The Movistar Yamaha MotoGP Team has returned to the Losail International Circuit in Qatar to kick off the MotoGP World Championship this weekend. Riders Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales can hardly wait to fire up their Yamaha YZR-M1s' engines under the floodlights for the first free practice session of the Grand Prix of Qatar on Thursday and finalise their bike set-up at the 5.4 km track for the first race of the season.
After a busy winter, filled with extensive testing, Rossi is ready to get back into his leathers to challenge at the front of the field. He looks forward to start comparing some solutions found during the final pre-season test a little less than two weeks ago and to return to the premier class centre stage, fighting for the victory.
Last year he bravely fought his way to fourth place in Doha, missing the podium by a hair. This year the nine-time MotoGP World Champion is determined to pop the champagne at the end of the first round. He previously secured wins in the premier class in Qatar in 2005, 2006, 2010 and 2015. He also claimed second place in 2007, 2009, 2013 and 2014.
Teammate Viñales is set to make his official race debut for the Movistar Yamaha MotoGP Team this weekend and has his eyes firmly set on the top step of the rostrum. During the off-season, he has consistently been one of the top contenders and is keen on keeping the trend going at the Qatar GP.
The Spaniard showed he felt comfortable at the test a fortnight ago, when he sealed his fourth fastest lap of the four official pre-season IRTA tests, but the youngster remains level-headed about his Yamaha race debut. This weekend he aims to improve on his best MotoGP placement at the Losail Circuit, a sixth place in 2005. However, Viñales is certainly not unfamiliar with the Qatar podium, having clinched the Moto3 victory in 2012 and a second place in the same class one year later.
To make the highly anticipated first round of the season even more exciting, the Movistar Yamaha MotoGP Team is also set to reveal new partners that are added to their YZR-M1s' colour schemes. For the 2017 season, the Yamaha Factory Racing team has strengthened its relationship with Official Sponsors PT. Yamaha Indonesia Motor Mfg. (YIMM), Yamaha Motor Vietnam Co., Ltd. (YMVN) and Yamaha Motor Philippines Inc. (YMPH). Throughout the 18-rounds their respective national flags and slogans will alternately grace the front of Rossi's and Viñales' MotoGP machines, starting with the Indonesian and Vietnamese flags in Qatar.
Furthermore, the flags will be accompanied by the corresponding Yamaha Distributor slogans. This weekend the bikes will feature YIMM's "Semakin Di Depan" ("One Step Ahead") and YMVN's "Go Beyond", to cheer on the Movistar Yamaha team throughout the race weekend.
The Losail International Circuit is best known for being the only track on the MotoGP calendar to host a night-time Grand Prix. The first time the event was held under the floodlights was in 2008, after the MotoGP circus had visited the asphalt strip in the outskirts of Doha four times prior for daytime races. Losail offers a mix of medium and high-speed corners, of which six are left and ten are right turns, but its key feature remains the iconic, over a kilometre long, main straight that allows the riders to fully open the throttle as they speed towards the finish line.
The Qatar GP time schedule for the upcoming race weekend slightly differs from the usual. The Free Practice 1 session will take place on Thursday evening (from 19:55 - 20:40 local track time, GMT+3), followed by FP2 (18:00 - 18:45) and FP3 (20:55 - 21:40) on the Friday; FP4 (19:55 - 20:25) on the Saturday before the qualifying sessions (20:35 - 21:15), and the warm-up (17:00 - 17:20) and race (21:00) on Sunday.