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Viñales battles through to victory as 2021 begins in style

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Top Gun shoots first in the desert as Zarco and Bagnaia fight off Mir at the final corner

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We wanted fireworks, and we got them. The first race of the 2021 FIM MotoGP™ World Championship was a cracker at the Barwa Grand Prix of Qatar as Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP’s Maverick Viñales unleashed a stunning race to claim victory. The number 12 climbed his way through the pack to eventually beat second place Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) by just over a second, with the Frenchman and Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) then pipping reigning World Champion Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) on the run to the line to complete the podium on the opening night.

The start of the race was something to behold for Ducati. Bagnaia, Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team), Zarco and Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing) – the latter from 14th on the grid – all propelled themselves to the front as Ducati once again proved themselves holeshot heroes, with Martin’s launch especially making some serious headlines as the rookie joined his fellow GP21 riders inside the top four. Fabio Quartararo and Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP teammate Viñales got a little swamped off the line, forced to tuck in behind the Borgo Panigale invasion at the front.

Bagnaia had held on in the lead ahead of Miller, Zarco and Martin, before Zarco then slipstreamed Miller down the home straight and grabbed P2 off the Australian. After sluggish starts, the two factory Yamahas were regrouping though and soon found their way past high-flying rookie Martin on Lap 3. Just behind, Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT) was scrapping away with Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and World Champion Mir, the GSX-RR duo getting past The Doctor and starting to hound Martin.

Up top, the leading five were line astern. Quartararo and Viñales were attached to the back of Miller, good news for two Yamahas, as Pecco kept it steady in the lead. Quartararo wasn’t messing around, however, and El Diablo dived up the inside of Miller at Turn 15. The Ducati blasted by on the straight again but sensational work on the brakes allowed the Yamaha man to take and hold P3.

A couple of laps later, Viñales decided to pounce on Miller too. Turn 10 was the Spaniard’s chosen point and Miller then found himself down in P5 – was he struggling, or playing the long game? Meanwhile, In free air, Rins was reeling in the leaders and was soon right up behind Miller as well. Viñales was the man starting to look impatient though, right up behind Quartararo...

The lead group, covered by 1.4 seconds, was over two seconds up the road from seventh place Mir and by 12 laps to go, Viñales was up into P3 and immediately bridged the few tenths gap to Zarco. And with 11 to go, Viñales dived up the inside of the Pramac Racing rider for P2 and showed a wheel to race leader Bagnaia, most definitely meaning business. Just behind, Rins had also got the better of Quartararo and as the race entered the halfway stage, Mir and Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) were now tagged onto the back of the number 20 Yamaha too.

Viñales and Yamaha’s strengths in the middle of the corners were clear to see, and Turn 10 was once more was the chosen passing place for Top Gun. For the first time, the race leader wasn’t Pecco as Viñales struck on Lap 15, but the top eight riders were still covered by just 2.3 seconds. With Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) in P9 just 3.5 seconds from the lead as well, could the number 12 Yamaha pull away from the group?

It was a half second lead with six to go, as behind Zarco drafted Bagnaia for P2 into Turn 1 and Mir passed Miller to grab fifth. With five laps to go though, Viñales and Zarco were starting to break clear and Top Gun had eked out the lead to a 0.7 second advantage as Zarco, in turn, held a second over Bagnaia. Behind the latter, Mir was now ahead of teammate Rins for P4 as well. But Viñales was checking out and the gap seemed to shoot out to 1.6 seconds not long after, leaving the podium fight in the dust. Battle mode: engaged.

The podium scrap, meanwhile, was in full flow. Mir, at Turn 6, stuck his Suzuki up the inside of Bagnaia’s Ducati and suddenly, it seemed second place Zarco was under threat as well. As the last lap dawned, Mir was desperately trying to find a way past the number 5 but the Suzuki rider had to be patient. The move came though as the reigning Champion struck at the penultimate corner, leaving just one more apex and a run to the line standing between Mir and a phenomenal podium. The two Ducatis were about to prove just how quick they were in a straight line though, and as the Suzuki went ever so slightly wide at the final corner, Zarco and Bagnaia unleashed their grunt towards the flag – and just, just pipped Mir to the rostrum.

