The penultimate round of 2023 MotoGP visited the unique and freshly modernized environment of the Lusail International Circuit in Qatar and a previously happy hunting ground for Red Bull KTM Factory Racing. Brad Binder again marked the reference for speed and competitiveness with the RC16 by fighting for a top five position and taking 7th while Jack Miller finished 12th after the 11-lap Sprint. Red Bull KTM Tech3’s Daniel Holgado still has a mathematical chance of the Moto3™ world title and will start from Pole Position while Moto2™ world champ Pedro Acosta will wheel into 7th place on the grid for his second-to-last outing in the class.
Back to Lusail and a very different looking race circuit, thanks to comprehensive upgrades made to the paddock and general facilities. The light-bathed and resurfaced flat course remained the same however for the penultimate qualification and Sprint race of the year. The track held special memories for the launch of the company’s MotoGP program in 2017 and also for Brad Binder’s superb podium finish in 2022.
For what is now a regular occurrence, the Red Bull KTM pair were strong and competitive from the first laps. Practice and qualification took place in late afternoon temperatures, light and conditions, while PR (for the crucial classification session for qualifying) and the Sprint happened under the glare of Lusail lightbulbs and in cooler and more moist air. The range of grip and traction was significant for setup and the RC16 and the crew tried their best for optimization. Binder ranked 4th through the Friday evening air and on Saturday afternoon secured 11th after Q2. Miller was less than half a second from breaking out of Q1 and was unlucky to get baulked on his last flying lap attempt. He took to the grid in 16th.
The MotoGP Sprint offered valuable data and timing for the main 22 lap distance on Sunday. The shorter spectacle involved 11 frantic circulations and saw Binder having to make some strong moves to roam within the large group seeking a top five classification. His 7th place was less than six seconds from the winner and just three seconds from the podium. Miller strained the throttle and sought a way from the rear of the grid to be part of an eight-rider collective in mid-pack positions. Jack was able to cross the line in 12th.
MotoGP will lose the red lights and head into the illumination of Lusail at 18.00 CEST on Sunday.
Brad Binder, 11th in qualification, 7th in the Sprint: “This whole weekend has been a bit tricky and I felt like I hit a bit of a wall in terms of struggling to improve and get a better feeling with the front. I felt great in the first three-four laps of the Sprint and thought ‘I can do something here today…’ but then as soon as the grip level dropped I ran into trouble. Difficult, but it was great we could learn what we could today and to see what we can fix to go again tomorrow.”
Jack Miller, 16th in qualification, 12th in the Sprint: “A tricky day and going through Q1 is always a gamble. I was a tenth away from the old lap record and still end up in 16th! It was a chaotic start to the Sprint and with the single-line nature of this track it is hard to do much. I had a good battle and got into a rhythm. The pace was not fantastic but it was consistent and profited from mistakes from others at the end. We made a lot of changes today and we’re trying to find a bit more; we’re not far away.”
Francesco Guidotti, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team Manager: “Nothing really special so far and we are looking for a better solution with the level of grip to allow our riders to show the potential of the bike. We have to find something to improve the situation for tomorrow. Today was not our day.”
- From KTM Factory Racing