Honda’s four MotoGP riders completed a challenging second weekend in Qatar today. Although their results were not of the usual quality they believe much better is to come when they commence the European sector of the 2021 MotoGP World Championship, starting with the Portuguese Grand Prix on April 18
Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) started the 22-lap race with high hopes of improving on the eighth place he achieved last Sunday in his Honda MotoGP debut, only 5.990 seconds behind the winner.
However, the 29-year-old Spaniard was out of luck this evening, when his impressive charge towards the front was spoiled by two minor errors, the first while braking at the end of the 353kmh/219mph start/finish straight.
Espargaro eventually took the chequered flag in 13th place, just 6.063 seconds behind the winner. Without the few seconds he lost through his mistakes the 2013 Moto2 World Champion would surely have pushed towards the podium. His lap times during the middle stages of the race were as fast as the leaders, which gives him confidence for the upcoming events.
MotoGP has never been closer and more competitive than it is at the moment. Indeed today’s race finished with the closest top-ten and closest top-15 finish in 73 years of MotoGP racing – 5.382 seconds and 8.928 seconds respectively.
One of the main issues that Espargaro and his fellow RC213V riders faced at Losail was the selection of front tyre compounds, none of which really suited the RC213V. Honda’s MotoGP machine – which has won six of the last eight MotoGP Constructors World Championship – is particularly strong in attacking corners. Without a suitably harder front tyre available for Losail all four Honda riders weren’t able to exploit this technical advantage.
Nevertheless Stefan Bradl (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) had an excellent ride, finishing less than half a second behind his team-mate. The 31-year-old German came through the pack strongly after making a poor start and completing the first lap down in 18th position. Bradl is HRC’s test rider, who is currently substituting for Honda’s six times MotoGP Riders World Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V), who has been out of action since last July, when he broke his right arm during the Spanish GP.
Marquez has since undergone three operations on the injury, requiring a lengthy recuperation. The 28-year-old Spaniard was hoping to ride at the opening two races of 2021 but was advised by his medical team to wait a little longer. Marquez is expected to have his next medical check-up on April 12. This investigation should decide when he is ready to race again.
Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU Honda RC213V) finished two places outside the World Championship points in 17th. The 29-year-old from Chiba tumbled out of last Sunday’s race, so he was determined to see the finish tonight. Nakagami ran the soft option front like all but four of the 22 riders on the grid and soon ran short of grip, so he struggled to maintain consistent lap times and merely focused on finishing the race.
Team-mate Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol Honda RC213V) had another DNF but knows that the conditions here in Qatar are unique and that when he arrives at the Algarve International Circuit for the third race of 2021 he should be in much better shape. The 24-year-old Spaniard lost the front and fell shortly after half-distance.
Both Nakagami and Marquez were unhurt.
MotoGP today completed 11 days of action at Losail – five days of pre-season testing and six days of practice, qualifying and racing. The paddock now leaves the Middle East and heads to southern Europe, where the Portuguese Grand Prix will be followed by the Spanish GP at Jerez on May 2. The season is due to conclude at Valencia, Spain, on November 14.