Alex Hofmann's Moto GP Round Up from Qatar

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After five months without any MotoGP racing it was great to be back in the thick of it in Qatar for the start of the 2012 season! The best thing about the whole weekend was that it didn't go as expected, for reasons both good and bad...

Everybody expected Casey Stoner to take pole and be on top like he has done in recent years, but he was unable to pull that off. That was the first big surprise for me. Jorge Lorenzo managed to go faster in qualifying, and in the race Casey was running a very good pace until he encountered the issue with arm pump, but I still didn't expect things to turn out how they did.

By the look of it things are now closer between the three guys who, on paper, are the favourites for the title. However, the gap between the top three - who basically ran their own race - and the rest of the MotoGP field was, I would say, quite a big one.

Of course this is a new era with the increase in engine capacity to 1000cc, and the truth always comes out when the chequered flag drops. I was really excited about the new bikes, which are using the limit of what is possible in terms of power, and I wasn't disappointed.

For PUMA's partner team Ducati the weekend told two different tales for Nicky Hayden and Valentino Rossi.

Nicky rode the wheels off the Ducati in Qatar to fight for sixth and all things considered his result as the highest Ducati was a great job very well done. For Valentino, he had some problems early on with tyres and was then pushed off track by Héctor Barberá which was unfortunate, but you can't blame Barberá for going for the overtake. I don't think it was a harsh manoeuvre, but with Valentino still not feeling 100% comfortable on the bike it was tough for him to take any risks. Hopefully things will get better because nobody wants to see Valentino Rossi riding and finishing in 10th, and it's not just reward for him or everybody at Ducati who has been working so hard. It's not where they belong.

Ducati worked really hard over the winter to make the things which Valentino and Nicky requested for the bike, and if you're a test rider for Ducati it seems you're putting in 24-hour days right now! They're testing every second week I would say, and have been through a mountain of things. They've gone with this aluminium frame which is closer to what the competitors have and while the gap hasn't been immediately reduced, it will come as these things do take time.

One thing is for sure and that's the fact that Nicky and Valentino will be motivating one another. Nicky will want to prove that he can show the bike has potential and Valentino will look at him and see he was close to the top five in Qatar, and whilst that's not where he wants to be either it is easily within reach if things come together. If Valentino hadn't been pushed off track he would have been able to battle because his lap times got better, and I think he would have been fighting with those guys for sixth.

Next we go to Jerez and I think we'll see a great fight at the front between Casey, who will be keen to come back after Qatar, and Jorge and Dani who will both be hugely motivated for their home race. I can't wait to see it and I think it will be dynamite for the racing aspect.

I do think that for Ducati it's going to look better. They tested there so I'm sure they'll sort it out. At Jerez they will have data so they're not going to get lost within the practice sessions, and I'm pretty sure both Valentino and Nicky will will fight for the top six.