Jorge Lorenzo dominated the season opening Qatar Grand Prix from start to finish, leading a factory Yamaha 1-2 with Valentino Rossi winning a thrilling battle for second in the closing laps with Marc Marquez. The reigning world champion was never troubled from the moment he led into turn one with all of the fireworks behind him.
Dani Pedrosa didn’t get his usual lightning getaway although he did gain a spot as Cal Crutchlow fell back down the order. By contrast, Bradley Smith made the rapid start that became his trademark in Moto2 to be up with Alvaro Bautista but the rookie was hung out to dry at turn one before his first MotoGP appearance was cut short by a crash five laps in.
Lorenzo eased away from Pedrosa with Andrea Dovizioso up to third but Rossi was keen to change that and lined up his old motorcycle at the start of lap two. The move almost led to disaster though as Rossi outbraked himself, missing the Ducati but surrendering three places in the process as Crutchlow, Marc Marquez and Stefan Bradl eased past him.
With the other factory Yamaha long gone, Pedrosa was leading a train involving Crutchlow and his rookie teammate Marquez, both having overhauled Dovizioso’s Ducati. Crutchlow had designs on second but the superior straight line speed of the factory Honda would prove too tough an obstacle. Instead of looking ahead, Cal had to watch the second RC213V of Marquez breeze past him at the start of lap four and his superiority through the infield couldn’t make up the difference.
Worryingly for Pedrosa, Marquez was all over the back of him and apparently able to match his pace with ease and on lap seventeen, the inevitable happened as Marc moved into second. Perhaps he’d seen Rossi coming with the Doctor eradicating the four second gap between himself and Crutchlow to haul himself into the group fighting for the podium places.
With five laps remaining, Valentino went after his first victim with Crutchlow demoted to fifth at the end of the pit straight. It could have been even worse for the Briton who speared off onto the tarmac run-off but he recovered in time to keep sixth placed Alvaro Bautista behind him and cruise home in a safe fifth.
Pedrosa’s third place was anything but secure and as the Spaniard’s tyres faded, Rossi was simply too strong and scythed up the inside into turn six. Marquez was in mood to surrender second to his childhood hero either but the Yamaha eased past on lap twenty, seemingly wrapping up second place for the Italian. Unlike Pedrosa though, Marquez was able to keep himself in touch around the rest of the lap and launched a counter attack into turn one next time around. As Rossi defended, Marquez took to the outside before ducking back underneath the man fourteen years his senior, demonstrating that the hype surrounding him pre-season was entirely justified.
Rossi wasn’t finished however and lined Marquez up again into turn four, moving past at that location for the second lap in a row and despite a last lap rally, Valentino would claim a popular second place. Marquez beat his teammate Pedrosa by three seconds in the end with Crutchlow next up while Bautista got the better of the two factory Ducatis to finish sixth. Dovizioso would pip Nicky Hayden to seventh by half a second with Andrea Iannone and Ben Spies line astern in ninth and tenth on the Pramac machines.
Aleix Espargaro won the battle of the Aspar teammates for top CRT status while Michael Laverty reached the end of his first Grand Prix in seventeenth.