Maverick Vinales backed up his pre-season form by taking the win at the Qatari Grand Prix at Losail on Sunday evening. The Spaniard repeated Valentino Rossi’s achievement of winning first time out on the Yamaha, after coming from as low as 5th to beat Andrea Dovizioso. Teammate Valentino Rossi also put in a super-human effort, coming from 10th on the grid to finish 3rd. This makes it the first time that the Factory Yamaha team have had a double podium at Losail since Lorenzo and Rossi achieved a 1-2 in 2013.
The race got underway after a delay of around 40 minutes, as the weather – like on Saturday – proved to be havoc for the premier class. Andrea Iannone got the drop on the field, as the Suzuki breezed into the lead. However it was Johann Zarco who made an aggressive start by swerving across the track to take 2nd position, ahead of Marc Marquez and Andrea Dovizioso. Pole-sitter Vinales was 5th with Dani Pedrosa leading Valentino Rossi and Alvaro Bautista in 6th, 7th and 8th.
At turn six on the opening lap, it was Johann Zarco who took the lead. Barging his way passed Iannone who in turn was lifted up by Marquez. The incredible sight of a Tech 3 Yamaha leading and if we’re honest, it wasn’t the one we had expected through pre-season given Jonas Folger’s incredible form.
As the race progressed, so did the Frenchman, opening up a 1.7 second advantage over the battling Dovizioso, Iannone and Marquez. However, disaster was about to strike for the #5. Into turn 2, Zarco’s front end washed out, dumping the Frenchman unceremoniously on the deck as his Tech 3 Yamaha bounced through the Qatar sandpit. The success was only short-lived but Zarco was a hero in Qatar. He’s made his mark and will be up the sharp end regularly very soon. The crash came as BT Sport’s Keith Huewen said, “So then, Zarco’s leading, Dovizioso in 2nd”. A true commentators curse if ever I’ve heard one.
Dovi was now the race leader and my five pound bet with a chef at my workplace suddenly started to have a little bit more meaning. Dovi wasn’t escaping though, with Marquez, Iannone, Vinales and a rapidly-closing Rossi all in pursuit. Alvaro Bautista was a solid 6th on the Aspar Ducati. I say “was” for a reason. The Spaniard crashed out at the final corner but like Zarco, Bautista has made his mark and will be in that top 10 on other occasions this year.
You’re probably wondering where Jorge Lorenzo is. Having run off the track at turn four on lap one, he found himself down in 15th, although the five-time champion was recovering, up to 8th at one point. He was in a ferocious battle with Dani Pedrosa and Aleix Espargaro who was riding the wheels off the Aprilia on his debut for the team.
Back at the sharp end and there was another casualty. On lap 11, Andrea Iannone’s front tyre also decided enough was enough, putting the feisty Italian on the deck at turn five in the middle of the corner. He and the bike stayed together until they both reached the gravel trap and for the 2nd consecutive season, Iannone crashed out of the Qatari GP whilst looking on for a podium at least.
Vinales was closing the gap to Dovizioso too and Valentino Rossi had also caught Marc Marquez as we came to the end of lap 11. Rossi took Marquez for 3rd at turn 15 and although Marquez fought back, Rossi had the inside for the right handed turn 16. The Doctor was third from 10th on the grid and given his woeful pre-season form, I’d say that was pretty remarkable.
Vinales took the lead from Dovizioso on lap 13, as Rossi closed ever so slightly on the leading duo. Dovizioso had chosen the soft front tyre option but that was starting to wear. Behind Rossi and a remote 4th belonged to Marc Marquez and behind that, Aleix Espargaro had got passed Dani Pedrosa and was in 5th position.
Dovi retook the lead on lap 18 but it was to prove pointless, as Vinales fought straight back, holding on for the remaining two laps to take the victory. Dovizioso took 2nd place for the third consecutive season and it was Valentino Rossi who took third – becoming the oldest rider on the podium since Australian Jack Findlay won the Austrian Grand Prix of 1977, which was boycotted on safety grounds by top riders. 4th place went to Marquez who just held off Dani Pedrosa and a heroic effort by Aleix Espargaro, who took Aprilia to new heights as they achieved their best ever MotoGP result! Britain’s Scott Redding capped a great weekend with a late charge to 7th ahead of Jack Miller in 8th, with rookies Alex Rins and Jonas Folger completing the top 10. Jorge Lorenzo suffered a terrible start to his Ducati career as he finished 11th, just a second-or-so ahead of Frenchman, Loris Baz, who continues to recover from injuries sustained last season. Hector Barbera, Karel Abraham and Esteve Rabat rounded out the points.
A scintillating start to the MotoGP season with four different leaders at one point in the race. Comebacks through the grid and shocks in the top 10, how can you not want to watch MotoGP in 2017? The next round is the Argentine Grand Prix from the Termas De Rio Hondo circuit. For the last two seasons, Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez have done battle so will it be the same again in 2017 or will we see a changing of the guard?