Barwa Grand Prix of Qatar
Viñales stuns in the desert to win Round 1
Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) on the run to the line to stand on the rostrum.
The start of the race was something to behold. Bagnaia, Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team), Zarco and Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing) from 14th on the grid all propelled themselves to the front as Ducati’s holeshot device worked absolute wonders. Martin’s launch was insane and the rookie joined his fellow GP21 riders inside the top four, as Fabio Quartararo and Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP teammate Viñales got swamped off the line. Up top, the leading five were line astern. Quartararo and Viñales were attached to the back of Miller, good news for two Yamahas, but a disaster for 2020’s runner up. Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) was down in P20 after five laps, an awful start for the Italian.
A couple of laps later, Viñales decided to pounce on Miller too. Turn 10 was the Spaniard’s chosen passing point as Miller found himself down in P5 – was he struggling, or playing the long game? In free air, Rins was reeling in the leaders and was soon right up behind Miller’s exhausts. Viñales, meanwhile, was starting to look impatient behind Quartararo and this lead group, covered by 1.4 seconds, was over two seconds up the road from seventh place Mir. 12 laps to go. Viñales was up into P3 and immediately bridged the few tenths gap to Zarco. And with 11 laps to go, Viñales dived up the inside of Zarco for P2 and showed a wheel to race leader Bagnaia – the Yamaha man was swarming.
On Lap 15, Viñales took P1 as the top eight riders were now covered by just 2.3 seconds, with Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) in P9 just 3.5 seconds from the lead. Viñales flashed across the line and held a half second lead with six to go. Zarco drafted Bagnaia and took P2 into Turn 1, with Mir passing Miller to grab 5th. Now though, with five laps to go, Viñales and Zarco were starting to break clear. Viñales had a 0.7 second advantage over the Frenchman, with Zarco, in turn, holding a one second lead over Bagnaia.
The battle for the podium was in full flow. Mir, at Turn 6, sweetly stuck his Suzuki up the inside of Bagnaia’s Ducati. And now, second place Zarco was under threat. With two to go, this was Viñales’ race to lose as attention focused on the battle for P2, P3 and P4. Pecco was staying in touch, with Zarco defending well to keep a hard-charging Champion behind him.
As Viñales took the chequered flag in P1, Mir – slightly wide a Turn 16 – was left helpless as both Zarco and Bagnaia flew past the GSX-RR to claim P2 and P3 in spectacular fashion. A quite remarkable end to a thrilling encounter. Quartararo crossed the line three seconds behind his teammate in P5 as the Frenchman gets the better of Rins by just three tenths. Two and a half seconds further down the road, Aleix Espargaro proved the Aprilia now belongs at the pointy end of the timesheets with a fantastic P7 ride. Aleix beat younger brother Pol by just 0.056s as the latter enjoys a fantastic debut with Repsol Honda Team.
Top rookie honours went the way of reigning Moto2™ World Champion Enea Bastianini (Esponsorama Racing). Huge credit goes the way of the Italian, a top 10 on your MotoGP™ debut is nothing short of spectacular – just nine seconds split Bastianini from the race win. That is what you call impressive.
1. Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP)
2. Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) + 1.092
3. Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) + 1.129
4. Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) + 1.222
5. Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) + 3.030
6. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) + 3.357
7. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) + 5.934
8. Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) + 5.990
9. Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) + 7.058
10.Enea Bastianini (Esponsorama Racing) + 9.288
Faultless Lowes claims classy Losail win
Sam Lowes (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team) became the first British rider to win an opening round Grand Prix since the great Barry Sheene in 1979 after producing a faultless ride at the Barwa Grand Prix of Qatar. The polesitter kept a hard-charging Remy Gardner (Red Bull KTM Ajo) at bay as the Australian takes P2 from Round 1, with Fabio Di Giannantonio (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) coming out on top of a last lap duel with Marco Bezzecchi (SKY Racing Team VR46) to hand Gresini Racing an emotional podium.
A lightning start from Row 2 saw Bezzecchi grab the holeshot with both Lowes and Raul Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo) slow from P1 and P2. Third place Bo Bendsneyder (Pertamina Mandalika SAG Team) got a good launch from the outside of the front row and slotted into P2, with Lowes getting past a wide Fernandez at Turn 1 to recover to P3. Lowes then made light work of Bendsneyder at Turn 6, with Jake Dixon (Petronas Sprinta Racing) rising to P5 from P10 on the grid on the opening lap.
Lap 2 saw Fernandez also pass Bendsneyder for third place as the leading eight riders locked horns. Lowes showed a wheel to Bezzecchi at Turn 6 but at Turn 1 on Lap 3, the British rider was through and leading, with seventh place Gardner setting the fastest lap of the race. Straight away, the poleman was enjoying a half-second lead, with Fernandez swarming all over the back of Bezzecchi – and making a Turn 1 move stick on Lap 4. Super stuff from the rookie.
Fernandez was back to within a couple of tenths of the race leader, Lowes making a mistake somewhere to allow the rookie to close him in. Meanwhile, a regrouped Gardner was now ahead of Dixon and set the fastest lap of the race again, with Bezzecchi having the number 87 very close for company. And with 13 to go, Gardner chose Turn 4 as his passing place and made a move stick on Bezzecchi.
With 12 to go, Fernandez was losing touch on Lowes and Gardner sensed it. The latter was through on his teammate and now had 1.2 seconds to bridge if he wanted to win his second Moto2™ race in succession. However, Lowes set the fastest lap of the Grand Prix – a 1:59.529 – and was in a very commanding groove.
On Lap 13, Gardner set the fastest lap of the race – but Lowes set his personal best too and on the next lap, the race leader was three tenths quicker than Gardner and the gap was now up to 1.6 seconds. With three laps to go, Lowes’ lead crept up to two seconds but the battle for the podium was in full swing.
The final place on the podium was between the two Italians and Di Giannantonio sliced up the inside at Turn 11, a classy move pulled off. Up the road, Lowes took a sensational and commanding victory as Gardner took a well-earned P2, with Di Giannantonio holding P3 to the line by 0.013s to hand himself and Gresini an emotional rostrum. The first for Gresini Racing in Moto2™ since Lowes in 2016 at the Aragon GP, and a fitting way to remember the late, great Fausto Gresini.
Bezzecchi loses out on a rostrum by the slimmest of margins but a P4 is far from a disastrous way to open your 2021 account. Fernandez couldn’t hold onto a podium place in his first Moto2™ race but it was nevertheless a phenomenal ride from the Spaniard. The top seven will be pleased with their opening run outs of 2021.