It was a déjà vu moment for Andrea Dovizioso. The Ducati rider has had many close tussles with reigning world champion Marc Marquez in the past – including last year’s MotoGP Grand Prix of Qatar — and more often than not had the better of the Honda rider.
Last night at the Losail International Circuit, Dovizioso once again fended off the challenge of Marquez to win his second successive Qatar GP. The 32-year-old, in a repeat of last year’s thrilling race, crossed the finish line just 0.023s ahead of Marquez in what was a fitting way to start the new season.
LCR Honda rider Cal Crutchlow was gifted the final podium spot by Alex Rins, after the Suzuki rider made a mistake with two laps to go. But the rider of the race was Italian legend Valentino Rossi, who conjured up his Sunday magic again to finish fifth after starting from 14th on the grid. His Yamaha team-mate and pole-sitter Vinales could only manage seventh, behind the second factory Ducati of Danilo Petrucci.
For Dovizioso and Honda, it was an unexpected victory after having struggled in the pre-season Qatar testing, where they were at best 14th. Dovizioso, however, had shown the bike had enough pace when he had qualified second behind Vinales for the season-opening race on Saturday. Later he had admitted he ‘didn’t expect’ to claim a front row start and wasn’t considering himself a favourite to win.
“I don’t know, it was a strange race. I was managing the rear tyre because everybody was struggling. In the end it was difficult to manage the tyre. I saw Marc in the last lap, struggle a lot with the rear tyre, so it was good for me to understand that and I pushed really hard in the last lap, but Marc never give up, he’s always there — but I was able to answer because I put him really on the limit,” Dovizioso said.
Unlike in the qualifying, riders were greeted to less wind and cold conditions in the 22-lap race. Not much separated the riders as 10 bikes were neck-in-neck with five laps to go after Dovizioso had took an early lead.
The highly-rated Rins had made the best start, moving up from 10th on the grid, and went out for an early attack on Dovizioso. The pair traded the lead many times before the 23-year-old Rins failed to keep up the pace as Marquez swiftly moved into second.
Rins – touted as a future world champion – showed his quality as the Spaniard moved back to second on lap 15, before outbreaking at Turn 1 on lap 20, which spoiled his hopes of a victory.
It was then a battle between Dovizioso and Marquez as it brought back memories of the 2018 race. Hoping not to take it to the last lap, Marquez made his move in the penultimate lap and passed his rival at Turn 10 but Dovizioso was quick to swoop in at Turn 11 and take back the lead.
On the last lap, Dovizioso had to rebuff another attack from the reigning champion at Turn 10 before Marquez made a desperate lunge at the last corner. But the 26-year-old ran wide which allowed a determined Dovizioso to take the straight line and win by a whisker.
“It was exactly like last year. Exactly the same,” said Marquez, who had started from third place. “I tried to push but here in the circuit when you overtake on the dirty place, you just go wide, was so difficult to keep the line. Anyway I tried, I tried to be there, I tried to push, I tried until the end,” he added.
Marquez was content with 20 points, conceding the Losail track is not suited for his Honda bike. “I am very happy, especially because it’s a circuit that we struggle on. This weekend we were struggling a lot with the front tyre. We put on a medium tyre and I wasn’t able to push like I would like in the brake points. But okay, we finish the race, 20 points. One race, that normally we struggle, is less from the calendar,” Marquez said with a smile.
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