The 2019 Moto2 World Championship began under the lights in Qatar to the soundtrack of 765cc Triumph three-cylinder motors, and Lorenzo Baldassarri (Flexbox HP 40) came out on top in a last lap duel with Tom Luthi (Dynavolt Intact GP).
Xavi Vierge (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) made the holeshot from Baldassarri, but it took the Italian only one lap before he assumed the lead.
After a few laps, Vierge dropped another spot to Marcel Schrotter (Dynavolt Intact GP) – the polesitter – and the attack from the German was enough to destabilise the #97 rider to the extent that Remy Gardner (ONEXOX TKKR SAG Team) and Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) soon found their way through as well.
From this point, Baldassarri and Schrotter engaged in a cold war, trading lap times but Schrotter was never able to get within range of Baldassarri.
As the race settled down, Tom Luthi started to make his charge from the back half the top ten. He had a lot of pace, but took his time in passing people. By the halfway point, though, Luthi had passed Alex Marquez for fourth place, and was setting on after Gardner for the final podium spot. With three laps to go, the Swiss veteran of the Moto2 class had seized second place from teammate Schrotter and by the end of the penultimate lap he had caught Baldassarri.
It was clear that Luthi had a large advantage in edge grip, able to carry significantly more corner speed than Baldassarri, and this was especially noticeable through the three fast right-handers towards the end of the lap.
However, despite showing a nose in turns fourteen and fifteen, Luthi was unable to make a pass stick on Baldassarri, and the Italians snaking on the run to the line was enough to keep the 2005 125cc World Champion at bay, as Balda took the first win of the Triumph era of Moto2, a year on from being beaten to the Qatar victory by Pecco Bagnaia.
It was a stunningly metronomic ride from Baldassarri, consistently lapping in the mid-1’59s, dipping into the low-‘59s when he needed to. Against a more aggressive rider, maybe he would have lost out on the final lap, but the Italian did what he needed to do to go to Argentina leading the Moto2 World Championship for the first time in his career.
Tom Luthi’s return to Moto2 was last than half a tenth of a second away from being precisely perfect. If he hadn’t been considered already, Luthi has, with this ride, announced his intentions of winning his first world title in fourteen years. The Swiss held on impeccably to his tyre, something which his rivals were unable to replicate. This could prove to be a critical advantage throughout this season.
Marcel Schrotter hung on to the last podium position on the final lap from Remy Gardner, the German just running out of pace at the end. It has deserted him so far but Schrotter seems to be edging closer to that first Moto2 win.
Having stolen third place from Schrotter in turn one on the final lap, Gardner lost it again towards the end. He arrived in Qatar as one of the favourites for the win, so disappointment from the Aussie would be understandable. However, it was perhaps the best dry performance of the #87 in his entire grand prix career, and a fourth place is a good beginning.
Augusto Fernandez (Flexbox HP 40) had a quiet but impressive first ride of the season in fifth place, easily clear of those behind and closing in on the podium battle towards the end.
Behind Fernandez was Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2). If Remy Gardner arrived in Qatar as one of the favourites, Sam Lowes arrived as the absolute favourite, and by a chunk. However, several mistakes when overtaking people hampered his progress from the second row, and it is difficult to avoid the fact that the Brit missed out on a lot of points at the season opener. Luckily for Lowes, the season consists of nineteen races, not just one.
Seventh place went to Alex Marquez, who like Lowes will be disappointed with his result, having felt he had a strong race pace for the season opener.
Equally disappointed will be Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46). He had not looked to have the pace to fight at the front for the whole weekend, or even in the test. Luca who is both expected and expecting to fight for the title this season, when his supposed main rivals Lowes and Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) were struggling he would have hoped to take advantage, especially at a track where he has gone well in the past.
But, for Binder, the race was even worse. He started by climbing four places to fourth place, but slowly slipped back from there, and appeared to run completely out of tyre at the end, haemorrhaging positions in the last couple of laps to: Enea Bastianini (Italtrans Racing Team), Xavi Vierge – who suffered massively mid-race – and Fabio Di Giannantonio (+Ego Speed Up). Whilst it was a disaster for Binder, to beat such a recognised championship favourite in their first race would have been something to smile about for the rookies, Bastianini (finished ninth) and Di Giannantonio (finished eleventh).
Despite starting the weekend in a good way and with some good speed, Andrea Locatelli (Italtrans Racing Team) could only manage thirteenth in the race, ahead of Jesko Raffin (NTS RW Racing Team) who replaced Steven Odendaal and reigning Moto3 World Champion Jorge Martin who was the final points scorer.
Most of the retirements came on the first lap, as Nicolo Bulega (Sky Racing Team VR46) collected Iker Lecuona (American Racing Team) on the way into the first corner, and Jorge Navarro (+Ego Speed Up) got caught up in the melee as well. Marco Bezzecchi (Red Bull KTM Tech3) had a disappointing start to his Moto2 career as he crashed at turn six on the first lap after some contact with Jake Dixon (Sama Qatar Angel Nieto Team), who crashed at turn four early in the race as well.
Featured image courtesy of Dynavolt Intact GP