on Sunday evening as the Barwa Grand Prix of Qatar brought the 2021 MotoGP season to life. The Red Bull KTM Factory Racing and Tech3 KTM Factory Racing teams had already spent five days of set-up work in early March and two further days of practice and qualification getting prepared for the first of two back-to-back races in the Middle East.
MotoGP has visited the modern but flat and featureless Losail layout for eighteen years, the last 15 as the opening site of a championship campaign. Due to the beginning of the pandemic, the MotoGP class missed the 2020 edition of the event but made up for lost time with plenty of miles around the quick and relentless course.
Miguel Oliveira, winner of the final round of 2020, Brad Binder, Iker Lecuona and new KTM recruit Danilo Petrucci all strived to try and use the strengths of the KTM RC16 in Qatar and struggled for searing one-lap speed to make an impression in qualification. All four riders could not emerge from the Q1 cut on Saturday night and line-up in the second half of the grid with Oliveira furthest ahead in 15th. The Portuguese set-off from the fifth row, despite setting the fastest lap of Losail by an RC16 to-date.
Compared to Friday and Saturday the Qatari evening air was cooler and windier, the gusts causing problems for bike stability and corner judgement. Both Oliveira and Binder made strong starts and circulated in – or on – the fringes of the top ten until they were each plagued by front tire grip problems and had to trim their pace. Petrucci had contact with another rider entering Turn 2 on the first lap and crashed. Lecuona endured his first taste of Losail in the MotoGP class to finish 17th, despite some discomfort with his right arm.
MotoGP will not move anywhere this week. The pitlane garages will remain full for the Tissot Grand Prix of Doha on Saturday/Sunday 3-4.
Miguel Oliveira: “We finished a little ahead of where we started, which is positive and we know our potential is much better. We couldn’t finish stronger because of the front tire. We lost quite a lot of grip before mid-race distance and that compromised our performance. I kept losing time to save a crash. We feel our bike is strong but we cannot compete over the race distance with this compound tire.”
Brad Binder: “It’s good to have the first race of the season under our belts but we didn’t finish close to where we wanted. For sure the whole team and I expected much more. We have to accept reality and there is work to be done at this circuit. In the first part of the race I thought we could be competitive but at half race distance I completely finished my front tire. It was a case of either bring the bike home safely at the pace I was doing or lose the front. It was difficult but now we have data from the first race and we can move on from here.”
Iker Lecuona: “I am happy because I finished the race although I was struggling with my arm. On the first lap, I felt very good with the bike and could fight for the points and with many riders. Therefore, I’m satisfied and also because my performance was pretty good. Later on, I made some mistakes due to my arm, I lost control of my bike, so I had to stay calm in order to finish. I want to thank my team for their work, we changed something in the Warm-Up and it helped me a lot. Now I can’t wait for next week.”
Danilo Petrucci: “I don’t have many words. I’m just very sorry. Unfortunately, I touched another rider and crashed really hard at turn two. This is probably the worst thing that could have happened for my first race with the team. The good news is that I’m not injured, which is super important. I’m so sorry for my guys and for everyone. We’ll try again next week!”
Mike Leitner, Red Bull KTM Race Manager: “We knew it would be a tough season-start for us here but the beginning of the race was strong and we were right in the middle of the group. We suffered in the last third though and lost the lap-times so we have to work on this. It’s not a disaster – we are 11 seconds behind the winner – but this category is very close and we have to find these seconds. Miguel and Brad did well to bring the bike back and score points. We’re sorry to see Danilo crash in Turn 2 but it looks like there was a collision and Iker made acceptable lap-times at the end of the race. We have to step up now and help the boys to be faster.”
Results MotoGP Barwa Grand Prix of Qatar 2021
1. Maverick Viñales (ESP) Yamaha 42:28.663
2. Johann Zarco (FRA), Ducati +1.092
3. Franceso Bagnaia (ITA) Ducati +1.129
4. Joan Mir (ESP) Suzuki +1.222
5. Fabio Quartararo (FRA), Yamaha +3.030
13. Miguel Oliveira (POR), Red Bull KTM Factory Racing +11.457
14. Brad Binder (RSA), Red Bull KTM Factory Racing +14.100
17. Iker Lecuona (ESP), Tech3 KTM Factory Racing +21.026
DNF. Danilo Petrucci (ITA), Tech3 KTM Factory Racing