Mighty Maverick Lights Up Losail

Yamaha’s new signing for 2017, Maverick Vinales, takes the glory in Qatar after a breathtaking race long duel.

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Starting front row: Pole – Maverick Vinales (Yamaha), P2 – Andrea Iannone (Suzuki, P3 – Marc Marquez (Honda)

A spot of drizzle just moments before the scheduled race start caused panic from race organisers, threatened to deny fans the chance of seeing the world’s fastest riders compete in the season opener. After more than half an hour of delays, and a reduced race distance, the 2017 season finally began.

As the red lights went out, it was Suzuki’s Andrea Iannone who initially got the best launch off the line, timing the clutch release with application of the throttle to perfection to accelerate past the pole sitter. However, his lead did not last long as debutant, and Rookie Johann Zarco, muscled his way into the lead on his satellite Tech-3 bike.

The pace was fierce from the start and an early leading group (Zarco, Marquez, Iannone, Andrea Dovizioso and Vinales) was formed as the 23-bike field quickly splintered. Zarco’s surprise lead however would not last long as, on lap 7, his machine’s front wheel folded under him as he approached turn 3. He was the first of a number of riders to suffer a similar fate. Most notably was Britain’s Cal Crutchlow, who followed suit at the very same corner on the following lap.

Zarco’s misfortune meant that Dovizioso (Ducati) inherited the lead. A complete missile down the 1 kilometre front straight, the bike wore down it’s tyres through the corners significantly more than his rivals. As such, it left the Italian in the midst of a race long duel for the victory with Yamaha’s Vinales.

It could well have also involved Suzuki’s Iannone, and for a while ‘The Maniac’ looked comfortable dicing with the other two riders. However, heading into the final corner on Lap 10, the Suzuki ran across one of the painted lines with his front wheel, and as soon as the rider turned in, the bike immediately gave way underneath. A familiar story, as the same occurred last year, when Iannone was part of the Ducati stable. On the one hand disappointment, but on the other there will be some contentment knowing he has a very competitive machine for the season.

In the end, Dovizioso’s tyres could not hold up to the relentless pace which the race demanded, and finally Vinales found a way to force his M1-Yamaha into the lead. The two swapped back and forth until at last, the young Spaniard pulled out a gap large enough to neutralise the Ducati’s straight line power. He had to do it the hard way, but there can be no denying that the better man took the victory. What better way to start the season with a new team?

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Andrea Dovizioso demonstrated how competitive this year’s Ducati really is.

Behind the leaders, it was the veteran Valentino Rossi who secured the final spot on the podium. The nine-times world champion had endured a difficult series of practice sessions, barely making it to the fourth row of the grid. However, he’s always been a very different beast come race day, and amidst the carnage of riders falling around him – even taking a clout from Crutchlow, to dislodge his bike camera – Rossi rode to a solid third place. A timely reminder to everyone that there’s still life in the old dog yet.

Aleix Espargaro of Aprilia will arguably be at least as delighted (if not more so) than Vinales, by finishing in P6. Italy’s ‘second team’ firmly shrugged off the unwanted tagline of a test-team, by regularly challenging for minor points last season. However, this was the team’s best finish to date by a considerable margin. Were it not for severe graining issues on the tyres in the latter stages of the race, it would have been P5. Such a positive start will surely inspire the team onto better things as the season develops.

Lastly, there was the matter of the independents’ winner to sort out. With Zarco having crashed out, the spoils – and honourary fourth podium position – went to Britain’s Scott Redding (Pramac-Ducati) as he fought off Australia’s Jack Miller in the closing stages to finish in P7 and best of the satellite riders.

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Aleix Espargaro greatly impressing on his maiden race for Aprilia

A word to finish with, for newcomers to the grid, KTM. The Austrian outfit completed a very solid weekend of running, with both riders (Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith) voicing more and more confidence as each session passed. Although neither rider could finish in the points, neither was the gap to the midfield – Espargaro finishing just six seconds behind last point-scorer Tito Rabat. This season, the team are free to develop their bike as often as they wish (minus the standard issue ECUs). Points finishes are targets that will come later in the season. But we can all rest tonight in the knowledge that this team hasn’t joined to just make up the numbers.

Race Result: 1st – Maverick Vinales (Yamaha), 2nd – Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati), 3rd – Valentino Rossi (Yamaha

Full results can be found at: http://www.motogp.com/en/Results+Statistics/2017/QAT/MotoGP/RAC

The next round of the 2017 MotoGP World Championship is at the Termas de Rio Hondo Circuit, Argentina (7-9th April)

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