Miller heads Ducati armada in Doha
Day 1 of the TISSOT Grand Prix of Doha saw one marque very much lay down a marker, with four Ducatis ending the day in the top five. The fastest was Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) as the Australian bounced back from a more difficult first race of the season to top the timesheets, putting in a 1:53.145 to pull three tenths ahead of teammate Francesco Bagnaia in second. Third went to Qatar GP podium finisher Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing), with the Frenchman less than a tenth further back and top Independent Team rider. His rookie teammate Jorge Martin impressed in fifth to make it that four out of five for Ducati, with only Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) able to spoil the Borgo Panigale party as he took fourth.
With conditions likely to make improvements difficult in the afternoon heat of FP3, gaining automatic entry to Q2 was the name of the game and that led to a classic last dash shootout at the end of FP2. First though, there was setup work to be done and after a couple of faster efforts from Bagnaia and Martin, most settled into working for the race. With just under 20 minutes to go, however, Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) shot first as the Japanese rider started making moves on brand-new rubber, taking over in P2 and less than a tenth away from Bagnaia.
Martin, not looking like a rookie at all on the GP21, then moved back into P3 with 15 minutes to go and it was game on for time attacks. The Spanish rookie then put in another impressive lap and improved his time to go P1, but the Pramac rider's time at the summit lasted about five seconds as Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) then landed the first 1:53 of the day and we strapped in for a barnstorming final 13 or so minutes of action on Friday evening.
Quartararo soon demoted Rins to P2 before Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) moved the goalposts, a 1:53.646 putting the RS-GP rider nearly three tenths clear of the pack. Despite two mechanical issues in FP1, Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) next slotted himself into P2 before Miller, who was on a quick lap, stole the spotlight. Not for all the right reasons though, as the Australian was up with red sectors before having a huge moment out of Turn 14 that rattled him out the seat. He stayed on but headed into pitlane, down in P19 with only five minutes to go.
The turnaround was quick, however, and once back out Miller was firing on all cylinders. Half way around his flying lap, the number 43 was four tenths up and looking to lay down a serious benchmark, with the advantage only getting bigger in the latter half of the lap as Miller put himself 0.501s clear with a minute to go, luckily just avoiding the yellow flags waved for a Nakagami crash at Turn 7.
The final flying laps then saw plenty of movement, but none of it would be in front of Miller. Bagnaia, Zarco and Martin propelled themselves into the top five as the two Qatar podium finishers also avoided the yellow flags, this time for an Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol) crash at the final corner. Further back on the road there was bad news for World Champion Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT) too, with both needing to find time to break into the top 10... and both failing to find enough.
At the end of the shuffle then, it's advantage Ducati with Miller, Bagnaia and Zarco at the top, with Jorge Martin hanging on to an impressive fifth. Quartararo slips into P4 as top Yamaha, with FP1 pacesetter Aleix Espargaro taking sixth despite not heading out for a final time attack, that first flier enough.
Morbidelli enjoyed a better evening to end up P7, and there were no issues for the Italian in FP2 as he got in some smoother sailing. Just 0.014 behind the Petronas Yamaha SRT rider is Rins, with the top eight covered by half a second.
World Championship leader Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) only just squeezed into the top 10 in P9 with a late effort, with Marc Marquez's replacement - and Honda test rider - Stefan Bradl (Repsol Honda Team) doing another fine job in P10 to break some hearts, not least those of Mir and Rossi. The reigning World Champion is P13, and Rossi exactly a tenth behind him in P14 as Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and Danilo Petrucci (Tech3 KTM Factory Racing) slotted into 11th and 12th respectively.
With Saturday afternoon conditions likely to make a laptime harder to find, the likes of Mir and Rossi face a challenging Day 2 in Doha. Will they be heading through to Q1? Tune into MotoGP™ FP3 at 15:15 local time (GMT+3) to see if anyone is able to find improvements, before the fight for pole position gets underway at 20:00 local time.