Marc Marquez produced a scintillating lap in the dying seconds of qualifying to snatch pole position from Alvaro Bautista in Qatar. The reigning champion pipped his compatriot by 0.057s in a thrilling finish to the session which saw Bradley Smith also claim his first ever front row start in MotoGP.
The odds-on favourite heading into Qualifying 2 was unquestionably Aleix Espargaro with the Forward Racing rider dominating free practice. Unfortunately for the Spaniard, it all fell apart in the pressure-cooker situation of Q2 with a crash at turn two on his second flying lap, forcing him to dash back to his garage for the spare Forward Yamaha. Aleix looked to have rectified the situation on his second run with his next hot lap on schedule to take pole position but the outcome was the same as his earlier effort, his machine disappearing into the gravel at turn fourteen.
With the major threat out of contention, Marquez ensured he took full advantage with a 1:54.599 on his opening run but after regrouping in the pits, Bautista produced a lap fractionally faster on his satellite Honda. A second career pole was looming for the Gresini rider but Marquez had enough left in his final set of tyres to usurp him by half a tenth.
Bradley Smith was a mere two thousandths of a second away from Marquez on the first run and in his attempts to avoid handing his rival a slipstream, he missed out on a quicker lap second time around but he had still done enough for third, comfortably the best grid slot of his MotoGP career. Andrea Dovizioso emerged as the leading open-class rider in fourth with Jorge Lorenzo rescuing fifth after an awful weekend so far.
Dani Pedrosa looks set to be a threat on race day from sixth on the grid while Stefan Bradl will aim from the podium from seventh. Cal Crutchlow needed a quick lap in Q1 to secure his spot in the pole position shootout but produced his best run of the weekend to take eighth, knocking the devastated Espargaro down to ninth and Valentino Rossi to tenth.
Pol Espargaro claimed twelfth on his MotoGP debut while fellow rookie Scott Redding will line up sixteenth on his production Honda.