Front-Row Start, Top-10 Finish For Suzuki In Qatar

Team Suzuki Ecstar Manager Davide Brivio says GSX-RR is “still a work in progress.”

Andrea Iannone on the 2017 GSX-RR
Andrea Iannone is riding an evolution of the Suzuki that Maverick Vinales raced to victory last year at Silverstone. “If you switch from one Japanese bike to another, probably the time to adapt is quicker,” Team Manager Davide Brivio said. “Maybe coming from Ducati you need more time.”Photo: Suzuki

Andrea Iannone started Sunday night's season-opening MotoGP race at the Losail International Circuit from the middle of the front row—the best-ever starting position for a Suzuki rider at the Qatari track.

Andrea Iannone at the MoGP race in Qatar
Andrea Iannone is riding an evolution of the Suzuki that Maverick Viñales raced to victory last year at Silverstone. “If you switch from one Japanese bike to another, probably the time to adapt is quicker,” Team Manager Davide Brivio said. “Maybe coming from Ducati you need more time.”Photo: Suzuki

Because qualifying on Saturday was a washout, grid positions were determined by combined practice times, and in the final minutes of Free Practice 3, the former Ducati factory rider had lapped the 16-turn, 3.34-mile track in 1:54.848.

This was a massive improvement from FP1 and FP2—in which Iannone was 13th (1:56.027) and 15th (1:56.069), respectively—and it solidified the 27-year-old Italian’s place on the grid between eventual race winner Maverick Viñales and Marc Marquez.

"Okay, it's just one lap," Suzuki Team Manager Divide Brivio told me prior to Sunday's extended warm-up session, "but it's very important because we made a change and then he went out with a soft tire and pushed at the limit."

Team Suzuki Ecstar's team manager Davide Brivio and Alex Rins
Brivio (seen here with second team rider Alex Rins, ninth at Qatar) said he won’t be surprised if MotoGP once again has many different race winners. “Considering the riders and bike packages,” he said, “if it’s not nine, I think possibly seven or eight can win, unless we have one rider who is really strong and dominating.”Photo: Suzuki

I asked Brivio about the “versatility” of the inline-four Suzuki, which is a very different machine from the various versions of the V-four Ducati on which Iannone spent the past four seasons.

“Iannone arrive to us from a bike with a different character,” Brivio replied. “He is very open-minded. He is trying to understand how he has to do what he has to do. The lap time was very good because Iannone had confidence. That’s why he could push.

“So, in this sense, I would say the bike is versatile. We need confirmation now in the warm-up and the race, but if the direction we took in free practice is the correct one, I expect that we can use Iannone’s potential.”

Andrea Iannone and Marc Marquez
Michelin now brings three front and three rear slicks—soft, medium, and hard—to each race. “We could have been okay with two options,” Brivio said. “In some situation, it might help, but it’s also difficult to select from six options. During free practice, time is not so much. Most likely, you cannot test everything.”Photo: Suzuki

That “direction” involved reverting to a setting used last November at Valencia, the first time Iannone rode the GSX-RR. “When Iannone arrived, he was very happy about the chassis,” Brivio said. “Of course, there is always something to improve.

“We started to adjust and modify. In some things, he was losing feeling. Sometimes, it is a very thin line. Here, we went back to something that we had in Valencia and he got a better feeling. But it is still a work in progress because we have to understand.”

In the race, Iannone got the holeshot but crashed just past half distance after running into the back of Marquez. “I made a mistake,” he said. “Maybe this is a lesson for the future. I have to wait for a better situation to pass a slower rider and not be so impulsive.

“Suzuki worked really hard during the winter for me. They have trust in me, and I really want to pay them back in the best way with better results.” Iannone will have his next opportunity at the Grand Prix of Argentina, April 7-9.