The 2021 MotoGP season sparks into life in Qatar on Sunday. AFP Sport looks at five talking points ahead of the curtain-raiser at the Losail International circuit:
One year on after the Covid-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the first round of the MotoGP championship in Qatar the gulf state’s Losail International Circuit takes centre stage with back-to-back night races on Sunday and again on April 4 to get the 2021 campaign off to an atmospheric and theatrical floodlit start.
Qatar, which hosted pre-season testing, has offered coronavirus vaccines to the entire paddock.
The MotoGP circus then moves on to the Algarve in Portugal for the third leg of a 19-race calendar, with two further races in the United States and Argentina expected to be slotted in towards the end of the year. Practice for Sunday’s opener gets underway on Thursday.
The six-time MotoGP world champion is the notable absentee from Qatar’s double header.
His season-ending crash in the first race last year led to three bouts of surgery on his fractured right arm, the last in December, and left the way clear for his fellow Spaniard Joan Mir to claim his crown.
The 28-year-old pulled out of this weekend’s curtain-raiser on Monday, saying that although his recovery was going well he required more time before returning to the day job.
With his next medical check-up on April 12 that suggests Portugal’s third leg on April 18 as a target for his overdue return.
The Honda star has downplayed his chances of reclaiming his throne this term: “The objective is to get on a motorbike, have fun again and from there find a good level and fight for podiums and victories. -AFP