There’s nothing quite like the nerves that come with the first race of the season, even for those not sat on shiny new rocketships or running through pitlane with last minute tyre options. And there’s definitely nothing like the thrill of a first time winner taking his new team to the podium for the first time. The Qatari night was one to remember for everyone but most of all for Enea Bastianini, the young Italian taking his first victory in the premier class in an emotional tribute to Fausto Gresini. There was joy all around, with Brad Binder surprising KTM with a second place trophy and Pol Espargaro stepping on the podium after showing off his new Honda at the head of the field for much of the 22 laps.
The Ducati holeshot spell was finally broken in Qatar and Repsol Honda achieved lift-off to lead the way into the first corner, with Espargaro particularly strong going from sixth on the grid to first in turn 2, ahead of teammate Marc Marquez. Similarly, Binder progressed from 7th to 3rd, getting ahead of Bastianini and Aleix Espargaro, while poleman Jorge Martin had a shocking start dropping him down to 8th. Fabio Quartararo made some early progress from 11th on the grid to 7th position, ahead of Jack Miller and Alex Rins, with rival Pecco Bagnaia down in 14th.
Despite a brief exchange on lap one between the Repsol Hondas, Espargaro calmly led the way from Marquez and Binder, with Mir making some early progress into 4th position and holding up the fastest man on track at the time, Bastianini. Aleix Espargaro and Martin kept close to the leaders, with Quartararo and Rins half a second back but that gap was quickly closed once the Suzuki man found his way past the world champion. Meanwhile, Bagnaia recovered some ground to join the top 10 by lap 3 and it was his teammate’s turn to drop down to 14th.
By lap five there were no attempts to run away at the front and barely any overtakes inside the tight top 10 in those early stages. Binder was a notable exception as he breezed past Marquez when he ran wide at turn 1 and the Honda man soon had Bastianini to contend with, the Ducati hard to resist along the main straight next time around. Although he dropped to the back of the leading group, Marquez had no immediate worries from behind, where the battle between Aleix Espargaro and Joan Mir lost them almost a second on the leaders. Another second down the road, Rins was fending off Martin, Bagnaia and Quartararo, while Miller retired with still mysterious issues at the end of lap 6.
Pol Espargaro continued running a hot pace at the front and getting the most out of his soft tyres, keeping Binder, Bastianini and Marquez at a consistent half second distance by lap 10, while yellow flags were kept busy by turn 1 crashes for the likes of Alex Marquez and Miguel Oliveira. While the leaders were still enjoying the calm before the storm, there was some drama at the bottom of the top 10, where Bagnaia tucked the front while overtaking Martin and both riders found themselves in the gravel trap at turn 1, presumably prompting an early bedtime for the factory Ducati crew.
As the race headed into the final 10 laps and Pol Espargaro’s gap ticked over the one second mark, Bastianini decided it was time to respond and got past Binder at turn 1 to lead the pursuit and try to reel in the lead Honda. The other Honda kept close in fourth, while Aleix Espargaro and Joan Mir were pushing to bridge the 7 tenths gap to the podium battle. Two seconds back, Rins seemed stuck in a lonely 7th position, that same gap keeping him ahead of Quartararo, who in turn had a safe gap to Johann Zarco and Takaaki Nakagami.
As soon as he got ahead of the pursuit, Bastianini picked up the pace and started to close the gap to the leader to under a second over the next lap, quickly dropping Binder and Marquez, who were joined by a feisty Aleix Espargaro, keen to join his brother on the podium. A big lap for Bastianini brought him within half a second of the leading Espargaro with six laps remaining, while Marquez had to abandon podium ambitions and try to fend off the elder Espargaro, ultimately unsuccessfully. A couple seconds up the road, his brother was under serious pressure from Bastianini and the Ducati power still trumped at turn 1 with four laps to go. In an attempt to keep up with the Italian, Espargaro ran wide into the first corner and allowed Binder to swoop in and claim second, with the Spaniard close on his tail but managing fading softer tyres. Aleix Espargaro was around a second behind and pushed to catch up with his brother after he dropped Marquez, who was managing a half second gap to Mir.
An emotional final lap started with Bastianini one second ahead of Binder and although the KTM man got close enough to worry an already anxious Gresini garage, the Italian rode faultlessly to the chequered flag to secure victory by three tenths of a second. Binder still handed KTM a surprise second place after a difficult time of late, while Pol Espargaro saved a podium for the revamped Honda. Brother Aleix settled for fourth, with Marquez staying in the top 5 and the somewhat underwhelming Suzukis only sixth and seventh – Mir ahead of Rins. Quartararo was powerless to Zarco’s Ducati out of the final turn, the Pramac rider crossing the finish line only seven thousandths of a second ahead and forcing Quartararo to start his title defence with a more modest bag of points.
|17||49||Fabio Di Giannantonio||DUCATI||42'54.547||41.349|
|89||Jorge Martin||DUCATI||21'13.800||11 laps|
|63||Francesco Bagnaia||DUCATI||21'13.835||11 laps|
|88||Miguel Oliveira||KTM||19'19.886||12 laps|
|73||Alex Marquez||HONDA||17'25.782||13 laps|
|72||Marco Bezzecchi||DUCATI||11'41.321||16 laps|
|43||Jack Miller||DUCATI||11'42.306||16 laps|