* An unreal opening race of 2021 saw Yamaha come out on top; Ducati’s Zarco and Bagnaia pip Mir to the rostrum on final lap
Monster Energy Yamaha’s Maverick Vinales unravelled a stunning race to claim victory at the Barwa Grand Prix of Qatar, as 2021 kicked off in sublime style in the desert. Vinales climbed his way through the pack to eventually beat Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) by just over a second, as the Frenchman and Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) beat reigning world champion Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) on the run to the line to stand on the podium.
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 Vinales got swamped off the line.
An utterly sensational getaway from the Ducatis saw Bagnaia lead Miller, Zarco and Martin, as Zarco then slipstreamed Miller down the home straight and grabbed P2 off the Australian. After sluggish starts, the two factory Yamahas were regrouping and soon found their way past high-flying rookie Martin on Lap 3. Just behind, Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT) was scrapping away with Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and World Champion Mir, the GSX-RR duo did get past The Doctor and began hounding Martin.
Twelve laps to go, Vinales was up into P3 and immediately bridged the few tenths gap to Zarco. And with 11 laps to go, Vinales dived up the inside of Zarco for P2 and showed a wheel to race leader Bagnaia. Just behind, Rins got the better of Quartararo and as the race entered the halfway stage, Mir and Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) were now tagged onto the back of Quartararo. This was a fascinating battle.
Vinales and Yamaha’s strengths in the middle of the corners were clear to see. Vinales, on lap 15, 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.
With six to go, Zarco drafted Bagnaia and took P2 into Turn 1, and Vinales and the Zarco began to break clear.
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 Vinales’ race to lose as attention focused on the battle for P2, P3 and P4.
Mir found a way past Zarco at the penultimate corner, but the two Ducati’s straight line speed won. As Vinales 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.
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.
Miller’s race never really got going after the opening couple of laps and crossed the line in a disappointing P9. Top rookie honours went the way of reigning Moto2 World Champion Enea Bastianini (Esponsorama Racing), who hit top-10 on his MotoGP debut.
Stefan Bradl (Repsol Honda Team) did another top job standing in for Marc Marquez, the German finished P11 and led 12th place Rossi across the line. (MotoGP.com)
MotoGP results (top 10)
1. Maverick Vinales (ESP/Yamaha) 42:28.663
2. Johann Zarco (FRA/Ducati-Pramac) +1.092
3. Francesco Bagnaia (ITA/Ducati) +1.129
4. Joan Mir (ESP/Suzuki) +1.222
5. Fabio Quartararo (FRA/Yamaha) +3.030
6. Alex Rins (ESP/Suzuki) +3.357
7. Aleix Espargaro (ESP/Aprilia) +5.934
8. Pol Espargaro (ESP/Honda) +5.990
9. Jack Miller (AUS/Ducati) +7.058
10. Enea Bastianini (ITA/Ducati-Avintia) +9.288
Standings (top 3)
1. Maverick Vinales (ESP/Yamaha) 25 pts
2. Johann Zarco (FRA/Ducati-Pramac) 20
3. Francesco Bagnaia (ITA/Ducati) 16
Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP's Spanish rider Maverick Vinales celebrates after winning the Moto GP Qatar Grand Prix at the Losail International Circuit, in the city of Lusail. KARIM JAAFAR / AFP