MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi started his maiden season with the Petronas team in fine style, lapping under the previous circuit record to qualify fourth for the Qatar GP.
Today’s top independent rider sits at the tail of a Yamaha train with Fabio Quartararo and Maverick Vińales concluding the front row behind the ultimate record-breaker, Pecco Bagnaia.
The afternoon’s intense heat meant conditions weren’t viable to see improvements over Friday’s fast times. Rossi posted a 1’55.834 lap in FP3 but the work had already been done and his previous best, a ’53.8, saw him through to Q2.
The Italian showed good speed during qualifying, with riders separated by the smallest of margins for the majority of the session. At the end of the 15-minute shootout, ‘The Doctor’s’ fastest time of 1’53.114 placed him fourth, just 0.026s shy of the front row and 0.342s away from pole.
“I’m very happy, it’s a great way to start the new season with a new team,” Rossi said after the celebrations subsided. “With the second set of tyres I was very comfortable with the bike, I had a very good grip and the lap was great.
“I was able to ride well, to push without making any mistakes and at the end, the lap-time is quite impressive. 53.1 is great, unfortunately, it is not enough for the front row, but we are not so far and starting from P4 is important for the race of tomorrow.
Today I struggled during FP3 and FP4 a little bit, because I had very old tyres. For the qualifying I was good, but for the race, my pace today is not fantastic. We have to go back to make different setting and we will see tomorrow but I think that nobody knows what will happen.
“In FP4 I tried medium, hard, because it’s an option for the race - because to make all the race with soft, soft will be very difficult, especially with these conditions because its hot, the track temperature is very high.
“It looks like the conditions will be different and difficult for the race because we expect strong winds, which can put a lot of sand onto the track. We hope for good conditions because the grid is fantastic and we deserve good conditions for the first race. For all the riders, all the people in the paddock, and especially all the fans, waiting for the first MotoGP race of the season.
With improvements made over the winter, the question remains if the Yamaha is up for the fight come race day, with Franky Morbidelli recently stating the M1 is a bike capable of winning but not for fighting.
Rossi seemed to agree, explaining, “We reduce the gap in the straight, but the gap in the straight remains very big. So for me this is the main reason a Yamaha is difficult in the fight.
“If you want to overtake, you need to overtake in the corners, you need to push on the tyres, and with the level now in MotoGP it’s not easy and after, in the straight, usually, you lose one position, so it’s very, very difficult.
“Franco was the best interpreter of the M1 last year because he start always in the front, and is able to escape and he win like this. So for the battle, it will be hard, but I think that nobody knows what will happen tomorrow in the race with everyone together, so we have to see, we have to wait for the race.
The VR46 figurehead concluded with praise for his academy graduate, and today’s pole-man, Bagnaia, after the pair navigated qualifying together as the session concluded, explaining, “With Pecco, we don’t have any deal but we see each other in the track, the first time I was in front, and after, the second time, he was in front and continued to push.
“I have to make to him great, great congratulations for his first pole position, he rode very well and this is the perfect way to start his season.”