Viñales had already crossed the line well ahead of the squabble to start 2021 in style, however, winning at Losail for the second time and in a different manner to his 2017 victory. Zarco took second as top Independent and top Ducati, with Bagnaia debuting in full factory red on the podium in third and Mir just missing out.

Quartararo crossed the line three seconds behind his teammate in P5 as the Frenchman got the better of Rins by just three tenths, and two and a half seconds further down the road, Aleix Espargaro put Aprilia right in the battle with a fantastic P7. Aleix also beat younger brother Pol by just 0.056s as the latter put in an impressive debut with the Repsol Honda Team.

Miller, meanwhile, was forced to settle for ninth. The number 43 slid backwards in the latter stages and crossed the line back from where he would have wanted, looking to bounce back next weekend. Top rookie honours went the way of reigning Moto2™ World Champion Enea Bastianini (Esponsorama Racing) in tenth as just nine seconds split the Italian from the race win and he debuted in the top ten.

Stefan Bradl (Repsol Honda Team) did another top job standing in for Marc Marquez, the German finished P11 and leading 12th place Rossi across the line. Not the race The Doctor will have been looking for from P4 on the grid as he and teammate Franco Morbidelli suffered a very difficult evening – the latter finishing outside the points in P18 after an issue throughout. Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) was the leading KTM rider in P13, with teammate Brad Binder and fast-starting Martin picking up the remaining points on offer in P14 and P15.

That's it from a stunning start to the season. Viñales was an unstoppable force in the desert for a second time and Zarco and Bagnaia ensure Ducati have something to shout about on a favoured stomping ground. Mir proved exactly why he and Suzuki are reigning Champions with a classy Sunday ride, and there are stories everywhere you look. Round 1 is now in the history books, and Round 2 right here at Losail is just around the corner!

MotoGP™ podium

Maverick Viñales Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP - Yamaha - 42:28.663
Johann Zarco* Pramac Racing - Ducati - +1.092
Francesco Bagnaia Ducati Lenovo Team - Ducati - +1.129

*Independent Team rider

MotoGP™ podium L-R: Zarco, Viñales and Bagnaia

Maverick Viñales: "Honestly I felt unbelievable. Actually the start didn't go so well, I had a lot of wheelie. So it's something we need to work on. But after that I felt the potential, I was taking everything with calm and saving the tyres for a good moment. I tried to be smart and calm, and chose the right place to push. Finally I opened a gap and I was trying to control the tyre and manage the power. Overall, so good. It was a fantastic weekend, just to say thank you to my really close family, now my wife... as you know we're expecting a baby and you know, these results are amazing, everything is good and we're really blessed. Just thank you."

Zarco was on the podium and both top Ducati and top Independent Team rider 
Viñales takes his second win in Qatar
High fives all round heading to parc ferme
Bagnaia bagged a first podium of the season and his first with the factory team
MotoGP™ thanked Qatar for their support and collaboration ahead of the first race of the year
 
Lowes pulls the pin for faultless first win of 2021
The Brit pitches it to perfection to start the year on top, with Gardner on the chase and Diggia digging deep for third

Sam Lowes (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team) became the first British rider to win an opening round Grand Prix since the great Barry Sheene in 1979 after producing a faultless ride at the Barwa Grand Prix of Qatar. The polesitter kept a hard-charging Remy Gardner (Red Bull KTM Ajo) at bay as the Australian takes P2 from Round 1, with Fabio Di Giannantonio (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) coming out on top in a last lap duel with Marco Bezzecchi (SKY Racing Team VR46) to hand Gresini Racing an emotional podium.

A lightning start from Row 2 saw Bezzecchi grab the holeshot, with both Lowes and Raul Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo) slow from P1 and P2 as third place Bo Bendsneyder (Pertamina Mandalika SAG Team) slotted into P2. Lowes soon got past a wide Fernandez at Turn 1 to recover to P3, and the Brit then made light work of Bendsneyder at Turn 6. Fellow Brit Jake Dixon (Petronas Sprinta Racing) was also on the move, up into P5 from P10 on the grid.

