Opinion: MotoGP got lucky with the weather in Qatar

The Qatar MotoGP race was on the brink of disaster thanks to the havoc caused by the weather. Jamie Klein believes it's time for a rethink.

Opinion: MotoGP got lucky with the weather in Qatar
Andrea Iannone, Team Suzuki MotoGP leads
Danilo Petrucci, Pramac Racing
TV Helicopter
Wet track
Paddock
BMW Safety Car on the track inspection, Wet track
Wet track
BMW saety car
Track drying
Wet track
Track drying
Wet track
Media shuttle in the water
Track drying
Wet track
Rain in Qatar

Of all the tracks on the MotoGP calendar, you'd think that the venue for the season-opener in Qatar would be the one least prone to weather problems, given its location in the middle of the desert.

But, not for the first time, the spectre of bad weather overshadowed the entire weekend in Losail – and in retrospect, it was only through pure blind luck that we even got a race on Sunday at all.

Weather forecasts had predicted rain on each day from Thursday to Sunday, and while the first three practice sessions were held in the dry, the threat of bad weather – and a potential repeat of 2009, when rain on Sunday evening caused the entire event to be delayed to Monday – continued to pervade the atmosphere at the track.

Much of the debate centred on whether the riders would be able to race safely in the wet under the floodlights, as Loris Capirossi and Franco Uncini predicted they would after the test on an artificially soaked track in February – but the riders never got the chance to try it for themselves, despite an extra session being added to the schedule on Saturday for precisely that purpose.

Undoubtedly, calling off qualifying on Saturday was the right choice; the only mistake the organisers made was not reaching the conclusion to abandon the schedule earlier. TV pictures showed clearly just how bad the rivers and 'lakes' were at various points on the track, and between 6pm and 8pm the situation had hardly appeared to change, with poor drainage the culprit.

Before the start of the warm-up on Sunday, there were some brief drops in the paddock – but all three classes managed to get their 30 minutes of practice in without a hitch. The Moto3 and Moto2 race also happened on schedule, and it seemed we were just about out of the woods.

The MotoGP riders were on the grid, and the start of the warm-up lap was three minutes away. And then, at six minutes to nine, spots of rain appeared.

There was disbelief in the media room, as the more seasoned journalists and PR reps began to have flashbacks to 2009. One joked he had Qatar Airways' priority booking hotline number at the ready for those prepared to hastily reschedule their flights.

While short-lived, the rain had succeeded in soaking the track at Turns 14 and 16, to the extent that riding on slicks was unsafe. Cue the inevitable "delayed start" sign on the timing screens.

The pits eventually re-opened at 9.15pm ready for a 9.30pm start, although the sight of the riders running wide at Turn 14 – and then having hectic discussions with the organisers on the grid – was not exactly confidence-inspiring. Sure enough, "start delayed" again.

Dorna certainly deserves credit for listening to the riders' concerns instead of succumbing to the temptation of rushing on with the schedule, but as half-past came and went, the chances of having a race looked shaky to say the least.

Then, at 9.35pm, it was declared the race would "start as soon as possible." Two more sighting laps, and we were finally away – pretty much at the time the race had originally been scheduled to end.

After 20 thrilling laps that saw Maverick Vinales pick up his first Yamaha win, the heavens opened again – and this time the rain gods weren't messing around. Had the start happened any later, the race would undoubtedly have been red-flagged early and a result declared.

The most baffling thing is that the weather forecast had predicted a lengthy dry window in the afternoon and early evening, followed by an increased risk of thunderstorms from 10pm onwards.

It was to the surprise of nobody when the rain finally arrived – there was literally a one-hour window of suitable track conditions after 9pm, into which the race was happily squeezed. But in Valentino Rossi's words, "the organisation was very, very lucky to have the three races - especially MotoGP."

And yet, there was no need to leave it to chance. There was ample opportunity to reschedule Sunday's race after the debacle of Saturday; a simple swap of the running order between the three classes would have all but guaranteed the MotoGP race would be run on the Sunday.

The fans would have seen what they paid to see (obviously being advised on Saturday to get to the circuit earlier than they may have planned), and would have avoided a late-night soaking. The TV companies would still have been able to show the race on tape delay at the normal time – and the nightmare scenario of 2009 would have been safely averted.

How to avoid such a kerfuffle in future then? It emerged on Friday that riders were pushing to have the Qatar race returned to being a daytime event, as it was between 2004 and 2007 before the floodlights were installed. But the chance of such a move seems close to zero.

Jorge Lorenzo's suggestion of moving the race to 7pm, however, is a more realistic one. It means the promoter still gets the night race it craves – and is paying top dollar for – but gives a comfortable window before temperatures begin to drop rapidly and dew begins to form on the track surface.

Running the race at 9pm is no problem if it stays dry, but twice in eight years now has the weather played havoc with the schedule. Surely that in itself is enough to prompt a rethink.

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