Runner-up and within touching distance of a maiden MotoGP win in both Qatar races last year, Johann Zarco returns for the 2022 season opener with the aim of ending a podium drought that has started after Catalonia.
The Pramac Ducati rider, seen developing the new factory front ride height system during testing, hopes the top speed advantage of the Desmosedsici will once again help his podium cause.
“Everything will come well in Qatar,” he said. “The biggest change I would say is that we haven’t done a test before, so the track will be quite dirty and it will take a bit of time to go really fast and we will improve over the weekend. It’s the trickiest thing.
“In addition the race and practice are two hours ahead of time. So just check the temperature and the choice of tires for the race. We won’t really have time to push a soft tire or a medium tire to test. which is best for the race, so we will have to use the experience of last year.
“But I think here I will have the advantage of the bike, like last year, and compared to Indonesia [test] it will help to be in the top three – I hope!”
With eight Ducatis on the grid this year, many other riders will benefit from the straight-line performance of the Italian machine. But it was two inline-four riders, last year’s winner Fabio Quartararo (Yamaha) and Alex Rins (Suzuki) who caught Zarco’s eye.
“I think Fabio [will be good here], he likes the track, he won last year, so he will be competitive,” Zarco said of the reigning world champion. “And I’m also waiting for Rins. Rins was almost on the podium last year and from the tests he did in Malaysia and Indonesia, I think he can repeat a very good consistency here.
“I really hope our engine advantage ‘blocks’ them! Anyway, we have 11-13 drivers covered by two tenths, so I can’t predict too much.”
At 31, Zarco is younger than Andrea Dovizioso and Aleix Espargaro, but is only entering his sixth season in the premier class.
“If we only think about the MotoGP experience, I always feel very fresh,” he said. “It’s my sixth season now but Marc Marquez has been in MotoGP since 2013 so he has more experience but I’m older.
“I feel fresh because I didn’t get the result I wanted, so when I train and prepare, I feel like I have to be even more prepared to achieve what I want. So that’s okay . [with my age]but clearly Martin [team-mate, 24] has a better future than me!”
Fifth after briefly leading the world championship last year after the openers in Qatar, and now with eleven podiums to his name, Zarco knows it’s time to ‘prove’ what he is capable of.
“I also felt last year that I had everything I needed, but that was more of a surprise. Now we know I can do it, so I have to prove it. Confirm it “, did he declare.
“I think the top three from last year’s championship will be in the top five again this year, now that Marc will be there all season.
“But as I said, it’s too hard to predict [a favourite] because it’s very demanding when you give your best and, I repeat, two tenths cover the top ten. This makes the situation quite difficult.
“I hope to be one of those at the top.”
Free practice in Qatar takes place on Friday afternoon and evening.