The 2018 MotoGP season kicked off in style this evening as Andrea Dovizioso beat world champion Marc Marquez by just 0.027 seconds in a thrilling Qatar Grand Prix full of excitement and sub-plots.
Star of the first sub-plot was Johann Zarco. The in demand Frenchman posted the fastest ever lap of the Qatari circuit to put his satellite Tech 3 Yamaha on pole position. The two-time Moto2 world champion rode confidently under the floodlights, taking the lead on the second lap and setting the pace until lap 17 of the 22 lap race. Zarco, who is reportedly being courted by Honda for 2019, slipped back to eighth after suffering heavy front tyre wear but continued to raise his stock within the paddock.
The race week had begun with Valentino Rossi announcing a two year extension to his contract at Yamaha, ending any opportunity for Zarco to move from the Japanese manufacturer’s satellite to factory team. The 39-year-old Italian proved he still has what it takes in the race, making a strong start from eighth on the grid to battle for the lead. Despite doubts over the Yamaha’s performance against the Ducatis and Hondas, Rossi used all of his vast experience to preserve his Michelin tyres and take third at the flag.
“It was a great fight and a great race,” said the Italian. “I tried to push from the beginning, because I started from the third row and on the first lap I was able to overtake some guys. The other key point were the final laps, when like last year the strongest on the track were Dovizioso and Marquez. I knew they had enough to change the rhythm, but I‘m very happy that I could go with them today and arrive at the finish line close to them, at the end. Unfortunately, it was not enough for the victory, but the podium is a great way to start.”
Britain’s Cal Crutchlow was another star of the show at a circuit that has proved a bogey track for him in recent years. The Coventry racer finished just behind Rossi but found himself unable to go with the front men after being held up by the slowing Zarco. “I’m happy. Obviously, the aim was the podium today, but then again the aim was also to finish in the points which we haven’t done here for the past two years,” said Crutchlow. “All credit to the guys on the podium, they did a great race, and it was good fun. That ‘elastic band’ just snapped when I got behind Zarco. The front three got away and when I got past him, I was at the same pace as them. I couldn’t gain on them, but I wasn’t losing either, and that’s when I just decided to bring it home and collect the 13 points.”
But the stars of the show were once again Dovizioso and Marquez. The top two from last season’s championship continued where they left off and didn’t disappoint with another sensational last lap. Ducati rider Dovizioso found himself working through the pack after making a poor start. Taking the lead on lap 18, the Italian was hounded by Marquez all the way. The world champion made a lunge on the very last corner, but Dovizioso held his nerve to chop back up the inside and take the win by the narrowest of margins.
“I’m really happy with this win because we have confirmed the improvements made over the winter and I was able to manage the race well, even though I made a really bad start,” Dovizioso said after the race. “On the first lap I had to come off the gas, otherwise I would have crashed into Rins I think, but then I began to make up places, trying not to ruin the tyres.. Towards the end, after passing Zarco, I tried to pull out a gap on Marquez and Rossi but I didn’t have any more grip and was unable to increase my lead. At the last curve I had to be very careful because I knew that Marquez would try and pass me, and that’s how it went. He closed the door on me even more than in Austria and Japan, but I passed him on the inside of the kerb and then took advantage of the power of my Desmosedici to stay ahead. Once again it was a great satisfaction!”
There was no satisfaction for the other two British riders in the race, with Bradley Smith and Scott Redding both finishing out of the points, in 18th and 20th place respectively.
Round two of the championship takes place in Argentina on April 8.