Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) put in a stunner at the TISSOT Grand Prix of Doha, making 2021 a clean sweep for Yamaha so far and heading up the first ever French 1-2 in the premier class as he pulled clear of the chasing pack at the perfect time. Compatriot Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) took second as he duelled rookie teammate and polesitter Jorge Martin to the line, the Frenchman making history for his nation and waves in the standings as he takes over the Championship lead. Martin, meanwhile, makes his own waves as the rookie led much of the race from a spectacular start, coming home third for his first premier class podium only second time out. Behind the three, there was plenty of drama too… and it was the closest top 15 in history!
Martin kept his nerve off the line and shot off to lead around Turn 1, the Spaniard unaware that he’d actually be staying there for the majority of the race as his incredible Sunday began as it meant to go on. Behind him, Zarco slotted into second but Qatar GP winner Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) went backwards, and Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) propelled himself from P12 to P4 in an absolutely stunning start. Both Suzukis got away very well too, as did third place Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) but it wasn’t a good start for the factory Ducati Lenovo Team riders or Quartararo. Jack Miller and Francesco Bagnaia even found themselves in the lower ends of the top 10…
Martin held his nerve at the front though and a MotoGP™ freight train followed him over the line as Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) got the better of Oliveira to sit behind the leading Pramac duo. World Champion Joan Mir on the second Team Suzuki Ecstar machine then chucked it up the inside of Quartararo at Turn 6 as the riders got very close for comfort in the opening exchanges, with Viñales, Quartararo, Miller and Bagnaia scrapping for 7th with Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing), and Rins hounding Zarco further forward.
The number 42 and Zarco kept interchanging P2, and just when Rins thought he’d got the job done, the Ducati blasted back by on the straight. Next up to try and carve through was Bagnaia as the Italian moved his way up into P5, soaring past Mir on the straight, with Miller soon following his teammate through by doing the exact same thing: wringing the neck of his GP21 on the front straight as Aleix Espargaro slipped to P7.
Approaching half race distance, Martin was still leading, and looking as cool, calm and collected as ever. Just behind him though, tensions were starting to reach boiling point in the heat of the desert. Turn 10 saw Mir make a close move on Miller, contact made between the two, and the Ducati was wide. Rins, after a front end scare at Turn 9, then had another moment at the final corner before another flash between Miller and Mir grabbed the spotlight back. Coming onto the front straight, the two clashed – and plummeted as they lost drive. The incident was investigated, but no action taken.
But Martin rolled on, and by now Quartararo was up to P4 behind the rookie in the lead, Zarco and Bagnaia. Rins almost found a way past the number 20 on Lap 15 but it wasn’t to be and with seven to go, it was still impossible to call. Miller was P6 with Viñales P7, Mir was trying to find a way past eighth place Aleix Espargaro and Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team), Binder and Enea Bastianini (Avintia Esponsorama Racing) were gaining.
With seven to go, Quartararo cut past Bagnaia at Turn 15 but the Italian bit straight back on the straight. At Turn 1 it came undone, however, as the Ducati headed well wide and dropped from third to seenth – as Pol Espargaro also overcooked it and sailed into the run off. Both were able to slot back in, and at least kept in touch as just nine seconds covered the top 18.
The final five laps dawned and it remained the rookie steadfast in the lead, with Zarco on his tail. Just behind, Miller picked up Quartararo, but the Frenchman cut back to hold onto a vital third as the time to push was nigh. Viñales knew that too, slicing past Rins for fifth, but it was the number 20 Yamaha making up more ground this time around as Quartararo struck for second and dispatched Zarco, then soon past Martin and into the lead.
The course of anyone vs Ducati down the main straight never did run smooth, however, and Martin sailed back past. The answer was always going to come quick though and Quartararo hit back at Turn 3, into the lead and with a little more time to try and break clear of the Borgo Panigale grunt. The lead was soon half a second, and Viñales was stuck duelling Rins as his teammate got the hammer down.
As the last lap dawned, Quartararo’s lead was 0.7 seconds and it was El Diablo’s to lose, with Martin leading Zarco in the fight to complete the podium. Viñales ran wide at Turn 1, allowing Rins to slide on through in the battle for P4 too, so it looked like two Frenchmen and a rookie on the podium – but in what order?
Quartararo kept it pitch perfect to hammer round Losail for the last time in 2021, pulling out a few more tenths to cross the line for his first factory Yamaha win by a second and a half. Behind him, it was war at Pramac, but a clean war. Martin held it onto the last lap but Zarco struck at Turn 15, muscling past and making it stick. The number 89 flashed out to have a look at the final corner, but the rookie thought against it and it went down to the drag to the line – decided by just 0.043. Zarco takes it and the Championship lead, and Martin is forced to settle for third, if delight at an incredible first premier class podium can be called settling.
