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The Qatar MotoGP in a nutshell
Andrea Dovizioso edges Marc Marquez in a desert classic at Losail, while Cal Crutchlow and Valentino Rossi defy the pain barrier and the form book respectively.
1. One race, 50 words
For the second year running in Qatar, Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati) held off Marc Marquez (Honda) on the run to the line after a tactical race of tyre management erupted on the last of the 22 laps. Cal Crutchlow (Honda) was third in his return after breaking his ankle last October.
2. What the result means
Same again, anyone? Dovizioso and Marquez have fought for the past two MotoGP titles, although to be fair, the Spaniard had control of last year's championship fight after rare some early-season errors had the Italian on his back foot. Sunday's Qatar season-opener was a carbon-copy of Losail 12 months ago, where Dovizioso managed the pace and his tyre consumption from the front before turning up the wick in the final laps, and held off a predictable last-corner lunge from Marquez before using Ducati's superior straight-line grunt to win the drag race to the chequered flag.
It was the perfect way for 'Desmo Dovi' to begin his latest quest to dethrone MotoGP's undisputed king, but as Marquez himself said, 20 points at what is one of Honda's weaker tracks bodes well for the season to come, a campaign where you'd expect Ducati's main man to be his biggest rival once more.
3. How did Jack Miller fare?
It was all going so well at Losail for the Australian, who comfortably made Q2 after finishing third on the combined practice timesheets, and qualified fourth and just 0.263secs from pole for his best Saturday showing in Qatar, a result that he was happy with even after a crash on his final lap that cost him a front-row spot. Miller made his customary brilliant start to be second behind Dovizioso by the first corner of the season, but that's where the good news ended; on lap two, the Alma Pramac Ducati rider was forced to sit up in the final sector to discard the foam padding on his seat, which had inexplicably worked loose. He dropped back to 12th after dropping the broken seat padding beside the track, and while he worked his way back into the top 10, his body position on the bike – he was visibly having to compromise his approach into corners because of the broken seat – wore out his front medium-compound Michelin tyre, and by lap 13 he could do more, pulling into the pits to retire. On a weekend where he'd shown outstanding pace late in long runs on used tyres in practice, it was a bitter blow.
"It's a real shame because we went very fast through the whole weekend, I was convinced that I could stay with the leading group until the end," Miller said.
"After the problem with the seat, I couldn’t control the bike in the corners and it was impossible to keep on."
4. The moment that made the race
Lap 21 of 22, where Dovizioso, who had led for the majority of the race, had a wobble at Turn 4, which allowed Marquez to scythe through to take the lead. For much of the race, the Ducati man had been carefully managing his rear tyre to keep something in reserve in case he needed it on the final laps; seeing Marquez struggling to stay in front of him was all he needed, and he was never headed – besides Marquez briefly nudging past as he dive-bombed the Ducati into the last corner on the last lap – after taking the lead on the run to the first corner for the final time.
"I was managing the rear tyre because everybody was struggling," Dovizioso said.
"Because I didn't see nobody, I couldn't really know my positive and negative point. I saw Marc … struggle a lot with the rear tyre, so it was good for me to understand that, and I push really hard in the last lap. Marc never give up, he's always there, but I was able to answer because I put him really on the limit."
5. The stat that matters
0.004secs: the difference between first and second in last year's Qatar race and Sunday's 2019 season-opener; Dovizioso beat Marquez in 2018 by 0.027secs, and by 0.023secs 12 months later.
6. The race in one photo
7. Who were the winners in Qatar?
Dovizioso for starting the season in the best possible way, and Marquez for taking home a strong result at a rare track where he and Honda don't have it all their own way; in seven season-openers at Losail, the Spaniard has won just once (2014). Crutchlow's third place, after he capitalised on Suzuki's Alex Rins running wide at the first corner with three laps to go, was a brilliant and brave ride considering the state of the Briton's ankle after his horrendous crash in practice at Phillip Island last year and the gruelling rehab that followed.
Valentino Rossi and Yamaha pulled a rabbit out of a hat to get 'The Doctor' to fifth and just six-tenths of a second from the win after qualifying only 14th, while Rins' rookie teammate Joan Mir deserves a shout-out after a fantastic first race, the young Spaniard looking comfortable fighting in the front group and finishing eighth after qualifying just outside of the top 10.
8. Who lost out at Losail?
Miller's face was red with rage after Losail, but Maverick Vinales' visage wasn't a lot different; after dominating qualifying to take pole position and looking set for a strong start to the season at one of his best circuits, his 2018 woes – where he repeatedly fell back early in races before charging late for little reward – resurfaced again on Sunday night, the Spaniard dropping to seventh on lap one and finishing in the same place 21 laps later, only 2.4secs from the win but behind Yamaha teammate Rossi, which few would have predicted given the gulf in pace between the pair before the race.
Fabio Quartararo fits into this category too, even though he left Qatar with his reputation enhanced; the French rookie qualified a brilliant fifth for the all-new Petronas Yamaha SRT outfit on Saturday, but had to start the race from the pit lane after his bike stalled on the warm-up lap. The 19-year-old, the youngest rider in MotoGP, was furious with himself and rode like it once he eventually got going at the back of the pack, setting the fastest lap of the race on lap 3 (1min 55.039secs), but he could only finish 16th, and earned zero points.
The final name here was one it's taken us a long time to mention, Marquez's new Repsol Honda teammate, Jorge Lorenzo. The three-time premier-class winner in Qatar came into the first race after a pre-season compromised with injury, and his confidence took as much of a battering as his body on Saturday, where he crashed twice, once in qualifying, to start his first race with his new team back in 15th. Three points for a relatively anonymous 13th-place finish wouldn't have been what the Spaniard had in mind for his Honda debut.
9. The standings
1. Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati) 25 points
2. Marc Marquez (Honda) 20
3. Cal Crutchlow (Honda) 16
4. Alex Rins (Suzuki) 13
5. Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) 11
10. What's next?
After a long wait for the first race of the year, we have a relatively lengthy (for in-season standards, at least) pause before round two, as the teams and riders make the lengthy trek to rural Argentina for the race at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit on Sunday March 31. Crutchlow won a chaotic race last year for Honda, which came after Miller took a remarkable pole in an arguably more chaotic half-wet, half-dry qualifying 24 hours earlier. There was also a clash between two riders you may have heard of with some history, Marquez and Rossi …