The first MotoGP outing of the season kicked off with a bang this weekend at the Losail circuit in Qatar; the weather proving a force to be reckoned with as impressive thunderstorms and bucketing rain wreaked havoc over the circuit, and made for a tense start to the season for all classes.
After a series of delayed and then cancelled sessions – the most notable of which being the cancellation of Q1 and Q2 – Race Direction announced that the grid positions for Sunday’s race would be decided by the combined FP1/2/3 times. This saw Movistar Yamaha’s young-gun Maverick Viñales, who led all preseason tests, sitting pretty for the first pole-position of the season, with Suzuki Ecstar’s Andrea Iannone and Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez not far behind.
The race start was as thrilling as the months of preseason testing had warned, from the stunning overtaking manoeuvres of former Moto2 champion Johann Zarco that saw him lead the first few laps, to the less-than-ideal run off the line into the first corner that saw Jorge Lorenzo run wide and drop far back.
Zarco, Iannone, Dovizioso and Marquez made off with the start, and with Viñales and Rossi close at hand, the top 6 ran away with a strong advantage early on. However, the incredible premier-class debut of Frenchman Johann Zarco that saw him take an early lead was sadly cut short when a lack of grip caught him out, sending him and his satellite Tech 3 Yamaha into the gravel, and leaving Andrea Dovizioso to take a grateful lead.
Throughout the race, the battle for the 3 podium places was non-stop. You’d almost be forgiven for not noticing the crashes of Alvaro Bautista and Cal Crutchlow, the latter of which was able to remount, before frustratingly going down again due to serious mechanical issues sustained in his first fall.
Dovizioso made it look easy, coasting smoothly around in 1st place, putting distance between the battle for 2nd featuring Marquez, Iannone, and Viñales close behind. Iannone was making an impression on Marquez when he also slid on the corner exit and low-sided into the gravel; his QatarGP coming to the same unfortunate end that it did in 2016.
With 10 laps to go attention turned to Dovizioso and the degradation of his soft-option rear tyre, as Viñales made his move on Marquez to start hunting the Ducati down, Rossi too closing up and overtaking the Spaniard to fight for the final step of the podium. The Honda’s acceleration problems as prominent as ever as Marquez began to struggle to keep up with the front three, dropping back to run the second half of the race in a lonely 4th.
Viñales worked his new Yamaha to the limit to catch up with Dovizioso; but when he did, the Spaniard took on the Italian as if he was standing still. Some nail-biting passing between the two continued for the final laps of the race, while Danilo Petrucci made a quiet exit, retiring with electronic issues with 6 laps remaining.
Whilst all the drama was happening out front, one person who managed to avoid the spotlight was none other than 3-time world champion and new Ducati team man; Jorge Lorenzo, who after a disastrous start, spent the entire 20 lap race struggling in the mid-field. Finally finishing in a desolate 11th, a full 20.5 seconds off the pace.
Finally, after a desperate last lap battle, Dovizioso had to concede defeat to 22 year old Yamaha star Viñales, settling for 2nd place with Rossi rounding out the Yamaha sandwich. Marc Marquez struggled home in 4th, with Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa close behind with Gresini Aprilia rider Aleix Espargaro in 6th as the leading satellite rider. The newly instated KTM team had a hard race, with the duo of Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith finishing in 16th and 17th.
Overall, the addition of some fresh faces, some intriguing bike-swaps and the always enticing thrill of a night-race have set up the 2017 season to be another roller-coaster year. With French rookie, Zarco, managing to lead the race for a number of laps, an honourable mention should also go to his fellow Moto2 graduates; Alex Rins and Jonas Folger, who managed a commendable 9th and 10th respectively on their first run with the MotoGP class. As for the championship, Viñales walks away with a deserved 25 points, Dovizioso with 20 and Rossi with 16. Carry-over champ Marquez trails with 13. Only time will tell how the standings will change as the season moves on to the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit in Argentina in two weeks’ time.
Qatar MotoGP Race Results
1. Maverick Viñales (38’59.999)
2. Andrea Dovizioso (+0.461)
3. Valentino Rossi (+1.928)
4. Marc Marquez (+6.745)
5. Dani Pedrosa (+7.128)
6. Aleix Espargaro (+7.661)
7. Scott Redding (+9.782)
8. Jack Miller (+14.486)
9. Alex Rins (+14.788)
10. Jonas Folger (+15.069)
11. Jorge Lorenzo (+20.516)
12. Loris Baz (+21.255)
13. Hector Barbera (+28.828)
14. Karel Abraham (+29.123)
15. Tito Rabat (+29.470)
16. Pol Espargaro (+33.601)
17. Bradley Smith (+39.704)
18. Sam Lowes (+47.131)
DNF. Danilo Petrucci (+ 6 Laps)
DNF. Andrea Iannone (+ 10 Laps)
DNF. Alvaro Bautista (+ 13 Laps)
DNF. Johann Zarco (+ 14 Laps)
DNF. Cal Crutchlow (+ 16 Laps)
Feature Image Credit: Movistar Yamaha Press Release,
Other Image Credit: Repsol Honda Press Release