After two excellent opening acts at Losail, the premier class had to rise to the challenge and rose they did, with the closest top 15 in history at the end of 22 Moto3-like laps. Fabio Quartararo completed a perfect double for Yamaha with one of his best races yet, featuring a strong comeback after a troubled start and a determined battle against a pretty feisty field. The Frenchman was joined by compatriot Johann Zarco up on the podium, the Pramac man settling for second but picking up his 50th podium in Grand Prix racing and the championship lead heading back to Europe. Poleman Jorge Martin held onto the lead admirably until the final few laps but still scored an impressive first podium in the premier class on only his second race.
After his stunning start last Sunday, Martin was once again unbeatable off the line and arrived into turn one ahead of teammate Zarco and a fast starting Aleix Espargaro, the Spaniard going from seventh on the grid to third by turn three. Miguel Oliveira put KTM in the limelight for a bit, after he nailed the start from 12th on the grid to trail the three leaders, followed the two Suzukis, while the factory Yamahas had work to do after they dropped to 7th and 9th, sandwiching Jack Miller on the outskirts of the top ten, with Bagnaia a couple of places behind. Unhappy with that outcome, the Yamahas and Ducatis rubbed elbows but made little to no progress early on.
Back at the front, Martin kept his teammate a couple of tenths behind and the Frenchman was getting harassed by Aleix Espargaro and Alex Rins. While the Suzuki easily got past the Aprilia on lap three, Zarco was a more difficult proposition as his Ducati flew past every time they reached turn 1 – copy paste for the next few laps. Behind them, Espargaro was slowly starting to fade and Oliveira was still figuring out the medium front tyre, holding back the rest of the contenders. By the time Mir got past Oliveira on lap four, he had about eight tenths to recover on the three leaders. After the excellent start, Oliveira quickly dropped behind all four factory Ducatis and Yamahas by lap eight. Just like Rins had no answer to Zarco on the straight, Mir had to surrender fifth position to Bagnaia on lap 8 and had Miller waiting to pounce as well. Quartararo and Vinales were the fastest men on track at that point and although they struggled to progress from the bottom of the top ten, they were still only two seconds off the lead.
Meanwhile, Martin was untroubled at the front, aided by the numerous exchanges between Rins and Zarco. Bagnaia took longer than expected to make it past Espargaro, only jumping ahead at turn 16 of lap 10, when Miller also took advantage and flew past Mir and Espargaro into turn 1.
Halfway through the race, the nine-man lead group was covered by only 1.8 seconds and it was still anyone’s game – although it almost wasn’t Rins’ game, as he had to save a pretty big moment at turn 9 with 11 laps left. The unsettled Spaniard had to then see Bagnaia fly past at turn 1 and almost ran into the back of the Italian a couple laps later. Meanwhile, an unusually feisty Mir put a move on Miller and the Australian responded in similar fashion, the tangle out of the final turn pushing both of them to the back of the leading group. That handed Quartararo a helping hand and the Frenchman was soon attacking Rins for fourth with 8 laps remaining. The scrappy couple of laps for the leaders allowed a group including Pol Espargaro, Brad Binder and Enea Bastianini to steadily close up on the leading group.
Quartararo seemed like a man on a mission for the final half dozen laps but that mission was finding a way past three rocketship Ducatis. Bagnaia proved to be an easy task as the Italian went wide at turn 1 but Quartararo did not get much of a breather as Miller quickly caught up with him. Vinales was also starting to make some solid progress and joined the top 5 with 5 laps remaining.
Martin was finally shown a front wheel at turn 15 but the rookie easily struck back at turn 1 with four laps remaining and Quartararo had to quickly find a solution for the start-finish straight conundrum. The secret ended up being an overtake at turn four and unmatched pace to stretch a gap at the front. Martin was finally showing some weakness and allowed Quartararo a half second gap with 3 laps remaining. Vinales hoped to follow his teammate’s example but Zarco was not too keen to hand over a podium spot. Rins was the only other rider holding onto the leaders, while Bagnaia and Miller struggled to keep in podium contention in the closing stages and Mir was still trying to get past Aleix Espargaro for 8th spot.
Quartararo entered the final lap seven tenths ahead of the two Ducatis and it looked like a secure enough gap, leaving the Pramac boys to decide the rest of the podium positions. Zarco pulled a move on Martin at turn 15 and just about held it to the finish line, crossing it four hundredths of a second ahead of his teammate. Vinales got defeated by the Suzuki at turn 1 on the final lap and Rins eventually secured fourth by two hundredths of a second from Vinales, with Bagnaia 6th and Mir 7th. Binder caught up with the leading group late in the race to score an impressive 8th place, while Miller and Aleix Espargaro settled for the final top 10 positions.
A consistent couple of races for Zarco hands him the world championship lead after the first two rounds, four points ahead of compatriot Quartararo and his teammate Vinales, who are tied on points. Bagnaia drops to fourth in the standings, 14 points down and closely followed by Rins and Mir.
|73||Alex Marquez||Honda||10 Laps|
|27||Iker Lecuona||KTM||10 Laps|