In the battle for fourth, Rins held on as he and Viñales tussled it out, the Spaniards separated by just 0.022 seconds at the flag. Bagnaia was a further half a second behind the Spanish duel, the Italian taking P6 after looking to threaten a little more earlier in the race. Mir eventually came home in P7 after a heated race, the reigning Champion losing out after the incident with Miller.
Binder cemented a brilliant P8 for himself and KTM as the South African stalked his way up to the Austrian factory’s best result at Losail by some margin. Miller took a tougher P9 for the second race in a row at Losail. The Aussie also said he was suffering arm pump and that’s first on his post-Qatar agenda. Aleix Espargaro completes the top ten, which isn’t where he started but it’s still closer than Aprilia have been before to the front after another impressive race.
Bastianini recovered from a more difficult qualifying to finish just 5.550 seconds adrift of the win in P11 in another memorable day from the reigning Moto2™ World Champion. He beat compatriot Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) by two tenths. Pol Espargaro, after his Turn 1 excursion, took P13 ahead of HRC test rider Stefan Bradl (Repsol Honda Team). Oliveira slipped down the order to pick up the last point after his stunning start.
And so, history is made. 8.928 second is the gap between winner Quartararo and 15th place Oliveira in the closest top 15 finish we’ve ever seen, with Doha delivering a stunner under the floodlights. Zarco heads to Europe with 40 points at the top of the standings, with Quartararo and Viñales on 36 points apiece but classified in that order. What will Portimao bring? We don’t have to wait long to find out!
- Fabio Quartararo – Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP – Yamaha – 42:23.997
- Johann Zarco* – Pramac Racing – Ducati – +1.457
- Jorge Martin* – Pramac Racing – Ducati – +1.500
*Independent Team rider
*Independent Team riders
Fabio Quartararo: “I’ve not won a lot of races but this one was such a special win. I came from eighth or seventh, and I saw the pace and track were totally different from FP4 and Warm Up and I decided to really keep the tyre for the end. Actually, when I saw Maverick coming I thought ‘ok now is the moment to push and start to overtake’. It’s such an amazing moment for me, it’s a dream. I always dreamed of winning in Qatar, unfortunately it was not the first but the second! Thanks to everyone who believed in me, I’ve worked a lot in this preseason to achieve this goal and the media always tell me it’s extra pressure to take the place of Valentino! I want to thank my family, Yamaha, my friends, and I’ll enjoy this moment with a nice McDonalds tonight!”
Moto2™: To the wire – Lowes fends off Gardner in a tense Moto2™ take two
The Brit and the Aussie were at it again, but this time it went to the wire – and it’s Raul Fernandez who completed the podium.
Sam Lowes (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team) leaves Losail with a clean sweep after his second victory in as many weekends, the Brit impressing once again to become the first British rider to win the opening two races of an intermediate class campaign since Mike Hailwood did it in 1966. Quite a stat, but the sailing wasn’t perfectly smooth as Remy Gardner (Red Bull KTM Ajo) was his key challenger once again, this time around even closer than the first. The Aussie pushed the number 22 to the wire, and just lost out by two tenths after hanging back from being too optimistic at the final corner despite temptation. In third, rookie sensation Raul Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo) turned his increasing experience into his first Moto2™ podium after another impressive ride.
Marco Bezzecchi (Sky Racing Team VR46) took the holeshot after some shuffling off the line, with Lowes in second and Gardner third. Raul Fernandez was a little wide and had to settle for fourth, but the quartet in the lead immediately started to haul Kalex and make a gap back to the chasing pack led by Aron Canet (Solunion Aspar Team).
Heading onto Lap 4, the lead changed. Lowes tucked in behind Bezzecchi on the straight and made a Turn 1 move stick, and the Brit put the pedal to the metal to move half a second clear. But Gardner, seeing Lowes getting into his groove, started making moves too and just about scraped past Fernandez after losing out to his teammate.
Bezzecchi soon went from P2 to P4 as both Red Bull KTM Ajos drafted the Italian and set their sights on Lowes, who wasn’t pulling any further clear. Soon enough, Gardner was hounding the Brit, and Raul Fernandez and Bezzecchi were just waiting in the wings…
By Lap 13, Lowes was asking questions of Gardner, although Raul Fernandez was still sticking with the two elder Moto2™ statesmen. Bezzecchi was losing touch though, the Italian 1.5 seconds back from Raul Fernandez. With six to go, it looked like it was Lowes vs Red Bull KTM Ajo for victory under the lights.
