History is made in the desert as Gresini win the opener ahead of KTM and Honda, with a night of surprises kicking off the season.
There was history on the table in the first Grand Prix of the season, and Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) stepped up to the plate. The ‘Beast’ delivered a masterclass in the Grand Prix of Qatar to claim an emotional victory under the lights, which he dedicated to the late Fausto Gresini. Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) produced a terrific ride to seal P2 and KTM’s best at the track by some margin, the South African ultimately just 0.3s away from the win. Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team), after leading the way for much of the race, completed the podium on the opening night, taking his second rostrum with Honda. And the headlines didn’t stop there.
As the lights went out and the curtain went up on the season, polesitter Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing) got an uncharacteristically poor start, Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) grabbed the holeshot from the outside of the front row and his teammate Pol Espargaro then shot past into the lead. Brad Binder made a great start to go P3 early doors, with Bastianini slotting into P4. World Champion Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) was eighth battling with Martin, and just up the road, 2020 World Champion Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) was making rapid gains. Francesco Bagnaia and Ducati Lenovo Team teammate Jack Miller didn’t get away well, however, and both were outside the top ten.
Four laps in, it was as you were. Pol Espargaro led Marc Marquez, Brad Binder, Mir, Bastianini, Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) and Martin. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) picked off Quartararo on the front straight for P8. Pecco recovered to P10, the Italian sitting behind Quartararo, and the top 10 were all line astern – the riders not yet on the limit, tyre consumption on their minds.
After going in hot on Lap 2 at Turn 1, Marc Marquez was then wide again on Lap 6 to allow Brad Binder into P2. On the next lap, the eight-time World Champion lost out to Bastianini into the first corner too, with Aleix Espargaro and Mir scrapping away for P5 and P6. Miller then pulled into pitlane at the end of Lap 7 to retire from the race, a technical issue seeing his season off to a disappointing start.
Meanwhile, the race had settled down at the front and the pace was starting to pick up between the leaders. Needing to make up time, Bagnaia was trying to get up the inside of Martin at Turn 1 on Lap 12, and drama was about to unfold. The Italian tucked the front, leaving Martin with nowhere to go and the Ducati duo both crashing out of contention, thankfully both riders ok but compounding a difficult evening for the Borgo Panigale factory with Miller, Pecco, Martin, and Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team), the latter crashing out of points contention, out of the Qatar GP.
Back at the front, Pol Espargaro was a second clear of Brad Binder with 10 laps to go. Second place then changed though as Bastianini, flying the flag for Ducati, picked off the KTM on the run into Turn 1. The Beast then started chipping away at Pol Espargaro’s lead, and with seven laps to go it was back down to under a second. It was 0.6s at the beginning of Lap 17 of 22, and just 0.189s on Lap 18. Bastianini set the fastest lap of the race to slash Pol Espargaro’s advantage, as Aleix Espargaro got the better of Marc Marquez for P4 and homed in.
With four laps to go, Bastianini blasted past Pol Espargaro on the straight to take the lead, and to compound the problem for the Repsol Honda, the number 44 was then in too hot at Turn 1. That allowed Brad Binder to carve past into second as the HRC rider went from P1 to P3 in a matter of seconds, leaving Bastianini with a 1.4s lead with three to go.
Two to go and it was 1.2s for Bastianini over Binder, Pol Espargaro was 0.7s off the KTM, and Aleix Espargaro was threatening his younger brother for the final podium spot – Pol on the soft rear, Aleix on the medium.
Onto the last lap. Bastianini lost another tenth to Binder on the penultimate lap, and the gap was 1.1s. It was down to as little as 0.6s heading into the final sector too, but the Beast held on. The Italian powered his GP21 out the final corner and took an incredible, emotional victory under the lights in Qatar, the perfect tribute to the late, great Fausto Gresini and a history-making first premier class win.
Brad Binder’s second place was a warning shot for their rivals after a more muted pre-season on the timesheets for KTM, and the South African, as he so often does, pulled a rabbit out the hat on Sunday. Pol Espargaro, after leading for so long, held onto a fantastic podium too – his second with HRC.
Aleix Espargaro was 0.8s away from the rostrum in the end but becomes the Aprilia rider to finish closest to victory – 2.2s. Marc Marquez’s return to action in Qatar for the first time since 2019 was celebrated with a solid P5, a good opening weekend for the eight-time Champion. It was, however, the first time the number 93 has finished a MotoGP™ race at Lusail and not come home as top Honda.
The two Suzukis, meanwhile, finished a low key sixth and seventh – Mir leading teammate Rins by 3.9s and both looking for more although still showing off some serious top speed gains from the Hamamatsu factory.
So where are the Yamahas? Quartararo looked set to take home P8 but Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing), on the run to the line, demoted the reigning Champion to P9. A disappointing start to El Diablo’s season, and a surprise for the factory who took two wins last season in Qatar with Franco Morbidelli (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) coming home in P11.
Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) split the Yamahas in P10, with Maverick Viñales (Aprilia Racing) a lonely 12th. Luca Marini (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) edged out Andrea Dovizioso (WithU Yamaha RNF MotoGP™ Team) in P13 and P14.
The fight for the final points went down to the wire as reigning Moto2™ World Champion Remy Gardner (Tech3 KTM Factory Racing) won the rookie battle for 15th, despite still struggling with a wrist broken in pre-season. Darryn Binder (WithU Yamaha RNF MotoGP™ Team) gave it one final lap push but the South African was just 0.012s away from a debut premier class point in the end, nevertheless impressing as second rookie as he moves from Moto3™ to MotoGP™.
Fabio Di Giannantonio (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) and Raul Fernandez (Tech3 KTM Factory Racing) leave Round 1 empty handed, and Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol) crashed out unhurt, separately, at Turn 1.
And that’s all she wrote in the season opener. What a night it was under the lights in Qatar, with a new MotoGP™ race winner in the field. Surprises and drama aplenty, and The Beast delivered a beauty. Indonesia is next up – bring it on as Pertamina Mandalika International Circuit welcomes the paddock back to Lombok.
1 Enea Bastianini (Gresini Team MotoGP™) – Ducati – 42’13.198
2 Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) – KTM – +0.346
3 Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) – Honda – +1.351
Enea Bastianini: “My feeling now is incredible because I pushed from the start but the most important was to save the tyre until the end of the race. When I saw Pol pushing a lot, I overtook Binder during the race. In the end Pol was really close to me and then I thought I could try to win the race. Then I overtook him on the first corner when he went wide. I want to dedicate this victory to Fausto because he has pushed me a lot from the sky. It’s fantastic for all the team I think we have cried, all the guys. I’m very happy for my family back home, I want to say thanks to everybody for this.”
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