MotoGP returned in in Qatar yesterday with Andrea Dovisioso snatching the win from world champion Marc Marquez, in a repeat of the 2018 result, with tough Brit Cal Crutchlow securing third on his return from a serious ankle injury.
Ducati rider Dovizioso led the majority of the race under the Qatari floodlights, with the Hondas of Marquez and Crutchlow, as well as the Suzukis of Alex Rins and new boy Joan Mir contesting the leading group for the majority of the race, with Rins taking on the lead mid-race.
As had been the case 12 months previously, Dovizioso held off Marquez on the last lap, retaking the lead after a last corner challenge to take the win by 0.023 seconds at the flag, Crutchlow led home Rins to take an unexpected podium, having endured a torrid time in preseason testing. MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi, who last month celebrated his 40th birthday, was an impressive fifth on the leading Yamaha, just 0.6 seconds off the win.
“I’m super happy about this win, especially because after the tests I wouldn’t have expected to be so fast,” said Dovizioso. “We stayed focused and we made progress in each session. Our strategy in the race was simply to preserve the tyre, and this made the difference, but it wasn’t easy because I led for most of the race and I couldn’t really study my opponents. Marquez gave it everything he could, as usual, and pushed me to the limit. We made the most of our strenghths, that is, acceleration and top speed, but we still need to improve our corner speed. This year there are plenty of quick riders and it’ll be crucial not to lose too many points on less favorable tracks. We need to keep our feet on the ground and continue working in this direction.”
The Italian and his team bosses admitted that the upcoming races in Argentina and the United States may well prove less profitable for the powerful Ducati, with CEO Claudio Domenicalli adding: “The Desmosedici is even more competitive now but we’ve seen plenty of fast rivals and this was just the first race. We need to stay focused and keep working hard, but for sure we can say Ducati is competitive.”
The Losail circuit has been one of Marquez’ weaker tracks, with just one MotoGP win at the Gulf venue. With that in mind, the Spaniard was happy with his weekend’s work, adding: “It was exactly the same as last year! I tried to push hard but here when you overtake you just run wide and you can’t keep the line. I tried to be there, to push a little and just be there until the end. I’m very happy with these 20 points because normally we struggle here and this weekend especially we worked a lot. We changed some things that meant I couldn’t push like I normally do in braking. But we finished the race and take good points.”
Crutchlow’s performance was remarkable, not just because of the ankle injury that threatened to end his career, but also because of a fraught winter testing programme in which the Brit lacked front running pace. However the Coventry born former World Supersport champion is one of the most tenacious characters in the business and he was delighted speaking after the race. “It’s great to even be back racing in MotoGP, let alone come away with a podium finish, but my LCR Honda Castrol Team did a great job,” he said. “We worked hard this weekend because the tests were a bit of a waste of time for me. This weekend has been difficult, and if you had asked me after warm-up if I’d finish on the podium I would have laughed!”
“I played my cards in the race, I felt good and once we started the race myself and Marc Marquez had similar tactics – saving the rear tyre and managing things a little bit more.”
“What a great start to the season for everybody, for my team, for the riders and the fans here in Qatar and for the people watching at home. It seems every race in MotoGP is always a battle and it was nice to be in it and race and get a podium. It’s a dream to be honest. At one point we didn’t know if I was going to be coming back at all.”
French rookie Fabio Quartararo was sensational in qualifying, bagging fifth in the session, but stalled his bike on the grid and had to start from pitlane. The 19 year old former Moto3 Junior World Champion charged through and set the fastest lap of the race on his Petronas Yamaha, but only just fell short of scoring points on his debut – ending the race in 16th.
The result remains in limbo after a number of post-race protests regarding an aerodynamic spoiler fitted to the rear of Dovizioso’s bike. Four teams (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, Repsol Honda Team and Team Suzuki Ecstar) presented their concerns to the FIM MotoGP Stewards Panel. The panel rejected the protests, and the case has been referred to the MotoGP court of appeal.
There was a new era in Moto2, as Triumph’s Street Triple based 765cc engine made its debut as the spec motor in the class, replacing the Honda CBR600RR derived unit that has been used since the inception of the class in 2010. Kalex chassis dominated the race, taking the first 10 positions, with Italian Lorenzo Baldasarri narrowly taking the win from Swiss rider Thomas Luthi and Germany’s Marcel Schrotter. Popular Brit Sam Lowes finished sixth, with former British superbike star Jake Dixon crashing his KTM early on his full-time debut in the class.
In Moto3, Japanese rider Kaito Tobo took his (and his country’s) first win in the class. Britain’s John McPhee made a poor start and overcame bike problems to bag some points for 13th. Former British champion Tom Booth-Amos, making his debut as a full-time rider, was the instigator of a first lap pileup that saw two riders crash out, while he remounted to finish three laps down.