High expectations and a million questions: that’s what lay before the grid as the lights went out for the VisitQatar Grand Prix and it did not disappoint. The closest top fifteen of all time and another duel to the finish – with another trio right behind – made it a stunner of a season opener with a familiar name on top: Andrea Dovizioso (Mission Winnow Ducati Team).
It was a familiar name diving down the inside at the final corner too, as Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) rolled the dice once again – just 0.023 off ‘DesmoDovi’ over the line. Behind that classic duel that defines a rivalry came another battle but this time of three, with Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) pulling out all the stops to complete the podium and fend off Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and a late-charging Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP).
It was Dovizioso who got the holeshot from pole, he and Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Racing) grabbing P1 and P2 into Turn 1 as Marquez held position just behind. Polesitter Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) didn’t get the start he would have been aiming for as he dropped to sixth on Lap 1, with Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) and teammate Crutchlow catapulting through to the top five.
It looked like a carbon copy of 12 months ago at the final corner, but it was the same edge-of-the-seat heart-in-your-mouth moment as Marquez dove through on the inside, sitting up Dovi but running wide as he couldn’t quite get it stopped in time. From there it was another classic point and shoot contest to the line as both gunned it on the exit, but Dovizioso couldn’t be caught and made it out ahead. It was closer than before though, with an infinitesimal 0.023 separating the two as the flag waved. Behind, Crutchlow kept his cool to take a remarkable podium on his first race back since his huge Australian GP crash, with Rins a valiant P4 and Rossi again proving you should never count ‘The Doctor’ out. P5 from P14 on the grid was another impressive race day showing from the nine-time World Champion.
Too Much, Too Early
So who was the ride of the day? Far from the podium in the end and not scoring any points on his debut, an argument could be made for Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) regardless. The rookie was forced into a pitlane start after issues on the grid ahead of the Warm Up lap, and set about unleashing some almighty pace and nerves of steel for a first ever premier class appearance.
Fastest laps flowed from the Frenchman and he was soon into point-scoring contention… although sadly, it wouldn’t last. Too much too early in a bid to catch the group ahead saw Quartararo fade back to P16 by the flag – but only eight tenths off Johann Zarco (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing). Fellow debutant Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) also impressed and, for some time, was top KTM, before fading slightly, a fate that also befell Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) further forward as they all aim to gain more full-length race experience. Final rookie Francesco Bagnaia (Alma Pramac Racing) suffered a DNF (did not finish), with more to come from him in Argentina for sure, and his more veteran teammate Jack Miller, who also suffered some bad luck. The Australian fell victim to some problem with his machine that saw him drop from podium contention to suddenly outside the top ten, then retiring before the end of the race.
That was the story from Qatar but what a story it was. Records broken and history made, five riders in six tenths make for an awesome opener… even before looking at the winning margin of 0.023. But then, past the stats, it’s much more than a numbers game and always has been. Dedication, precision, passion, talent, confidence, pressure, potential, evolution, rivalry and respect. This is MotoGP™ and we’re back in business. Tune in for the Gran Premio Motul de la Republica Argentina on 31 March for more, because we’ve only just begun.
VisitQatar Grand Prix was held at the Losail International Circuit from 8 to 10 March. Check out circuitlosail.com for updates and more information about the race.
Cover Image: The top three in the premier class (from left) – Marquez, Dovizioso and Crutchlow.