Viñales upsets the Ducatis in Qatar

Maverick Viñales at Losail. Picture: Yamaha Factory Racing

Yamaha’s Maverick Viñales has taken a surprise victory in the MotoGP season-opener in Qatar as Ducati had to work hard just for podium finishes.

The factory Ducati Lenovo Team looked like missing the top three entirely until Suzuki’s Joan Mir, the 2020 champion, was lured into an error at the final corner.

It allowed Pramac Racing’s Johann Zarco to reclaim second and works counterpart Francesco Bagnaia to also blaze past on the drag to the line, consigning Mir to fourth after he had done so much from 10th on the starting grid.

Fabio Quartararo finished fifth on the second of the Monster Energy Yamaha entries, one position up on Alex Rins (Suzuki Ecstar), while Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo) slumped all the way to ninth by the time the chequered flag came after 22 laps.

It had started so much better for Ducati with Bagnaia leading the field away, Miller and Zarco taking up second and third respectively from the second row, and rookie Jorge Martin launching from 14th to fourth on the other Pramac bike.

Aprilia Gresini’s Aleix Espargaro was best of the rest but quickly lost fifth position to Quartararo, at Turn 10, then gifted another to Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha) when he ran wide later in the lap.

Zarco passed Miller at the end of the standing lap as Bagnaia led by six tenths of a second, before both of the factory Yamahas went underneath Martin on Lap 3.

The factory Suzukis, meanwhile, were gradually creeping up as Rins took advantage of a Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT) error to move into seventh on Lap 3 and Mir passed ‘The Doctor’ on the next tour.

Bagnaia briefly got over a second to the good, on Lap 5, before Zarco turned the tide, while Miller lost third to Quartararo on Lap 6 and then fourth to Viñales on Lap 8.

Martin was, by then, out of the way of the Suzukis and on Lap 10 it was Rins pulling off the same move on Miller that Quartararo did, down the inside at Turn 15, although the Australian was able to prise it back almost immediately on that occasion.

Viñales passed Quartararo on Lap 11 at Turn 1, at which time he was about 0.4s adrift of Zarco, and wasted little time catching up to #5.

Miller went from apparent tyre conservation to pushing again, passing Quartararo down the main straight as they started Lap 12.

Viñales picked off Zarco 10 corners later and was unquestionably on the attack as he hounded Bagnaia.

Meanwhile, Rins passed Quartararo through Turn 12 on Lap 12 and went down the inside of Miller at Turn 15 on Lap 14.

Despite a headwind seemingly diminishing Ducati’s straight line advantage, Miller used Desmosedici power to quickly get back ahead of #42, but for less than half a lap.

Viñales exploited the agility of the YZR-M1 to become the new race leader at Turn 10 on Lap 15 as Miller began to lose touch with the top four.

The Queenslander had lost fifth when Mir, who had recently gone by Quartararo, went underneath #43 on Lap 16 at Turn 15.

Zarco put a move on Bagnaia on Lap 17, at Turn 1, but Viñales made sure that the Frenchman was not a threat as he stretched the margin to as much as 1.8s on Lap 20.

As that was going on, Mir passed team-mate Rins for fourth on Lap 18, Miller ceded seventh to Aleix Espargaro on Lap 19, Quartararo passed Rins for fifth on Lap 20, and Repsol Honda’s Pol Espargaro got eighth from Miller on Lap 20.

Mir had also put a block pass on Bagnaia at Turn 6 on Lap 20, meaning there would be no factory Ducati even on the podium as it stood.

He looked to have rubbed further salt into the wounds when he slipped past Zarco at the second-last corner of the race (Turn 15) but, perhaps pushing too hard due to the threat which the ‘Bologna bullets’ still posed on the straight, ran wide at the very last corner.

It meant #36 was easy meat for the final run to the finish line as a gallant second became a still reasonable salvage job of fourth position.

For Viñales, the unlikely win gives him a five-point margin atop the championship standings, over Zarco.

Behind Bagnaia, Mir, Quartararo, and Rins, Aleix Espargaro ended up seventh, ahead of brother Pol Espargaro, Miller, and top rookie Enea Bastianini (Esponsorama Ducati).

Stefan Bradl was 11th on the second Repsol Honda and Rossi finished 12th, having faded early before losing a handful of positions mid-race when Brad Binder put an aggressive move on #46.

Binder took 14th, one spot behind Red Bull KTM team-mate Miguel Oliveira, with Martin last of those in the points, and Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) only 18th.

LCR lost both Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol) and Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) to crashes, with Danilo Petrucci the other non-finisher having gone down on his Tech3 KTM on the first lap.

Round 2, the Doha Grand Prix, also takes place at Losail, next weekend (April 2-4, local time).

Race results: Qatar MotoGP

Pos Num Rider Nat Team Bike Time/Gap
1 12 Maverick VIÑALES ESP Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP Yamaha 42:28.663
2 5 Johann ZARCO FRA Pramac Racing Ducati +1.092
3 63 Francesco BAGNAIA ITA Ducati Lenovo Team Ducati +1.129
4 36 Joan MIR ESP Team SUZUKI ECSTAR Suzuki +1.222
5 20 Fabio QUARTARARO FRA Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP Yamaha +3.030
6 42 Alex RINS ESP Team SUZUKI ECSTAR Suzuki +3.357
7 41 Aleix ESPARGARO ESP Aprilia Racing Team Gresini Aprilia +5.934
8 44 Pol ESPARGARO ESP Repsol Honda Team Honda +5.990
9 43 Jack MILLER AUS Ducati Lenovo Team Ducati +7.058
10 23 Enea BASTIANINI ITA Esponsorama Racing Ducati +9.288
11 6 Stefan BRADL GER Repsol Honda Team Honda +10.299
12 46 Valentino ROSSI ITA Petronas Yamaha SRT Yamaha +10.742
13 88 Miguel OLIVEIRA POR Red Bull KTM Factory Racing KTM +11.457
14 33 Brad BINDER RSA Red Bull KTM Factory Racing KTM +14.100
15 89 Jorge MARTIN ESP Pramac Racing Ducati +16.422
16 10 Luca MARINI ITA SKY VR46 Esponsorama Ducati +20.916
17 27 Iker LECUONA ESP Tech 3 KTM Factory Racing KTM +21.026
18 21 Franco MORBIDELLI ITA Petronas Yamaha SRT Yamaha +23.892
19 32 Lorenzo SAVADORI ITA Aprilia Racing Team Gresini Aprilia +46.346
DNF 73 Alex MARQUEZ ESP LCR Honda CASTROL Honda 9 Laps
DNF 30 Takaaki NAKAGAMI JPN LCR Honda IDEMITSU Honda 16 Laps
DNF 9 Danilo PETRUCCI ITA Tech 3 KTM Factory Racing KTM 0 lap

Race winner: 22 laps

Championship points

Pos Rider Nat Pts
1 Maverick VIÑALES ESP 25
2 Johann ZARCO FRA 20
3 Francesco BAGNAIA ITA 16
4 Joan MIR ESP 13
6 Alex RINS ESP 10
11 Stefan BRADL GER 5
12 Valentino ROSSI ITA 4
13 Miguel OLIVEIRA POR 3
14 Brad BINDER RSA 2
15 Jorge MARTIN ESP 1

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