The fastest lap of the race, a 1:59.131, was then set by Gardner as the race entered the final five laps. 0.7s split the trio, of which only 0.2s sat between Lowes and Gardner. The Qatar race winner looked to have the edge in the opening half of the lap, the Qatar GP runner-up looked quicker in the latter. But there was still no change though with three laps to go as a trio of 1:59.1s for Gardner still wasn’t enough. Raul Fernandez was clinging on, but the Spaniard was 0.7s away from his teammate’s tailpipes as the leaders swept over the line.
Lowes responded to Gardner’s pressure, but the Australian always seemed to find an answer in return. Heading into the latter half of the last lap, it was now or never and Gardner was right up behind Lowes. Coming out of Turn 14, they were closer than ever. The number 87 looked tempted as he looked down the inside, but no move came there or just after and it was down to the final corner and drag to the line. Lowes braked late into Turn 16, Gardner tried to get on the gas early but the number 22 got the power down. The Brit took the chequered flag 0.190s ahead after a classic game of chess, and both riders set their best laps on the last lap… Gardner’s the fastest of the race.
Raul Fernandez lost touch in the end but it was nevertheless a phenomenal ride from the rookie to claim his maiden Moto2™ podium, turning promise last weekend to an even bigger delivery of results this time out. Bezzecchi eventually had a lonely ride home to P4 and a podium evades one of the pre-season favourites, but the Italian has never loved Doha.
Behind that leading quartet, rookie Ai Ogura (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) put in a stunner as he shot up the timesheets second time out in Moto2™. Battling with the best of them, the Japanese rider just beat Augusto Fernandez (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team) to fifth place and will now have his sights set on even more in Portimao. Augusto Fernandez, after a tougher start to the year, will also be happier with a top six.
Yet another rookie in the form of Celestino Vietti (Sky Racing Team VR46) picked up a second consecutive point-scoring ride, taking an impressive P7. Stefano Manzi (Flexbox HP40) was just 0.029s behind his fellow VR46 Academy member in P8, with Xavi Vierge (Petronas Sprinta Racing) picking up a P9 from P19 on the grid. He beats 10th place Fabio Di Giannantonio (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) by six tenths as Diggia faded after an initial charge.
Rookie Tony Arbolino (Liqui Moly Intact GP) was 11th for his first Moto2™ points, and the Italian led Bo Bendsneyder (Pertamina Mandalika SAG Team), Jorge Navarro (MB Conveyors Speed Up), Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Italtrans Racing Team) and reigning Moto3™ World Champion Albert Arenas (Solunion Aspar Team) over the line as they completed the points.
Cameron Beaubier (American Racing), Tom Lüthi (Pertamina Mandalika SAG Team) and Aron Canet crashed out on their own, with Jake Dixon (Petronas Sprinta Racing) and Marcel Schrötter (Liqui Moly Intact GP) crashing out together at the final corner. Joe Roberts (Italtrans Racing Team) also crashed out from the battle behind the top four.
So it’s a maximum of 50 points for Lowes at Losail, the perfect start to 2021. But Gardner is just 10 points behind him in the standings after two P2 and next, we’re heading for Portimao – scene of Gardner’s first Grand Prix victory in 2020…
- Sam Lowes – Elf Marc VDS Racing Team – Kalex – 39:52.702
- Remy Gardner – Red Bull KTM Ajo – Kalex – +0.190
- Raul Fernandez – Red Bull KTM Ajo – Kalex – +3.371
Sam Lowes: “It was nice, after the crash in Warm Up, again… the pace was great, the first couple of laps when I was behind it felt really easy in Sector 3 to follow because of the wind, it was easy to stay behind but when I got to the front it was hard to pull away because of the wind. I just tried to stay consistent and save a bit of tyre for the end of the race. The last 3 or 4 laps I pushed and and my pace was real fast, I think Remy got the best lap on the last lap but I got it first and him by trying to beat me! Overall I’m very happy, we’ve done a great job these weeks in Qatar, everyone caught up in the second weekend, which is normal. They’re very talented these guys so when you have a margin after a few weeks it gets smaller and smaller. But mentally for me it was a great race to lead like that and I can go to Portimao with good feeling.”
