Valentino Rossi couldn’t have said it any better.
“It’s the first time it looked like an old race from MotoGP from ten years ago, all together on the same pace, some mistakes, going wide and so on. Maybe Dorna had a good idea!” he said in a Yamaha-issued press release, after the Qatar Grand Prix.
The heart-thumping race was the perfect season starter—smooth, with just enough excitement to whet our appetite. It was just enough to make us forget those mad new rules. You know, the ones that talk about the Open Class, the Factory class… the Ducati class… Or, if Ducati is just as unsuccessful this year, then the Ducati and Suzuki class.
Anyway, the bright floodlights at Losail glinted off the fresh paintwork, some of which was dazzling – and not in a good way. The madness was about to begin. The grid too was an odd mix – surprising, and not so, speaking of expectations and hinting at a great time ahead. Leading the pack was world champion Marc Marquez, followed closely by Alvaro Bautista and Bradley Smith. Jorge Lorenzo was confined to 5th, with Dani Pedrosa at 6th, Cal Crutchlow at 8th, and Rossi at 10th. Two nasty crashes during Qualifying had left Aleix Espargaro at 9th.
The start seemed to be normal, at first, as Lorenzo made a run for it and grabbed the first position. But it didn’t last. A few turns later, the former world champion crashed out. He walked away, but left his bike in tatters. It was a mistake, plain and simple, and a very unlikely one at that. “I made a mistake,” Lorenzo later said in a Yamaha press release. “It was a long time ago that I last did that in a race! We are not perfect; we are only human and sometimes we make mistakes. The tyres were different to last year and the temperature of the tarmac was a little colder. I didn’t take these circumstances into account and I was too fast into the corner when the front and rear tyre were not ready yet.”
The race continued, and it wasn’t done with us, or our pulse rate. Rossi had managed to make a brilliant start and climbed up to 5th place as the first lap came to a close. Soon though, he had moved to 4th with 17 laps to go. The race was still young and Alvaro Bautista was dangerously close. I am yet to recover from Bautista’s Mugello move last year. It’s probably why I can be forgiven for gulping loudly, several times.
Up ahead, Stefan Bradl had taken advantage of Lorenzo’s terrible luck. He maintained pace at the 1st spot, keeping Marquez at bay… or was he? The Spaniard played hunter yet again (and he does it so well). But the Qatar circuit was determined to take its pound of flesh. The German rider lost the front end and crashed eight laps into the race.
Marquez and Rossi were now in the front. Anything could happen. And then it did. The two battled – lap for lap, matching pace for pace, side-by-side and exchanging positions. They didn’t hold back and there was no mercy.
Marquez tried his best to stay ahead and shake off the old Master. The nine-time world champion tried his best to pass the new king. The commentators went wild, focusing on this incredible battle for first – the kind, it seemed, we had all wanted to see. Marquez vs Rossi. This was stuff of legend. Just a couple of tenths separated the two. Rossi pushed hard, but Marquez, was undefeatable, his pace unmatchable.
Marquez crossed the finish line at 1st place, with Rossi just 0.259 seconds behind in second. Dani Pedrosa was just over 3 seconds behind in 3rd.
Meanwhile, even as everyone was glued to the Marquez versus Rossi battle, there was action still on, behind. Bautista and Bradley Smith both crashed out of the race. The Tech 3 folks’ run of bad luck continued, as Smith’s teammate Pol Espargaro retired with a technical issue.
Luck favoured Aleix though, who finished 4th, 11.6 seconds behind the leader – it’s most definitely a fine improvement from last year’s timings. The 24-year-old Spaniard will prove to be a force to reckon with, and only a fool would sniff at his brilliant performance in Qatar. After all, both his bikes were destroyed in crashes at Qualifying. His race bike was cobbled together with donated parts courtesy from teammate Colin Edwards’ spare machine.
Good old Cal Crutchlow meanwhile was giving the Twitter folks a bit of a heart attack. He kept sliding up and down the time sheets, in such quick succession that there was no doubt his machine was giving him some serious trouble. It was a transponder issue to be exact. As Crutchlow said in a press release later, “…the transponder wasn’t working, the dash switched off and the bike began to behave strangely. I was please to be competitive until mid-way with Aleix and Dovi, but I struggled to finish the race because the problem got worse towards the end.” His irritation was there for the world to see, as Crutchlow crossed the finish line at 6th and parked his ride in the corner, before walking away.
Ducati Corse General Manager Luigi Dall’lgna however was a bit more hopeful. “The gap to the frontrunners has been considerably reduced since last year, but we’ve still go a lot of work to do to recover ground…” he said in a press release.
And so it was that the Qatar madness came to an end. Is this race a sign of things to come? Will this mad, crazy, heart-stopping action continue? I am hopeful. And we don’t have long to wait. Three more weeks till Austin. Three more weeks to more action, MotoGP style, new rules and all.
Race Classification – Qatar Grand Prix
(Top 10 only)
1 Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team)
2 Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) +0.259
3 Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) +3.370
4 Aleix Espargaro (NGM Forward Racing) +11.623
5 Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) +12.159
6 Cal Crutchlow (Ducati Team) +28.526
7 Scott Redding (GO&FUN Honda Gresini) +32.593
8 Nicky Hayden (Drive M7 Aspar) +32.628
9 Colin Edwards (NGM Forward Racing) +39.547
10 Andrea Iannone (Pramac Racing) +43.360
1 Alvaro Bautista (GO&FUN Honda Gresini)
2 Bradley Smith (Monster Yamaha Tech 3)
3 Pol Espargaro (Monster Yamaha Tech 3)
4 Stefan Bradl (LCR Honda MotoGP_
5 Hector Barbera (Avintia Racing)
6 Jorge Lorenzo (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP)