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Pramac power: Johann Zarco leads MotoGP™ and Jorge Martín hits the podium
Johann Zarco tops the MotoGP™ championship standings after finishing 2nd in Doha, one place ahead of Pramac Ducati team-mate Jorge Martín.
For the second time in the space of a week the MotoGP™ World Championship lined up under the lights at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar for the Grand Prix of Doha and after 22 laps history was made, with the closest top 15 in MotoGP™ history crossing the finish line after an action-packed race.
In qualifying, MotoGP™ rookie Jorge Martín stunned everyone by snatching a career-first pole position with scintillating speed. He led Pramac Ducati team-mate Johann Zarco, who continued his strong pace from the opening weekend of the season. Opening race winner Maverick Viñales rounded out the front row on the Yamaha, with Ducati's Jack Miller and team-mate Francesco Bagnaia ensuring four Ducati machines were in the top six positions on the grid.
The big question was, could any of the Italian bikes go one better than last weekend and outpace the Yamaha M1 over a full race distance? The answer was no, but instead of Viñales, this week it was his Yamaha team-mate Fabio Quartararo who took the win ahead of a mature, measured Zarco and the rapid rookie Martín, as just 8.9 seconds covered the top 15 riders.
At the start, it was Martín who emerged from the sweeping 180 degree right-handed first turn in the lead after a blistering start, followed by Zarco and Aprillia's fast-starting Aleix Espargaró, with Viñales being pushed down to the lower end of the top 10 with the two Suzukis of Álex Rins and reigning champion Joan Mir.
The opening two laps saw plenty of close quarter racing amongst the top eight, with the KTMs of Miguel Oliveira and Brad Binder throwing themselves into the sharp end, as Rins looked for a way around Zarco to claim second place and set after leader Martín. Rins achieved this on lap four only for the Ducati to blow by him again easily at the beginning of lap five, before making his move stick a few metres later.
However, things weren't quite done and dusted and one lap later Zarco glided back into second to ensure the battle for the entire podium wouldn't be decided early on. As Rins challenged Martín, the Ducati rookie defended his lead brilliantly, allowing team-mate Zarco to keep in touch with this push and pull dynamic, which stretched out into the second half of the Grand Prix.
At the halfway point, nine bikes were covered by little more than a second, with Ducati's Miller – chastened by a disappointing opening race of the season – making his way into fifth behind team-mate Bagnaia.
With 10 laps remaining and Rins apparently struggling for grip, Bagnaia slipped into third to make it an all-Ducati top three, but all eyes were on the Mir and Miller battle, as things got physical and the pair made contact not once but twice, ultimately compromising both riders' evening.
Deep into the race, as things settled down somewhat, the leading Ducati trio flew in formation until Quartararo made his move and spoiled the party by taking third and looking to steal second from compatriot Zarco with five laps remaining.
Up front, Martín continued to manage his tyres well, maintaining a strong pace and heading the thrilling battle between Ducati and Yamaha, with a recovering Miller placing himself back into contention momentarily in fourth.
Quartararo briefly held the lead with four laps to go, only to lose out to Martín and the unmatched top-end pace of the Ducati at the beginning of lap 19, before making his move stick halfway around the lap and managing to build a late lead, as Zarco brilliantly defended his third place from Viñales.
At the flag it was victory for Quartararo, as Zarco showed all his skill and experience to pass Martín on the final lap and finish runner-up for the second time in seven days, while his team-mate celebrated his first premier class podium in just his second MotoGP™ race.
Despite being forced to start the evening on medium compound front tyres, KTM managed to do more than simply get to the flag and enjoyed an unexpected top-10 finish from Binder, as the South African claimed a stellar eighth place. Binder's team-mate Oliveria surprised everyone by making a stunning start, leaping from his starting slot of 12th to sixth place by lap six, before ending up 15th at the flag.
The KTM bikes will be looking to be challenge for podiums as MotoGP™ heads to Europe for the Portuguese Grand Prix at the Algarve International Circuit and as if there isn't enough excitement building amongst the teams and riders there's the small matter of the potential return of Honda's six-time premier class champion Marc Márquez.
Expect non-stop fireworks and one of the most exciting MotoGP™ seasons in history to unfold in 2021.
MotoGP™ of Doha results
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