Any mistake will be punished in qualifying
Tonight's MotoGP qualifying session will have a lot to live up to following the thrilling climax to FP3 that saw the top 21 riders separated by just 1.3s at the Losail International Circuit. Even when the advantages of the softer tyre for the Open class bikes, worth five or six tenths of a second, is taken into account the times were incredibly competitive.
Marc Marquez was still able to top the times but the Spaniard admitted that anything less than a perfect lap by the Factory riders will make things exceptionally difficult in final qualifying tonight.
"In the qualifying practice we will have to really concentrate because the times are really tight and it's easy that you could start on the third row if you did a mistake, so we must push 100 percent," said Marquez.
Valentino Rossi found himself pushed closer and closer towards the 'bubble' in FP3 and in the closing moments he was facing at the prospect of having to take part in QP1 such was the speed of the Open bikes. Ultimately Rossi finished ninth fastest and happy to have been within four tenths of the fastest time even if that pace wasn't reflected in the timesheets.
"I’m a lot more satisfied about today because at the end my minimum target was to stay in the top ten," said Rossi. "This practice already is unbelievable because there are ten bikes in three tenths! So I’m not happy about my position but I’m not far from ‘pole’."
Scott Redding was one of the riders that will be forced to take part in QP1 today and he was another that was close to the pace but unable to do enough to stay in the top ten.
"We're only 0.6 from Marc," said Redding. "It's quite frustrating, because I saw the lap time, and thought, that'll put me around top 8, you know? And then I came in and saw P12, and I was like, fuckin' hell, it must be really close out there. Just 0.9 was 2nd to 19 riders."
Redding will be joined in QP1 by Bradley Smith after the Tech3 rider had a problem with his rear tyre on his final exit. Both will have to deal with the fast Open class bikes that can take advantage of the softer tyre. Both Danilo Petrucci and Maverick Vinales have flashed their potential this weekend but when you also have to factor in the Open Honda's it's easy to see a hugely competitive session.
Nicky Hayden finished 16th fastest and was the last rider within a second of Marquez and he summed up the feelings of the majority of the field when he said:
"We know this track generally produces close times, but 0.9 off on a big two minute track is not a lot," said Hayden. "On one hand I love it, I think that's how MotoGP should be, but it does make it tough. But I think it's Dorna, manufacturers, the teams, have all done a good job. There's a lot of good bikes, good equipment, good teams, good riders, and hopefully we can put on a show for the fans this year. I think it's pretty cool."
For Hayden's Aspar teammate, Eugene Laverty, the only time that he saw anything so competitive was at a local karting track...
"I think we did a kart event at Eddie Irvine's place where the lap was about 22 seconds where we were all within a few tenths of a second! I think that's about the only time I've seen it this competitive. Not about a two minute lap time! It's just nuts to be separated by one second over, 5 km around this place!"
Jack Miller, making his MotoGP debut, was left in a more familiar position than most of the riders given the competitive nature of Moto3 last year but speaking to MCN after FP3 he still couldn't believe how close the times were.
"We're 1.3 off, so we can't ask for any better, but if we look back, I don't think I could have picked a more competitive year to come into MotoGP over the last 6 years! I mean everybody, I don't know when it was the last time you saw down to 21 was inside 1.3 seconds. It's almost like we're in Moto3 again. It's good, and it's good to see the class at that sort of level," said Miller.