Doha: Francesco Bagnaia is still the man to beat in the new MotoGP season after the reigning champion’s commanding victory at the Grand Prix of Qatar. Under the lights at the Lusail International Circuit, the factory Ducati rider was untroubled after he shot past pole-sitter and sprint winner Jorge Martin, who managed to cling on to third spot on the podium.
Brad Binder repeated his Saturday’s sprint heroics as the KTM rider finished second, but was a whopping +1.329 secs behind Bagnaia, who barely gave a sniff to his rivals last night.
After finishing fourth in the sprint, it was a statement of sorts from Bagnaia, who had won his second successive title last year after a close battle with Martin.
Marc Marquez went one better than sprint to finish fourth on his Gresini Grand Prix debut. The eight-time champion was involved in a fascinating tussle with rookie Pedro Acosta, who justified the hype around him with an impressive debut before railing off to end ninth.
Bagnaia, starting from fifth on the grid, slotted into second behind Martin before the Italian scythed past Prima Ducati rider up the inside into Turn 4 to snatch the lead straight away. There was going to be only one winner on the night thereafter as Bagnaia steadily built the gap between him and the rest of the pack en route to his 19th MotoGP victory.
The 27-year-old later said the changes made to his Desmosedici GP24 after the woes in sprint, worked perfectly in the Grand Prix. “We work in silence. We knew our potential, we tried to do the maximum yesterday, knowing that it was important to change something for today’s race. And what we did this morning in the warm-up was important,” he said.
“The race was completely different compared to yesterday. I tried to manage in a different way and it worked. So I’m very happy and now we move on to Portimao (for the Portugal GP) with another step in front we did with the new bike,” he said.
Binder and Martin battled for the second spot for much of the night, switching positions on a number of occasions before the South African had the better of tussle when the Spaniard ran wide at Turn 1 on lap 11.
“I’m super stoked with the result today,” said Binder. “When we were going in we knew it was going to be tough to get the tyres to the end, I’m surprised we managed to do it so well to be honest. I tried to get close to Pecco (Bagnaia) but he did an unreal job, not making one single mistake during the entire race. Hats off to him. Thank you to my team, they did an incredible job and my bike was next level today compared to yesterday again. If we get this going we will get it right eventually.”
Martin ended up 0.5s down at the finish after picking up his pace on the penultimate lap of the race to ward off a late push for podium from Marquez.
“Today was a difficult race. I started quite well, but then straight away I was trying to manage the tyre a bit and Pecco was pushing a bit more at that point,” Martin said.
“P3 and yesterday’s win, with a lot of points for the weekend, so I’m pleased and I’m really looking forward to the next one,” he added.
Marquez, who got to within four tenths of Martin at one point, later said he abandoned his pursuit for podium spot after struggling with the front tyre.
“We analysed with the team a lot of things to try to manage the start, it was better today,” the Gresini rider said.
“I did attack in the last eight laps, and when I did it was when I started to push more with the front and my front tyre was finished, and the last two laps I gave up because I saw the chance to crash and the chance to take two more points, three more points... I preferred to finish fourth and wait for two weeks in Portimao.”
Marquez, meanwhile, was put under pressure by Tech3 GasGas’s Acosta. The KTM-backed rookie moved into fourth position at Turn 1 on lap 12 after a stunning move. But as his tyres began to wear off, he ran wide two laps later, which handed the spot back to Marquez.
Acosta’s pace dropped significantly in the final quarter of the race, with both Gresini’s Alex Marquez and factory Ducati’s second rider Enea Bastianini breezing past him.
Earlier, the race was reduced from 22 to 21 laps after Trackhouse rider Raul Fernandez experienced a technical issue on the starting grid.
Fernandez’s bike was taken back to the pits. He was due to begin from 12th on the grid, but instead he started from the back of the grid, giving up 10 positions.
Fernandez’s miserable night ended with four laps to go when he retired into the pits – making him the only rider not to complete the season-opening Grand Prix.
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