Marc Marquez finished on top of the combined timesheets after FP3 in Qatar, but it was Cal Crutchlow that caught everyone off guard.
The top ten riders in the combined standings make it through automatically to Qualifying 2, with the rest having to take part in Q1, with only the top two making it through to the second qualifying sesson. Therefore there was a lot to play for under the lights in the desert on Friday, as riders look to get their season off to a good start at the Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar.
If the timesheets are anything to go by we should be in for one hell of a race on Sunday, as less than a second separated the top 18 riders. It was a frantic end to the two days of Free Practice as riders left it until the last five minutes of FP3 before putting on fresh rubber to begin their flying laps.
Reigning World Champion Marquez finished on top of the combined timesheets, improving his time from the earlier in the evening in the final practice session, and finishing with a 1’54.822, beating Casey Stoner’s 2008 Circuit Record (1’55.153) by over three-tenths in the process. Marquez stating: “Today has been a very good day because we have improved our pace, which is the most important thing, and tried out a few things that have allowed us to progress.”
The big surprise of the day came from CWM LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow as the British rider put was the proverbial satellite cat amongst the factory pigeons. He managed to finish within 0.096s of Marquez in 2nd place overall, setting a incredible flying lap after admitting he had struggled early on during the final session. Crutchlow is not sure whether he will be battling for the race win on Sunday though, as he said: “I’m not sure today’s speed and lap-times are relative to where we will finish the race, but I hope it is!”
The Ducati Team used “winglets” on both of its riders bikes for the first time, after having previously only tried them on Andrea Dovizioso’s machine. Andrea Iannone set a time good enough for 3rd early on in FP3 before losing the front at turn 2 late on, ending his chances of improving further. Dovizioso could not match the pace of his teammate and had to settle for 6th place behind the Team Suzuki Ecstar GSX-RR of Aleix Espargaro (4th) and Dani Pedrosa’s Repsol Honda (5th). It wasn’t just the factory Ducati’s that improved from yesterday with Yonny Hernandez setting a time good enough for 7th place on his satellite Pramac Racing GP14.2.
A big shock from the final day of practice was the lack of pace of the Movistar Yamaha’s as Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi only just scraped through to Q2, finishing in 8th & 9th respectively. Lorenzo believes he will struggle in qualifying unless they make some changes: “It will be a hard fight for the front row tomorrow, because many riders have the extra soft tyre, that gives them four-tenths of a second. They are also stronger than last year, so it will even be difficult to get a position on the second row, but you never know what will happen. Maybe we can find something that will give us half a second and even let us fight for pole position.”
Rossi said, “I’m not happy about my position, but I‘m not far from Marquez,” although he agrees with his teammate that “to get the pole tomorrow will be very hard.”
Big names who will have to battle it out for the top two spots in Q1 include Scott Redding, Maverick Viñales and Bradley Smith. Redding finished just over 0.1s outside of the top ten and admitted: “It’s tough out there and we still need to do some work tomorrow, especially in the last sector where I’m losing four tenths in just three corners.”
Smith struggled on the medium tyre today and thinks he will have a tricky job to do tomorrow: “Qualifying 1 will be tough, especially with the riders who will use the soft tyres, but I am convinced that it is still possible that we can do a good job.”
The MotoGP™ qualifying action kicks off at 19:55 local time in Qatar with Q1.
Click here for the full combined free practice results