Andrea Dovizioso fought off another last lap challenge from Marc Marquez to win a thrilling MotoGP season opener in Qatar.
After a tense race it came down to the two fierce rivals once again, just like the 2018 race, with Marquez applying the pressure on the final lap. As predicted, Marquez made a late lunge at the final turn but went wide, allowing Dovizioso back down the inside.
It wasn’t over there though, the 2019 Honda is a much quicker machine than previous models and it was a hard-fought duel to the line – with the Ducati winning by only +0.023s.
They were joined on the podium by Cal Crutchlow, after he got the better of a determined Alex Rins at the final corner. This was Crutchlow’s first race back since his horrific ankle injury towards the end of last season.
Valentino Rossi put in yet another superb Sunday performance to finish fifth, despite starting the race down in 14th. The veteran will be pleased to only be +0.600 behind the race winner.
Danilo Petrucci ended his factory Ducati debut in sixth after dropping behind the leading pack in the closing stages of the race. Maverick Viñales could only manage seventh, despite starting from pole. A slow getaway meant that he lost ground on the leaders and only started to record his quickest lap times towards the end of the race.
Joan Mir impressed on his MotoGP debut to finish eighth, with Takaaki Nakagami and Aleix Espargaro completing the top 10.
Jorge Lorenzo’s Repsol Honda debut didn’t go to plan, with the Spaniard finishing down in 13th. The Spaniard was clearly feeling the effects of the two big crashes he had on Saturday.
Before the race could get underway there was a problem for Fabio Quartararo, who stalled his Petronas Yamaha on the grid. The rookie, who had qualified fifth, was forced to start the race from the pits.
When the lights went out it was Dovizioso and Jack Miller who launched off the line and into the first two places heading through turn one. Crutchlow moved up into fourth, whilst Nakagami went from ninth on the grid to fourth. Viñales had a poor start and was down to sixth behind Mir.
Miller was looking strong in second when he slowed all of a sudden on the second lap. Cameras showed the Australian ripping his seat pad off, indicating that this must have been loose.
The confusion on the track following Miller’s problems allowed the Suzuki duo of Mir and Rins to move into fourth and fifth respectively.
The Suzuki looked brilliant through the corners and, after switching positions, the duo made light work of Crutchlow to move into the top four.
On lap five Rins made a move on Marquez before taking the lead of the race for the first-time. It was short-lived however, with Dovizioso using the power of the Ducati to fly back past down the home straight.
Marquez also flew past Rins down the home straight on the following lap, however Rins fought back immediately and within a few corners was leading the race once more.
Rins and Dovizioso would exchange positions multiple times over the next few laps, with the Suzuki stronger through the corners.
Behind them, Petrucci had moved up to third after getting the better of Mir and Marquez. Moments later, Marquez retook third before shoving his Honda down the inside of Rins for second. Rins was pushed wide in the process, allowing Petrucci to go ahead.
Off the circuit, Francesco Bagnaia was back in the garage after suffering some form of mechanical problem. He would soon be joined by his teammate, Miller, who retired on lap 13.
Meanwhile, Quartararo had been busy trying to catch the field and at one point was lapping over a second quicker than the leaders. By lap 17 he had caught and overtaken Lorenzo and was chasing down his fellow Frenchman, Johann Zarco.
Back at the front, Dovizioso has upped the pace but Marquez was sticking with him. In fact, all of the top six riders set their quickest laps of the race so far on lap 14.
Over the next couple of laps Marquez and Rins would swap positions multiple times, with the Suzuki man smoking his rear tyres around the circuit. Marquez would eventually make his move stick.
Rossi was also beginning to find his feet and went past his teammate for seventh, before getting the better of Mir a lap later.
As the race entered it’s final three laps Rins made one last lunge at Marquez going into turn one but was late on brakes and went wide, allowing Crutchlow through into third. Meanwhile, Rossi moved ahead of Petrucci for fifth.
Onto the penultimate lap and a rare mistake from Dovizioso allowed Marquez to takes the lead. Further down the order, Bradley Smith crashed out of his wildcard appearance on the Aprilia.
As the final lap began, Dovizioso went down the inside of Marquez into turn one. Marquez was glued to the back wheel of the Ducati and tried to go up the inside at turn 10, only for Dovizioso cut back down the inside after the Spaniard had gone wide.
It was going to go down to the final corner, just like it has on so many occasions when Dovizioso and Marquez are fighting for victory. As the pair rode into the final turn, Marquez let off the brakes and lunged down the inside but could not get the RC213V stopped in time, allowing Dovizioso back through.
The pair got on the throttle and it was a drag race to the line. The new Honda is much quicker than the 2018 bike but Marquez had given himself too much to do by going wide. Dovizioso crossed the line first to record back-to-back Qatar GP victories.