Moto3™: Pitlane to top step: Pedro Acosta has arrived
A podium on debut is impressive. A win from pitlane second time out? That’s a Moto3™ first, and an imperious way to announce your credentials…
From pitlane to the top step had never been done before in Moto3™, but it has now. A stunning ride from rookie – yes, rookie – Pedro Acosta (Red Bull KTM Ajo) saw the Spaniard put in the work from pitlane reeling in the freight train, fight his way through it and then pull the pin on the final two laps to just escape the clutches of Darryn Binder (Petronas Sprinta Racing) and take his first ever win in imperious style. In the wake of the breakaway, Niccolo Antonelli (Avintia Esponsorama Moto3) won the war for third as the Italian got back on the box for the first time since his win at Jerez in 2019.
Initially it was Gabriel Rodrigo (Indonesian Racing Gresini Moto3) off out front, but Binder struck quick to take the lead on Lap 1, somewhere the South African is becoming more and more comfortable. It was a huge freight train, however, with Acosta 10 seconds off the lead as the seven riders in pitlane got out on track and the melee only just beginning. Tatsuki Suzuki (SIC58 Squadra Corse) led next, with Kaito Toba (CIP Green Power) getting in the mix alongside Andrea Migno (Rivacold Snipers Team), teammate Filip Salač and Qatar GP winner Jaume Masia (Red Bull KTM Ajo).
The first drama then hit for John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing) not long after as the Scot got contact from rookie Izan Guevara (GASGAS Gaviota Aspar Team), but he got back into the freight train although outside the points.
On Acosta watch, the Spaniard was doing the majority of the legwork to catch the leaders, followed by fellow pitlane starters Sergio Garcia (GASGAS Gaviota Aspar Team) and Romano Fenati (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team) as the three took huge chunks out of the gap in between themselves and the huge group at the front. It was clear they’d make it, but when?
The answer was: seven laps to go. Acosta arrived and immediately began to conquer too, making short work of the first few riders as he sliced his way into the top ten. And from there, he only pushed forward. By three to go, he’d cracked the top five, and over the line to start the last lap the number 37 had muscled his way into the lead. Could he hold it? He could.
Pulling the pin and pushing to the limit, the rookie sensation kept his head as the Jaws music intensified from Binder; the South African gaining and gaining round that final lap. Over the line there was almost nothing it in, but history was made: the first ever Moto3™ winner from pitlane. If last week’s debut podium was impressive, the word for this week’s debut win is a few miles further into superlatives.
For Binder, second is a solid results as he retains his 100% podium record this season, the South African looking unflappable and like a serious contender. Behind him, Antonelli fought through on the final lap too, going from sixth to third as he pipped Migno, Toba and Izan Guevara.
There was then a small gap back behind the rookie number 28, with some serious drama ricocheting for key frontrunners: Jeremy Alcoba (Indonesian Racing Gresini Moto3) got it all wrong at Turn 1 and hit Binder, although the South African escaped, but Alcoba’s optimistic move then saw him swipe out McPhee on the way to the gravel. Riders ok, moods very much not and the ensuing scuffle earning both pitlane start and time penalties for Portugal, as well as a fine each.
Ayumu Sasaki (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) got some redemption after a difficult qualifying as he took seventh at the head of the next group, the Japanese rider impressing despite what was deemed a racing incident with Salač that saw the Czech rider crash out. Ryusei Yamanaka (CarXpert PrüstelGP) took eighth and was only hundredths off Sasaki, losing out to his compatriot at the line but taking his best GP finish by some margin. Almost equally close came the man in ninth, Masia, after some drama saw the Spaniard tangle with Rodrigo and both get sent wide.
A tenth behind Masia came Fenati as the veteran turned pitlane into a top ten, just getting the better of another solid performance from Jason Dupasquier (CarXpert PrüstelGP). Tatsuki Suzuki got pushed down to P12 in the end, wheading another group. Rodrigo was only a single thousandth back in P13, with Maximilian Kofler (CIP Green Power) and Yuki Kunii (Honda Team Asia) completing the points by tiny margins too.
That’s a wrap on the lightweight class at Losail. A dramatic, tumultuous rollercoaster for the majority, it was another incredible show and there’s one man in the spotlight as we head for Portugal: Pedro Acosta. And remember… now we’re heading to tracks he knows…
- Pedro Acosta – Red Bull KTM Ajo – KTM – 38:22.430
- Darryn Binder – Petronas Sprinta Racing – Honda – +0.039
- Niccolo Antonelli – Avtintia Esponsorama Moto3 – KTM – +0.482
Pedro Acosta: “I don’t know how I did it! When you work with the best guys, you can do this. The work is easy, and yesterday I felt a bit dark after the penalty but this morning I got up and I told my assistant, ‘mate, we can do it. On Lap 10 more or less I can be in the group’. And I’m here! I can only thank my family, my assistant and my trainer, and my team, because without everyone I couldn’t be here!”