The 2016 MotoGP™ World Championship season got off to a thrilling start under the Qatar floodlights, Jorge Lorenzo (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) producing a near faultless ride to start his title defence with the full set; pole position, a race win and the fastest lap. He wasn’t alone though as Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team), Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) and Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) stuck with him for almost the entirety of the race.
Not only did 2016 start in Qatar, but the first moves for the 2017 season were also made. Valentino Rossi signed on for another two years with Yamaha while Bradley Smith committed to the KTM MotoGP™ project for 2017 and 2018. The other 22 grid slots still remain a mystery for the most part.
Qatar was unique, not just because of the race’s setting and ambiance but also because of the lead up to action. A three-day test was held at the circuit prior to the event gave riders and teams almost unlimited track time to set up their machines to suit the track, with new tyres and electronics having this base assisted greatly. For Argentina they will not have this preparation, they head to the track knowing how the tyres and electronics behave in Sepang, Phillip Island and Losail, but not at the Termas De Rio Hondo. For some teams and riders this will be a step outside their comfort zone and a true preview of what the season may hold.
Lorenzo heads to the Gran Premio Motul de la República Argentina with only one previous podium finish at the Argentine track; his third in 2014. Of all the circuits currently on the calendar this is his weakest track, but new Michelin tyres may change his fortunes.
2016 has been almost a carbon copy of 2015 so far for Andrea Dovizioso: in 2015 he battled with a Yamaha for victory in Qatar and again narrowly missed out on victory. Fortunately for Dovizioso, if history continues to repeat itself it could very well see him in second at the Argentina round again. In Qatar the Ducati blasted the competition down the straight, proving that there is nothing wrong with the new engine.
Speaking of top speeds, Andrea Iannone (Ducati Team) was able to reach a staggering 351.2Km/h in Warm Up. He may have crashed during the race but before his fall he was stronger than ever and able to wrestle past both Lorenzo and Dovizioso. In perhaps the best form of his career and with one of the fastest engines ever seen in MotoGP™, expect ‘The Maniac’ to be a real threat around Termas De Rio Hondo’s 4,806meters, 1,076 of which are a long straight. Every visit to Argentina has resulted in a top ten finish for Iannone, in 2015 he only lost out on a podium finish in the final corner.
Back in 2015, Valentino Rossi took victory and took to the top step of the podium in a Diego Maradona shirt with the number ten on it. The number ten is still relevant in 2016 as Rossi still hunts his tenth title, another win in Argentina would be a huge boost to that ambition. Only 0.1s separated Rossi from the podium in Qatar, the Italian left to wonder what could have been had he used the soft rear.
Tyres played a major role in the 2015 race in Argentina, Rossi make a heroic late charge to snatch victory. Could he use the same strategy in 2016 or will he follow Lorenzo’s lead from Qatar and stay strong in front?
Michelin will also face a new challenge in Argentina having tested at the circuit. The options available for front tyres will therefore be the hard (yellow band) and medium (no band) tyres. Rear tyre choices are from the hard (yellow band) and medium options. For the first time this season the full wet and intermediate tyres will also be available should they be needed.
The Argentina GP will be another major test for Marc Marquez, the Spaniard able to turn his fortunes around in Qatar when his team reverted several of their settings back to what they were in the test. In Argentina there will be no same circuit test data to fall back on, Marquez and the Honda still remain a largely unknown quantity in 2016, going well in some tests and struggling in other, starting the Qatar weekend outside the top five and then battling for victory on race day. His record in Argentina is equally as contrasting, winning in 2014 and failing to finish in 2015.
For his teammate, Dani Pedrosa, it’s been a much better start to the season that last year. Although he again failed to finish on the podium in Qatar, he left without injury and is fit to race in Argentina, his second visit to the track. Like Marquez, Pedrosa is still finding his feet with the new electronics.
Much like Pedrosa, Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) will also be racing in Argentina for just the second time. In 2014 the Brit missed the race due to injury, but managed a podium finish, his only one of the season, on his first visit in 2015. It was an exceedingly difficult weekend in Qatar for Crutchlow who failed to finish the race due to a crash.
Both Maverick Viñales (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and Scott Redding (Octo Pramac Yakhnich) had shown well in testing and were expecting strong, potentially podium-challenging rides in Qatar. Neither were quite able to produce that as they were unable to find the same feeling they had during testing. Argentina offers both riders a chance to gain more momentum and focus on a steadier build to a potential podium challenge.
Redding’s teammate Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Yakhnich) will miss the Grand Prix, having aggravated his hand injury during practice in Qatar and requiring more surgery. Michele Pirro, the Ducati test rider, will fill in for his fellow Italian as long as he’s out injured. Petrucci’s recovery period is still unknown.
Can Lorenzo continue his run? Will Rossi repeat his 2015 victory? Or could Ducati return to the top step of the podium for the first time in almost six years? Find out when the Gran Premio Motul de la República Argentina begins at 09:00 Local Time on Friday the first of April.