Dovizioso, Marquez, Crutchlow, Rins and Rossi within six tenths in a stunner of a season opener and post-race protests are denied with an appeals process ongoing
At the VisitQatar Grand Prix, the FIM MotoGP Stewards Panel received various protests concerning aerodynamic devices on the rear swing arm of Ducati machinery ridden by Andrea Dovizioso (Mission Winnow Ducati Team), Danilo Petrucci (Mission Winnow Ducati Team) and Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Racing).
The protests were made by Aprilia Racing Team Gresini, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, Repsol Honda Team and Team Suzuki Ecstar, who presented their concerns to the FIM MotoGP Stewards Panel. Based on guidelines and regulations currently in force, the FIM MotoGP Stewards Panel rejected their protests.
The result of the VisitQatar Grand Prix remains in standing. An appeals process is ongoing.
High expectations and a million questions: that’s what lay before the grid as the lights went out for the VisitQatar Grand Prix and it didn’t disappointment. The closest top fifteen of all time and another duel to the finish – with another trio right behind – made it a stunner of a season opener…with a familiar name on top: Andrea Dovizioso (Mission Winnow Ducati Team). It was a familiar name diving down the inside at the final corner too, as Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) rolled the dice once again – just 0.023 off ‘DesmoDovi’ over the line. Behind that classic duel that defines a rivalry came another battle but this time of three, with Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) pulling out all the stops to complete the podium and fend off Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and a late-charging Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP).
It was Dovizioso who got the holeshot from pole, he and Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Racing) grabbing P1 and P2 into Turn 1 as Marquez held position just behind. Polesitter Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) didn’t get the start he would have been aiming for as he dropped to sixth on Lap 1, with Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) and teammate Crutchlow catapulting through to the top five.
The race then began to settle into a rhythm, with a train of riders at the front led by Dovizioso keeping a steady pace at the front. Rins was the man on the move on Lap 4 as the Spaniard made more progress after a sharp start from P10 on the grid, the Suzuki man coming through to take the lead by Lap 5 before the Spaniard duelled Dovizioso for the pleasure. It remained a lead group of nine following each other line astern, however, with no one breaking rank just yet.
On Lap 12 the number 04 was back at the front, and the pace then turned up a notch as he and Marquez started to create a gap back to third place Danilo Petrucci (Mission Winnow Ducati), who’d made his way through the group. The pace then slowed again, however, as Dovizioso went from a 1:55.3 to a 1:56.1 to bring the top eight back to within just over a second…
With seven to go, the top eight were covered 1.2 seconds and that’s when Rossi really started to make up ground, picking off his teammate first and then Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) to go up to P6. With three laps to go the fight for the win became a five-way scrap, with Petrucci, Viñales and Mir fading off the pacesetters.
Reigning World Champion Marquez had got the better of Dovizioso on the penultimate lap, but the Ducati struck back down the straight. Crutchlow held P3, Rins P4 and Rossi P5, menacing behind and waiting for the fireworks to begin in the lead. Pushing hard, Marquez had a slight moment with the front at Turn 3, before making a lunge up the inside of Dovi at Turn 10. He couldn’t keep it though as the Desmosedici was able to cut back up the inside on the exit, setting up another classic grandstand finish.
It looked like a carbon copy of 12 months ago at the final corner, but it was the same edge-of-the-seat heart-in-your-mouth moment as Marquez dove through on the inside, sitting up Dovi but running wide as he couldn’t quite get it stopped in time. From there it was another classic point and shoot contest to the line as both gunned it on the exit, but Dovizioso couldn’t be caught and made it out ahead. It was closer than before though, with an infinitesimal 0.023 separating the two as the flag waved. Behind, Crutchlow kept his cool to take a remarkable podium on his first race back since his huge Australian GP crash, with Rins a valiant P4 and Rossi again proving you should never count ‘The Doctor’ out. P5 from P14 on the grid was another impressive race day showing from the nine-time World Champion.
Petrucci would have to settle for P6 on his maiden factory Ducati ride, 2.320 behind his teammate in the end, with polesitter Viñales crossing the line 0.161 back from ‘Petrux’, in P7. Mir produced a fantastic rookie ride to finish just over five seconds off the race win in P8, with the Spaniard beating ninth place Nakagami and tenth place Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) – and just 9.636 covering the top 10 in Qatar.
Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) was just 0.011 behind Espargaro in P11 on his debut ride for Yamaha, with Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing), Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda Team), Andrea Iannone (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) and Johann Zarco (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) completing the point scoring positions.
So who was the ride of the day? Far from the podium in the end and not scoring any points on his debut, an argument could be made for Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) regardless. The rookie was forced into a pitlane start after issues on the grid ahead of the Warm Up lap, and set about unleashing some almighty pace and nerves of steel for a first ever premier class appearance. Fastest laps flowed from the Frenchman and he was soon into point-scoring contention…although sadly, it wouldn’t last. Too much too early in a bid to catch the group ahead saw Quartararo fade back to P16 by the flag – but only eight tenths off Zarco. Fellow debutant Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) also impressed and, for some time, was top KTM, before fading slightly, a fate that also befell Mir further forward as they all aim to gain more full-length race experience. Final rookie Francesco Bagnaia (Alma Pramac Racing) suffered a DNF, with more to come from him in Argentina for sure, and his more veteran teammate Jack Miller also suffered some bad luck. The Australian fell victim to some problem with his machine that saw him drop from podium contention to suddenly outside the top ten, then retiring before the end of the race.