A cooler, windier, dustier Qatar set the stage for the first premier class race of the 2021 season and the tiny crowd in attendance witnessed a reversal of fortunes over the course of the 22 laps. In the end there was no disputing that Maverick Vinales was the strongest man on track, the Yamaha man slaying the Ducatis one by one on his way to victory. Back in the red camp, Johann Zarco was the top Ducati and scored second place on his first race for Pramac, while poleman Pecco Bagnaia did not know if he would be stepping onto the podium until he saw the finish line ahead of the reigning world champion.
Quite predictably, the launch off the line was Ducati’s crowning glory, turn 1 seeing four Ducatis take control of proceedings, with poleman Bagnaia ahead of Jack Miller and Zarco, plus the added bonus of rookie Jorge Martin, who flew from 14th grid position into fourth place. Fabio Quartararo, Vinales and Valentino Rossi lagged behind, while Franco Morbidelli strangely dropped out of the top 15 altogether. Aleix Espargaro and the two Suzukis kept close and were looking to spoil the Ducati-Yamaha party.
Back ahead, Bagnaia pushed on the first lap and stretched a little bit of a gap over his colleagues led by Zarco but the Ducati reign would soon start to crumble. The first of the Ducatis to fall victim to the factory Yamahas was Martin on lap 3 but the remaining red machines would be a bigger challenge. Meanwhile, the Suzukis ganged up on Rossi and had Martin next in their sights but the rocket Ducati kept the Spaniard ahead of the challengers for long enough that the leaders were over one second ahead by the time Rins made a move stick on lap 5. Mir took a little longer but soon joined his teammate’s pursuit.
Presumably worried about tyre wear, Bagnaia did not show the pace he impressed with in practice and it allowed Zarco to edge closer in the next few laps. Right behind them, Quartararo pulled a move on Miller at turn 15 at the end of lap 6 and Maverick followed his example two laps later. The Yamahas looked on a mission to pick up the Ducatis one by one and their next target was Zarco, only four tenths ahead. Miller bided his time and tagged to the back of the Yamaha duo but was soon threatened from behind by Rins. Mir seemed to drop a second on his teammate by lap 9, keeping busy with Aleix Espargaro, Martin, Miguel Oliveira, Rossi and Pol Espargaro.
By lap 10, the leading groups had nearly merged together and Vinales took control of the chase from his teammate, immediately reeling in the two red liveried leaders. However, Quartararo seemed to struggle to keep his teammate’s rear wheel and Miller pounced the next time around turn 1. While Quartararo got pushed back another place by Rins, Vinales demoted Zarco from second position and almost immediately showed his intentions to Bagnaia.
The wind seemed to aid Yamaha’s cause by taming the leading Ducati along the straight but Bagnaia kept calm and did not make any mistakes. Vinales showed his nose here and there and the pace and shenanigans at the front allowed Mir and Aleix Espargaro to close in on the group. Vinales looked extra keen to rub some red paint on his blue fairing and finally took the lead with a move at turn 10 with 8 laps to go and immediately pushed for a gap. While all eyes were on the battle for the lead, the Suzukis were making progress through the group, Rins threatening Zarco for a podium position and Mir finding a way past Miller for fifth with 7 laps left.
Vinales’s plan worked a treat and the Spaniard quickly stretched a half second gap, aided by Zarco’s move on Bagnaia into turn one with 6 laps remaining. The poleman did not get to retaliate because there were two Suzukis breathing down his neck and he lost over a second on the victory fight over the next lap. With five laps remaining, Zarco too struggled to keep up with Vinales and dropped one second back, while Bagnaia was trying to defend the final podium spot from the reigning world champion, Mir quickly gapping his teammate after overtaking him with 5 laps left. Mir made his move on the Italian with 3 laps to go and the other Ducati was not out of reach either, only half a second ahead.
While Vinales sailed to the checkered flag unperturbed, Zarco had a Suzuki sonata in his ears until the final lap, with Bagnaia waiting to pick up the crumbs. Mir eventually made his move on Zarco at turn 15 but went a little wide at the final turn and stood no chance against the two Ducatis on the finish straight, getting mugged by both Zarco and Bagnaia to the line. Almost two seconds later, Quartararo took fifth, ahead of Rins and a solid seventh for Aleix Espargaro. Brother Pol managed eighth place on his debut for Honda, while Miller faded all the way to ninth and Enea Bastianini claimed top rookie and joined the top ten ahead of the likes of Stefan Bradl and Valentino Rossi.
Taking the first victory of the season – particularly the way in which he did so – reaffirms Vinales as a title contender, but the Ducatis together with the reigning world champion will be confident in their ability to recover ground next week.
|73||Alex MARQUEZ||Honda||9 Laps|
|30||Takaaki NAKAGAMI||Honda||16 Laps|
|Not Finished 1st Lap|
|9||Danilo PETRUCCI||KTM||0 Lap|