The floodlights of Qatar raised the bar early for every other race on the calendar after a masterpiece reminiscent of 2018 but closer and tighter, the classic final corner showdown matched by the closest top 15 in the history of the premier class. Andrea Dovizioso made sure to keep Losail as Ducati’s playground but Marc Marquez gave his absolute best to prevent that and came within two hundredths of a second a victory that has eluded him since 2014. Dovizioso came out as the winning party of yet another final lap spectacle against the world champion, while Cal Crutchlow’s confidence was boosted by a podium in his first race back from serious injury.
The race had drama even before it started, Fabio Quartararo stalling on the line on the warm up lap and swapping a second row start to a pitlane one. Back on the main piece of tarmac, Dovizioso’s mythical holeshot device seemed to be working perfectly, the Italian robbing poleman Maverick Vinales into turn one. The Yamaha man started going backwards already and his dreams of an early escape ended up in sixth place by the end of lap one. Marquez held station in third after the start, behind Jack Miller and with the fellow Hondas of Cal Cructhlow and Takaaki Nakagami waiting to bite. While Vinales was still finding his feet, both Suzukis made it past him, Joan Mir ahead of Alex Rins and Danilo Petrucci dragging a fast starting Valentino Rossi into the top ten. Back at the front, Marquez kept Miller busy but the battle was decided when Miller got distracted by his seat pad coming lose and dropped back to 11th place.
It looked like the calm before the storm at the front, Dovizioso leading Marquez within two tenths of each other while the Suzukis were storming past Crutchlow. Rins went a step further and was attacking Marquez by the middle of lap five. Like Quartararo was demonstrating some 20 positions behind, the leading group was biding its time about two seconds off race pace, but Rins was not all that patient and attacked for the lead for the first time at the end of lap five. Dovizioso easily resumed position on the straight while Marquez, Mir, Crutchlow and Petrucci patiently followed. Vinales was stuck in seventh and being hunted down by teammate Rossi and apprentice Franco Morbidelli. Rins and Marquez started harassing each other for the next few laps, while Petrucci also got a taste for overtakes a couple places behind but Mir was not making life easy for the Italian.
By lap eighth, Rins was briefly back in the lead but his ambitions seemed to be using up more tyre than the veteran championship contenders around him. While Dovizioso and Rins were keen to show the way and kept exchanging positions, Marquez appeared to be playing the waiting game in third, at least while Mir and Petrucci didn’t show much initiative. That changed on lap ten, when Petrucci pulled a clinical move on the world champion, demoting him to fourth, prompting the Spaniard into showing some enthusiasm. The Honda getting the better of the Ducati on the straight of all places and then block passed Rins soon after.
The pace was starting to warm up at the halfway mark of the race, frontrunners dipping into the 1:55s, Dovizioso and Marquez finding a half second gap on Petrucci, Rins and Crutchlow. Mir was another stone’s throw away, trailed by three Yamahas, Vinales ahead of Rossi and Morbidelli but the trio looked to be losing touch with the podium battle in the final ten laps.
Back at the front, Dovizioso’s stopped testing the opposition and slowed down once again, backing Marquez into Rins, Petrucci, and Crutchlow, creating the illusion that Mir and the factory Yamahas still had a word to say in the podium configuration. The Italian’s plan made it an eight-man lead group once again, Rins like a puppy persistently biting at Marquez’s slippers in the battle for second, while Petrucci and Crutchlow were replicating that just behind. Their next problem was Rossi, who made it past Vinales and Mir in quick succession and edged closer to the top five.
Timesheets went red with four laps remaining, the lead group reduced to six as Vinales and Mir lost touch by a second while Dovizioso and Marquez prepared for one of their classics at the front, if Crutchlow, Rins, Petrucci and Rossi were not going to disagree. Vinales did wake up in the final three laps to post his fastest times but it was too little too late to make an impact on the podium.
A mistake from Dovizioso in turn six on the penultimate lap made the decision on when to attack for Marquez and the Spaniard turned into the mouse rather than the cat. However, Tom got one back over Jerry at the final visit into turn one, when the Ducati fired past the Honda. The final lap was riddled with slides and wiggles for Marquez but the world champion held on for the last corner showdown, the two rivals crossing the finish line side by side. Crutchlow’s stoic defence of third place almost got overshadowed by the Qatar 2018 replica up front, while Rins must be disappointed to miss out on the podium. Rossi’s breathtaking charge to fifth brought him only six tenths of a second away from victory.
After shining in practice, Petrucci looked most glum after finishing sixth but not as disappointed as the poleman, Vinales crossing the line seventh. Mir was ninth and five seconds off the win in his MotoGP debut, while Takaaki Nakagami and Aleix Espargaro completed the top ten. A bit lower down the order but still into the points was Lorenzo in 13th place on his Honda debut, while Quartararo just missed out on points after his admirable recovery job.
Dovizioso leaves Qatar as the championship leader, while Marquez will be hoping for revenge in more ways than one in Argentina.
|38||Bradley SMITH||Aprilia||2 Laps|
|43||Jack MILLER||Ducati||10 Laps|
|63||Francesco BAGNAIA||Ducati||13 Laps|