They might have changed the race times and the tyres and the bikes but one thing that survived the winter above all else is Johann Zarco’s speed in Qatar. The first race leader of 2017 will most likely be the first race leader of 2018, with the Frenchman starting the eleventh grand prix held under the floodlights from a hard-earned and breathtaking pole position. In the process, Tech 3’s hero became the man to obliterate the decade-old pole record of Jorge Lorenzo in the desert by three tenths of a second.
Even reigning world champion and pole maestro Marc Marquez had to admit defeat in front of Zarco after the two of them had ridden in close proximity for most of the qualifying session. The two men resumed the Honda-Yamaha battle from the off, Marquez leading Zarco after the first run but having to settle for second once Zarco unleashed his full potential. The front row of the grid will also include Danilo Petrucci, a man on a mission if his staggering race pace is to be believed. All front row men managed to dip into the 1:53s and run under the previous pole record.
Cal Crutchlow opens the second row of the grid, four tenths down on the poleman and with Andrea Dovizioso breathing down his neck, the Italian a further two thousandths of a second slower but only fifth after looking like a favourite for pole throughout the session. Alex Rins puts a Suzuki on the final slot available on the second row with some premier class veterans reserving the third row of the grid.
Dani Pedrosa adds another Honda to the top seven, with Valentino Rossi as the first factory Yamaha in eighth position. Jorge Lorenzo was the first to attack his own pole record and was close to bringing it down but his final sector let him down and the Ducati was swallowed by the flurry of late red sectors and dropped down to ninth place.
The fourth row of the grid consists of the two Q1 survivors sandwiching Andrea Iannone. Jack Miller rained on Maverick Viñales’ parade both in Q1 and Q2, the Australian grabbing tenth grid spot with his best time of the weekend but still trailing the poleman by seven tenths of a second. Iannone was another two tenths behind, while Viñales will have to take solace from his decent FP4 pace and settle for twelfth grid position, over a second slower than Zarco.
When the pressure was on, the fastest rookie proved to be Franco Morbidelli in fourteenth spot, behind the Aprilia of Aleix Espargaro and edging ahead of Hafizh Syahrin.