#QatarGP Losail – Raceday roundup: MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3
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.
Leading from start to finish, Celestino Vietti (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) converted pole position into a dominant victory at the Grand Prix of Qatar to kickstart his season in perfect fashion. The Italian beat Aron Canet (Flexbox HP40) by a whopping 6.154s on Sunday evening in the desert, the duo also finishing comfortably up the road from third place Sam Lowes (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team). The Brit stayed cool and profited from late drama between Augusto Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo) and Ai Ogura (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) as the two tangled – but stayed upright – at the final corner.
Vietti got a clean getaway from pole as reigning Moto3™ World Champion Pedro Acosta (Red Bull KTM Ajo) went into Turn 1 too hot, as did Fermin Aldeguer (MB Conveyors Speed Up). Acosta dropped to the back of the field as Canet made great gains in the opening three laps to go from P9 on the grid to P2. Tony Arbolino (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team) was P3 and Fernandez was P4.
With six laps gone, Vietti boasted a 0.9s lead over Canet as Ogura picked off Fernandez and Arbolino in quick succession. A mistake at Turn 6 on Lap 9 then saw Arbolino lose touch with the Ogura, Fernandez and Lowes train, and at the front Vietti saw his lead over Canet hit the two-second mark for the first time. That didn’t last long though. With 10 laps left, Canet was just 1.5s shy and in two consecutive laps, the Spaniard reeled Vietti in by 0.3s. But on Lap 14 of 20, Vietti had reopened the gap and the Italian was 2.3s up the road, with Canet 5.4s clear of the podium fight behind him.
Lowes had got the better of Fernandez and Ogura within a lap, with his teammate Arbolino back in contention too. But with two to go, Fernandez dived up the inside of Lowes at Turn 10 for P4, and Ogura held P3 heading into the final lap. Fernandez was climbing all over the back of the Japanese rider, but he was holding firm. Fernandez then lunged at Turn 15, made it stick, and trying to bite back at the final corner, Ogura tucked the front. He slid into the side of Fernandez, which somehow kept Ogura upright, but the contact cost both a podium. Lowes said thank you very much and scythed through for third.
Fernandez was so close to a debut rostrum with Red Bull KTM Ajo but it wasn’t to be for the Spaniard. Arbolino was in the podium hunt throughout and impressed in fifth, the Italian managing to finish ahead of Ogura as somehow, the Japanese rider still finished in P6. Jorge Navarro (Flexbox HP40) was a lonely but solid seventh ahead of an all-American duel between eighth place Joe Roberts (Italtrans Racing Team) and ninth place Cameron Beaubier (American Racing).
Injured Marcel Schrötter (Liqui Moly Intact GP) picked up a commendable P10 after breaking his left hand at the Portimao Test, the German rider managing to hold off a recovering Jake Dixon (Inde GASGAS Aspar Team) – the British rider slipped to P20 on the opening lap from P7 on the grid. Acosta climbed his way back up to P12 in his first Moto2™ race, and the 2021 Moto3™ World Champion beat Albert Arenas (Inde GASGAS Aspar Team), Jeremy Alcoba (Liqui Moly Intact GP) and Romano Fenati (MB Conveyors Speed Up) – with those three closing out the points.
Rookie Filip Salač (Gresini Racing Moto2™) highsided out of contention at Turn 5 on Lap 3, and Barry Baltus (RW Racing GP) crashed out late on.
Andrea Migno (Rivacold Snipers Team) is back on top! The veteran Italian is a Grand Prix winner for the first time since 2017 after taking victory in the Grand Prix of Qatar, just staying ahead of a late attack from Sergio Garcia (Gaviota GASGAS Aspar Team). The two were split by just 0.037 over the line, with Kaito Toba (CIP Green Power) completing the podium.
Ayumu Sasaki (Sterilgarda Husqvarna Max) took the holeshot from pole, the Japanese rider promoted to the front of the grid as fastest qualifier Izan Guevara (Gaviota GASGAS Aspar Team), Dennis Foggia and Leopard Racing teammate Tatsuki Suzuki were all sent to the back of the grid for being slow on the line exiting pitlane in qualifying. Each also had a Long Lap to take, and Foggia two as the Italian was also found to have made abrupt changes of direction on the main straight.
The classic freight train formed as Foggia, Guevara and Suzuki tried to slice back through, with Sasaki at the front of the field holding station and with quite a gap. The three on the fight back made some good progress and then took the Long Lap, but drama struck for Suzuki not long after as Lorenzo Fellon (SIC58 Squadra Corse) made contact with the Japanese rider. That was after contact between Garcia and Carlos Tatay (CFMoto Racing PrüstelGP) that saw the former get given a Long Lap penalty and the latter forced to retire. The next? A tangle between Toba and Jaume Masia (Red Bull KTM Ajo), with the latter crashing out but no further action taken.
At the front, Sasaki pounded on. But heartbreak then struck as the number 71 suffered a huge moment and lost much of his three-second gap. He was then swallowed by the pack, and soon enough forced to pull into pitlane with an issue.
That left a group fight for the win heading the field, with Migno, Garcia, Toba and Deniz Öncü (Red Bull KTM Tech3) key players at the front. The Snipers machine was a rocket in a straight line, so it looked like attack would be the plan for Garcia, and attack the Spaniard always does…
On the final lap, Toba struck early but Garcia fought back, and the number 11 then put the hammer down to tag back onto Migno. And the two managed to pull out a sliver of daylight, making it a duel for victory into the final few corners. Garcia went for it but found the door shut, and the duo thundered onto the main straight with Migno ahead. The Italian moved over to try and limit the slipstream and that just did the trick, the Honda just staying ahead over the line and the veteran taking his first win in five years and second ever victory – by just 0.037. Garcia takes second despite earlier serving his Long Lap, starting his campaign off with a solid 20 points, with previous Qatar winner Toba beating Öncü to third.
Behind the Turk, John McPhee (Sterilgarda Husqvarna Max) had a solid opener to take fifth, ahead of an impressive debut for Diogo Moreira (MT Helmets – MSI). The Brazilian rookie produced a superb ride to claim P6 in his first Moto3™ race, 0.4s ahead of the hard-charging Foggia by the flag. Foggia did all he could after a back of the grid start and two Long Laps, as did Guevera after his back of the grid start and single Long Lap. The Saturday hero ended the Qatar GP in P8, so the pair made it a good day for damage limitation at the very least.
Ryusei Yamanaka (MT Helmets – MSI) and Xavier Artigas (CFMoto Racing PrüstelGP) rounded out the top 10, just ahead of rookie Ivan Ortola (Angeluss MTA Team). Riccardo Rossi (SIC58 Squadra Corse), Stefano Nepa (Angeluss MTA Team), Adrian Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Tech3) and rookie Joel Kelso (CIP Green Power) were the final point scorers. Daniel Holgado (Red Bull KTM Ajo) was given a time penalty and lost out.