Not only was retired double MotoGP champion Casey Stoner a keen spectator for Ducati at the Qatar season opener, he also rode at the same Losail circuit on Monday and Tuesday.

And while sheltering from showers on the opening night of his private test, the Australian star - back at Ducati as a brand ambassador and test rider - gave his opinion on the first race of the new Michelin and single ECU era.

Yamaha's reigning champion Jorge Lorenzo won the grand prix by 2.019s from Ducati's Andrea Dovizioso, who outsmarted a last corner attack from Honda's Marc Marquez. Valentino Rossi completed the lead quartet, just 2.387s from victory.

"Overall, the race was kind of as I expected in that no-one was really a standout and there was no runaway winner - even if Jorge, towards the end of the race once everyone let him get comfortable, did what Jorge does best!" Stoner told Crash.net.

"No-one has got the hang of the Michelin tyres yet - you can see it from the lap times. They were very up and down; one lap would be pretty average and the next would be six tenths faster. That's a bit unique.

"A lot of people made mistakes and ran wide too, but I think Michelin have shown how competitive they're going to be - and they beat my bloody lap record from 2008!" he smiled.

"It was also a fast race time even though they all kind of held each other up. That's impressive as far as Michelin's standards go, in my opinion. Everyone still just needs to come to grips with the fact that they will not perform in the same way as a Bridgestone and stop expecting them to.

"Some people are complaining, 'I can't go into the corner the same way I could on the Bridgestones'. Okay, but they've got other benefits, so let's use those. In time, they'll forget what a Bridgestone felt like and start adapting themselves to the Michelins and it seems like it's finally going that way.

"But as a spectator, the race was fantastic with a nice little battle there at the end.

"I'm very disappointed for Iannone that he crashed out. He showed pace all weekend and I think he would have been a front contender [at the end] as well, depending on how things played out."

Iannone fell from second place shortly after losing the lead to team-mate Dovizioso. But once Lorenzo hit the front on lap 9 there was relatively little overtaking, despite the lead group being so close.

"You're going to have to pass differently on the Michelins," Stoner explained, when asked if riders appeared a little nervous about trying to overtake. "It's going to be more about setting yourself up on corner exit and then passing on the next entry - not passing from a long way back on the brakes.

"Not only that, but because everyone has crashed on these tyres - they wanted to win, but there's that little voice telling them, 'let's come out of here with some points and build on that'. They all ran wide a few times as well, so everyone is finding their feet and knowing where the limits are.

"It was also a high-paced race. You have to look at that as well. Like Valencia last year. People can criticise all they want [about that race], but it was a high-paced race at a bloody hard track to pass on! It was kind of like that here - no one wanted to get off-line or take a risk."

Ducati haven't won a MotoGP race since Stoner's home Phillip Island victory in 2010, a statistic the Australian is trying to help erase through his testing and development work.

"I think the Desmosedici had a good chance of winning here if things had panned out a little differently and we've got room for improvement. All the manufacturers are going to say that, but knowing this bike and spending time on it, there definitely is," Stoner declared.

"For me that's a big positive. To already be that competitive, with room to move forward is a very, very good thing.

"That's something we're trying to do at these tests; find a few things that the boys can use, without them having to waste time testing during a race weekend. They can just put them on and find the balance.

"I believe it was a good performance. It showed the potential. Ducati started well here last year, but as an overall package the bike feels stronger this year, so that's a good place to be."

Stoner made his debut on the 2016 Ducati during this week's test, having only used the GP15 at Sepang in February.

The 30-year-old's next outing is still to be decided, with fellow test rider Michele Pirro replacing injured Pramac rider Danilo Petrucci in the upcoming rounds.

By Peter McLaren
 

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