Lap 2 saw Raul Fernandez also pass Bendsneyder for third place as the leading eight riders locked horns. Lowes then showed a wheel to Bezzecchi at Turn 6, and by Turn 1 on Lap 3, the British rider was through and leading. Seventh place Gardner set the fastest lap of the race though, with the Australian fighting hard to move through and give chase. Raul Fernandez was also swarming all over the back of Bezzecchi, and making a Turn 1 move stick on Lap 4.

Fernandez’s teammate Gardner, though, was the man on the move. The Australian slipped by Dixon for P4 but a small error then saw Gardner lose the time he’d made up, he was back down to P5. Sixth place Di Giannantonio was then wide at the final corner, and the Italian slipped to P8 as Lowes set the fastest lap of the race.

Fernandez was soon back to within a couple of tenths of the race leader though, Lowes making a mistake somewhere to allow the rookie to close him in. Meanwhile, a regrouped Gardner was now back ahead of Dixon and set the fastest lap of the race again, with Bezzecchi soon enjoying the number 87 for close company. With 13 to go, Gardner struck at Turn 4 and made a move stick on Bezzecchi.

With 12 to go, Fernandez was losing touch on Lowes and Gardner sensed it. The latter was through on his teammate and now had 1.2 seconds to bridge if he wanted to win his second Moto2™ race in succession, but Lowes had something in hand and set the fastest lap of the Grand Prix – a 1:59.529 – to keep his margin comfortable if not yet dominant.

A few laps passed by with stalemate, and the gap remained at just under one and a half seconds between the leading duo. Raul Fernandez continued to keep his teammate honest too, with Bezzecchi sitting 1.2 seconds behind the young Spaniard as Di Giannantonio, Joe Roberts (Italtrans Racing Team) and Dixon squabbled right behind the podium fight.

Gardner, on Lap 13, set the fastest lap of the race, but Lowes set his personal best too and on the next lap, the race leader was three tenths quicker. Pin pulled, the gap was up to 1.6 seconds and it would only increase in increments from there.

With three laps to go, it was two seconds and the top two seemed settled, but the battle for the podium was in full swing. Bezzecchi tucked in behind Raul Fernandez down the home straight and took third place away from the star rookie, with Di Giannantonio then on the scene and making it a six-wheel scrap for the podium. The Italian followed compatriot Bezzecchi through and locked his radar onto third...

Up the road, Lowes had a comfortable 2.2 second lead over Gardner and cruised to his first win of the year in style, with the Australian forced to settle for the 20 points but happy enough to do so this time. The final place on the podium was between the two Italians and Di Giannantonio sliced up the inside of Bezzecchi at Turn 11, a classy move pulled off, and Diggia held it on the drag to the line by 0.013s to hand himself and Gresini an emotional rostrum. The first for Gresini Racing in Moto2™ since Lowes in 2016 at the Aragon GP, and a fitting way to remember the late, great Fausto Gresini.

Bezzecchi lost out on a rostrum by the slimmest of margins but a P4 is a solid start to the year. Fernandez couldn’t hold onto a podium place in his first Moto2™ race but it was nevertheless a phenomenal ride from the Spaniard, who took fifth and beat Roberts by 0.6 seconds as the American put in a solid ride to pull out a couple of seconds on Dixon by the flag in sixth. The Brit forced to settle for seventh, ahead of Marcel Schrötter (Liqui Moly Intact GP) as the German eventually got the better of Bendsneyder. The German, Dutchman was followed home by Jorge Navarro (MB Conveyors Speed Up) as the two completed the top ten.

11th place went to Cameron Beaubier (American Racing) as the American produced a fantastic debut Moto2™ race in a heated battle for the remaining point-scoring positions. Fellow rookie Celestino Vietti (SKY Racing Team VR46) also impressed as he lost out by just 0.142s to Beaubier and took P12, with both getting the better of the more experienced Aron Canet (Inde Aspar Team), Augusto Fernandez (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team) and Tom Lüthi (Pertamina Mandalika SAG Team) – the latter trio completing the points.

