Doha: In his own words, Jorge Martin came ‘really close to crashing in a lot of corners’. But to the naked eye, the Prima Pramac rider was in firm control at the Lusail International circuit, as he eased into Saturday’s sprint victory at MotoGP’s season-opening Grand Prix of Qatar.
Martin, who lost the championship title agonisingly to Francesco Bagnaia last year, had issues with rear chatter on his GP24 Ducati – which had also plagued him throughout pre-season testing. But the Spaniard expertly steered himself to victory from start to finish – his 10th Sprint win since the format was introduced last year.
KTM’s Brad Binder was 0.548s behind in second, while Aprilia’s Aleix Espargaro burst past Bagnaia in the closing stages to take the final podium spot. Eight-time grand prix world champion Marc Marquez finished fifth on his Gresini Ducati debut, after a late mistake allowed Espargaro to overtake him.
After pocketing the first 12 points of the season, Martin though was less optimistic about his chances in Sunday’s Grand Prix if Pramac cannot find an answer to persistent chatter problems. “I was fast, but the rear chatter is still there,” Martin said.
“So, we need to work on it. I think today I was really close to crashing in a lot of corners. So, I was struggling a lot. Today we achieved the win, but for sure tomorrow if we keep it like this (the chatter problem) it will be impossible. So, let’s work on it. I feel confident, I feel fast. The only thing is the bike, so we’re going to work on it tonight and let’s see if we can enjoy a big one,” the 26-year-old added.
Martin had earlier broken the lap record in qualifying to clinch pole position. When the lights went out, he was put under pressure by Binder – who had qualified fourth but was behind Martin’s rear wheel in no time. The two quickly built up a half second gap from the rest of the pack led by Espargaro.
Binder got extremely close to passing Martin into Turn 1 at the start of lap two, but that was South African’s only opportunity to take the lead as Pramac rider stayed in control till the chequered flag.
Factory Ducati’s Bagnaia, who started from fifth, was up a place by the end of the first lap. But he slipped a place after Espargaro powered past him at Turn 15 on the penultimate lap.
Espargaro himself had dropped behind Marquez at one point, but the latter ran wide at Turn 14 on lap eight, which allowed the Aprilia ride to move back into fourth.
Bagnaia’s teammate Enea Bastianini was sixth, while Alex Marquez got the better of Pedro Acosta at the line, beating the rookie to seventh position. Maverick Vinales (Aprilia Racing) came across the line to score the final point of the night after coming home to finish in ninth position.
Fabio di Giannantonio, the surprise winner of the grand prix in Qatar last year, took a thumping fall from his VR46 Ducati bike on lap eight.
Meanwhile, Marquez was all smiles despite finishing fifth after at one point he was in contention for the podium. Making his debut for Gresini Racing in a Ducati after 11 years at Honda, the Spaniard seemed to have made adjustments to the new manufacturer.
Later, the 31-year-old said his decision to quit Honda was correct when asked if his sprint result in Lusail validated his decision for him. “When I took the decision I was fully convinced and I’m still convinced. And what I said on Thursday, my target is to try to fight in those top six positions,” Marquez said.
When asked how it felt to race a Ducati compared to the Honda, he added: “Easier. You overtake on the straight and then it’s easier. Especially when you arrive at the brake points a bit closer. So, yeah, I was able to overtake two, three riders today and I was able to be in that fight. But of course you need the speed. Speed means lap time, and still at that point I need two, three tenths that for example Jorge Martin, Francesco Bagnaia, Aleix Espargaro had.”

Sprint result
1. Jorge Martin (ESP/Ducati-Pramac) 20min 41.287sec, 2. Brad Binder (RSA/KTM) at 0.548s, 3. Aleix Espargaro (ESP/Aprilia) 0.729, 4. Francesco Bagnaia (ITA/Ducati) 1.625, 5. Marc Marquez (ESP/Ducati-Gresini) 1.872, 6. Enea Bastianini (ITA/Ducati) 2.322, 7. Alex Marquez (ESP/Ducati-Gresini) 3.154, 8. Pedro Acosta (ESP/GasGaS-Tech3) 4.431, 9. Maverick Vinales (ESP/Aprilia) 6.738, 10. Jack Miller (AUS/KTM) 12.670, 11. Marco Bezzecchi (ITA/Ducati-VR46) 12.835, 12. Fabio Quartararo (FRA/Yamaha) 12.863, 13. Miguel Oliveira (POR/Aprilia-Trackhouse) 13.095, 14. Raul Fernandez (ESP/Aprilia-Trackhouse) 13.795, 15. Joan Mir (ESP/Honda) 14.096, 16. Johann Zarco (FRA/Honda-LCR) 14.840, 17. Alex Rins (ESP/Yamaha) 15.629, 18. Augusto Fernandez (ESP/GasGaS-Tech3) 17.711, 19. Takaaki Nakagami (JPN/Honda-LCR) 22.733, 20. Franco Morbidelli (ITA/Ducati-Pramac) 23.267, 21. Luca Marini (ITA/Honda) 25.553
DNF: Fabio Di Giannantonio (ITA/Ducati-VR46)

Championship standings
1. Jorge Martin (ESP/Ducati-Pramac) 12, 2. Brad Binder (RSA/KTM) 9, 3. Aleix Espargaro (ESP/Aprilia) 7, 4. Francesco Bagnaia (ITA/Ducati) 6, 5. Marc Marquez (ESP/Ducati-Gresini) 5, 6. Enea Bastianini (ITA/Ducati) 4, 7. Alex Marquez (ESP/Ducati-Gresini) 3, 8. Pedro Acosta (ESP/GasGaS-Tech3) 2, 9. Maverick Vinales (ESP/Aprilia) 1
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