#QatarGP - November 17, 2023

MotoGP™ finally returned to Qatar on Friday for the first time after twenty-months as the Lusail International Circuit was hosting the penultimate round of the championship this year, instead of opening the season like it has been the case since the Grand Prix of Qatar’s arrival to the calendar. Augusto Fernandez started things well on Friday, taking ninth of the Practice night time session, and he qualified directly for the final qualifying stage. Pol Espargaro took fourteenth following a late crash into the session, and will have to go through pre-qualifying on day 2 of the Qatar Grand Prix.

Way to start the Qatar Grand Prix Augusto! The not-really-a-rookie-anymore Spaniard grabbed a direct Q2 on Friday’s practice,  his second of the season after the Thai GP just a couple of weeks ago, a clear sign of his progress on the time attacks, which has been one of his weaknesses this season. Fourteen riders were less than one second from each other in the afternoon's FP1 as the sun set down in Lusail, and Augusto was the fourteenth with a best lap in 1’57.096, 0.703 seconds from title contender and fastest man of the session, Jorge Martin. The night had fallen when Practice time came around at 20:00 local time (GMT+3) as Fernandez took on his first night session in MotoGP™. While he spent half the session working on his race pace, which was unusually a weak point at the previous round in Malaysia, he then went to the next level when time attacks came around. Taking advantage of Martin’s good wheel, the rookie rode his fastest in 1’53.289 to get himself the ninth position of an often highly-disputed practice session. The rookie will be able to rest during Q1 tomorrow before the final qualifying stage kicks off at 16:05 (GMT+3) on Saturday.

The last time Pol Espargaro was in Qatar, he was celebrating a third place on the podium so he certainly looked for good fortunes this week in Qatar. As all riders tried the newly resurfaced Qatari layout in FP1, Pol Espargaro was amongst the ones to accustom themselves pretty well as he closed the session in P9 with a 1’56.885, tight with Brad Binder closing the top 10 in 1’56.894. In the practice, a late crash of the Spaniard while he was trying to follow Jorge Martin reduced his chances of making it to Q2, and his best lap of 1’53.696 meant that he closed the day in fourteenth. Qualifying 1 will be busy as usual, but with the timesheet really close, the GASGAS Factory Racing Tech3 rider will have his chances. The action will be back on Saturday with Free Practice 2 at 15:00 local time (GMT+3), followed by the qualifying sessions starting at 15:40, before lights of the Tissot Sprint go out at 15:00 for eleven laps, under the floodlights of Lusail.

Position: 9th
Time: 1'53.289
Laps: 21
"I am happy with our final result even though we struggled a lot with the rear tyre during the first half of Practice. As soon as we pointed out the issue, the feeling was back after a positive FP1 this morning, so we were able to ride a great lap at the end of Practice after I found Jorge Martin’s wheel. I tried to stay behind him, and it worked out well for us. We need to continue with the work, improve a bit more the race pace, and try doing a great time attack in qualifying.”

Position: 14th
Time: 1'53.696
Laps: 14
"I am disappointed with today because I felt that I had a good speed, but we encountered too many problems in Practice: a braking issue forcing me to stop in the middle of the pit lane, then something went on with the dashboard and I could not see everything that I needed, so I was riding blind. I kept pushing when I actually did not need to, and I lost the front in the last corner. This is a shame because we could have been in Q2."


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