Hector Garzo (Flexbox HP40), Lorenzo Baldassarri (MV Agusta Forward Racing) and Xavi Vierge (Petronas Sprinta Racing) crashed out, riders ok.

Lowes did the business after a Warm Up mishap and the British rider starts the year with a near-perfect performance. Gardner and the chasing pack will be hoping to make up ground when the riders attack Losail International Circuit again next weekend, so who will come out on top in Doha in seven days time?

Moto2™ podium:

Sam Lowes Elf Marc VDS Racing Team - Kalex - 40:03.123
Remy Gardner Red Bull KTM Ajo - Kalex - +2.260
Fabio Di Giannantonio Federal Oil Gresini Moto2 - Kalex - +5.228

Moto2™ podium L-R: Gardner, Lowes and Di Giannantonio

Sam Lowes: "I've worked for this race the last few months doing the runs in practice and then I got in that position and stuck to what I've been doing, so this was nice. The crash in morning Warm Up didn't really go to plan and this wind is strong, my style is a bit different to the other guys. I don't really lean off so much so I've got a lot of surface area in corner entry and I was trying to stay low and get out the wind but it was a difficult race to not make a mistake. My pace was strong, I'm proud of myself and the team to start the year like this, it was a tough last ten laps but I'm really happy and we get to do it all again next week."

 
Masia defeats Acosta and Binder in a classic Moto3™ melee
The first race of the year sees the podium split by less than a tenth as Moto3™ returns with a bang

Moto3™ opened the season in style at the Barwa Grand Prix of Qatar as Jaume Masia (Red Bull KTM Ajo) fought off rookie sensation teammate Pedro Acosta and Petronas Sprinta Racing's Darryn Binder for victory in the first race of the year, with less than a tenth covering the three over the line after a classic Moto3™ melee.

Off the line it was Binder who took the holeshot, with the number 40 getting the hammer down from pole position as a freight train immediately fired up behind him. There was early drama elsewhere on the grid for Romano Fenati (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team) though as the Italian jumped the start, and not long after that Dennis Foggia's (Leopard Racing) race came to an end at Turn 3 as the Italian had contact from Carlos Tatay (Avintia Esponsorama Moto3). Deniz Öncü (Red Bull KTM Tech3) then went down at Turn 6, but at the front the battle raged on.

Binder retained the lead but the insane slipstream effect was seen on the front straight as five riders shot past the South African before Turn 1, with Gabriel Rodrigo (Indonesian Racing Gresini Moto3) taking the lead in a gaggle of 10 riders. By Lap 3 there was more drama, however, as fast-starting rookie Xavier Artigas (Leopard Racing) overcooked it. After an incredible start it came to an early end and, unfortunately, three other riders fell foul of the Spaniard's mistake: John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing), Andrea Migno (Rivacold Snipers Team) and Jeremy Alcoba (Indonesian Racing Gresini Moto3). Artigas was given a double long lap penalty to serve next time out.

Despite that crash, there remained 14 riders covered by just two seconds and the lead, mostly on the run into Turn 1, was changing every single lap. Friday pacesetter Kaito Toba (CIP Green Power) was one of the riders up front as he and Binder had a nice little scrap on Lap 9, and rookie sensations Izan Guevara (GASGAS Gaviota Aspar) and Acosta were battling it out in the group alongside the likes of Masia, Sergio Garcia (GASGAS Gaviota Aspar), Rodrigo, Ayumu Sasaki (Red Bull KTM Tech3) and Tatsuki Suzuki (SIC58 Squadra Corse) – the latter, incredibly, from the very back of the grid.

With eight laps to go, Masia and Acosta were leading the way but the ever-present Binder was getting his elbows out. The South African and Rodrigo came into slight contact a couple of times but with seven to go, a potentially costly mistake from Rodrigo saw the Argentine run wide at Turn 2, with replays showing he rubbed wheels with Masia in a close call. He was soon back in the fight but had work to do.

Lap 13 then saw Binder return to P1 for the first time in a good handful of laps, but Masia bit back at Turn 6 on the same lap. Then, Acosta followed his teammate through to shove Binder back to P3. 13 riders, with six laps to go, were racing just 1.6 seconds apart. Sasaki was now leading heading into the last four laps but yet again, the slipstream effect was like shuffling the deck and Acosta was back up in P1, with teammate Masia tucked in behind.

By three to go, Sasaki, Binder and Masia was the top three but any one of 13 riders could still count themselves as in the fight for the win. Rodrigo was back up into fourth after his earlier error and Sasaki enjoyed a lap a the front, but the Japanese star was swamped at the end of the straight, shuffled to P7 and Masia back in front from Binder and Rodrigo.

Nearing the final lap, Niccolo Antonelli (Avintia Esponsorama Moto3) had shot up from the group to lead but it didn’t last for the experienced Italian and former Qatar winner. Masia slipstreamed back to lead into Turn 1 for the final lap, and drama then suddenly hit for a key contender as Sasaki’s race ended with a heart-breaking crash at Turn 2. After that, a gap formed between the leading three and the chasing pack, and it was seemingly Masia vs Acosta vs Binder for victory. And so it played out. Into the final corner the number 5 had just enough breathing space, but with Acosta and Binder so close behind it would come down to the run to the line.

Binder, slightly deep into the last corner, had a two-bike slipstream but Masia was able to keep both Acosta and Binder behind him to take the first 25 points of 2021. A brilliant ride from the Spaniard and an equally outstanding effort from reigning Red Bull Rookies Cup winner Acosta to take a maiden Grand Prix podium in his World Championship debut. Binder was satisfied with P3, a fantastic way to open his account with Petronas Sprinta Racing as the South African settles into life on a Honda.

Garcia claimed P4 after just losing touch with the podium battle on the final lap, but the Spaniard finished just 0.435s from the win. Rodrigo recovered well to salvage P5, ahead of Antonelli in a solid sixth. Guevara may have lost out in the battle of the rookies to Acosta this time around, but finishing under a second from victory in P7 was a terrific job by the current FIM Moto3™ Junior World Champion. Tatsuki Suzuki, who missed testing due to illness, took eighth to impress too - up from the very back.

Toba and Jason Dupasquier (CarXpert PrüstelGP) completed the top 10 as the latter picks up his best Grand Prix finish yet, with Romano Fenati recovering to P11. Tatay after a Long Lap for cauing a collision, Filip Salač (Rivacold Snipers Team), Ryusei Yamanaka (CarXpert PrüstelGP) and Maximilian Kofler (CIP Green Power) were the remaining point scorers in Qatar.

Drama, scintillating racing, and a ridiculously tight finish? Check. Moto3™ delivered at the Qatar GP as Red Bull KTM Ajo take home maximum points, with Masia the first victor of the season. The best thing? We get to do it all over again next weekend at Losail International Circuit!

Moto3™ podium

Jaume Masia Red Bull KTM Ajo - KTM - 38:29.620  
Pedro Acosta Red Bull KTM Ajo - KTM - +0.042   
Darryn Binder Petronas Sprinta Racing - Honda - +0.094

Moto3™ podium L-R: Guevara, Binder and McPhee

Jaume Masia: "I'm very happy for this win, we confirmed our potential and the work done in winter. It was not easy to manage this race, a lot of wind in the fast corners and when I exited first onto the straight I arrived at Turn 1 in fifth or sixth which was difficult. I kept my mind as calm as possible and tried to keep focused on the last laps and not make any mistakes. I did the last lap in first, I tried to push more and do a good clean lap without mistakes. In the end I didn't know 100% if I could cross the line first but finally I did and I want to thank my team and family for the support. We will see in the next races!"

 
MotoGP™ pays tribute to Fausto Gresini with a minute of silence at Losail

Ahead of the opening races of the 2021 season, the FIM MotoGP™ World Championship paddock gathered together to observe a minute's silence in honour of the late, great Fausto Gresini. The Italian sadly passed away before the start of the season and will be greatly missed.

Published : March 28, 2021