The first race of the 2019 MotoGP season was a dream come true for Andrea Dovizioso and a disaster for others like Jack Miller, Fabio Quartararo and Pecco Bagnaia. It was a five way battle to the final flag and nothing is ever guaranteed anymore in this sport with so many riders able to take victory. It was a frantic turn of events between the riders and it lasted for twenty laps of greatness. Mission Winnow Ducati rider Dovizioso was ecstatic to win the first event of the year and battled hard with Marquez like they did in 2018.
It was almost déjà vu for the red beast. Regardless of the win, there were protests by teams regarding the Ducati aerodynamic devices on the rear swing arm used by Dovi, Danilo Petrucci and Jack Miller. The FIM MotoGP Stewards panel deferred the case to the MotoGP Court of Appeals in order to attain more information and discuss the reasons put forward by teams including Aprilia Racing Team Gresini, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, Repsol Honda Team and Team Suzuki Ecstar. Qatar delivered the goods with the closest top fifteen in the premier class at a race, Marquez setting lap records in practice and the race finishing with an almighty bang.
DesmoDovi says it perfectly: “I'm super happy about this win, especially because after the tests I wouldn't have expected to be so fast. We stayed focused and we made progress in each session. Our strategy in the race was simply to preserve the tyre, and this made the difference, but it wasn't easy because I led for most of the race and I couldn't really study my opponents. Marquez gave it everything he could, as usual, and pushed me to the limit. We made the most of our strengths, that is, acceleration and top speed, but we still need to improve our corner speed. This year there are plenty of quick riders and it'll be crucial not to lose too many points on less favourable tracks. We need to keep our feet on the ground and continue working in this direction.” The idea of winning a World Championship is still burning brightly and Dovi is remaining calm. When the Italian rider is focused, not frazzled by others and consistent, he showcases pure speed, class and top notch results. Ducati is competitive and the rivals are already watching their bike set up, configurations and tyre selections very closely.
Ride of the weekend goes to Cal Crutchlow who at one stage thought maybe he was never going to walk properly ever again. His injury was major and his dedication to recovery something incredible. The horrific ankle break was only four months ago and he only walked on his foot for the first time in January. Honestly, if you think about the general human begin who works in an office or as a tradie, the idea of coming back after an injury like that is mentally draining. All credit is due to the LCR Honda Castrol rider.
Crutchlow: “It’s great to even be back racing in MotoGP, let alone come away with a podium finish, but my LCR Honda Castrol Team did a great job. We worked hard this weekend because the tests were a bit of a waste of time for me. This weekend has been difficult, and if you had asked me after warm-up if I’d finish on the podium I would have laughed! I played my cards in the race, I felt good and once we started the race myself and Marc Marquez had similar tactics - saving the rear tyre and managing things a little bit more. What a great start to the season for everybody, for my team, for the riders and the fans here in Qatar and for the people watching at home. It seems every race in MotoGP is always a battle and it was nice to be in it and race and get a podium. It’s a dream to be honest. At one point we didn’t know if I was going to be coming back at all.”
It was a race to leave behind in a way for Maverick Vinales who had pole position though failed to convert on race day. The Spaniard dropped from first to sixth and then eight in the first few corners and never fully recovered after that with a lack of rhythm definitely adding pressure. His result of seventh place was not ideal considering his performance in the previous sessions and Valentino Rossi also beating him as the top Yamaha rider. Vinales: “At the start I got a lot of wheelie, I couldn't keep the gas fully open and I missed the inside a little bit, so I couldn't keep a good line. Obviously, we have to improve the bike. When I'm alone I can do really good lap times, even in the middle of the race I could ride 1'55s-lows on my own, but as soon as I'm behind another rider I suffer this lack of grip on the rear, and I couldn't attack and overtake. We have to improve, and so do I. We need to keep working. The positive point is that we now know where we have to improve, and this is very important.” It is interesting to analyse Vinales because on Thursday and Friday he was talking about being a changed rider and it appears that the issues which have presented themselves before are still coming up and causing him grief. The hard work is far from over.
On the other side of the garage, Rossi had struggled to maintain his top ten results all weekend and pulled a rabbit out of a hat. Finishing in fifth was a strong result in comparison to his pre-season testing. Rossi: “We worked hard from yesterday to today, we modified the setting of the bike, also for the race we made some other adjustments. We worked well and I'm happy, it was a good race. I felt good with the bike today and I also enjoyed coming from the back, so it's not so bad. I arrived in fifth, that's good, especially because I'm 0.6s from the victory, but at this track we are always good. We have to keep working because in some other places maybe we'll have more problems, but we'll take this result. I tried to get on the podium, but I was not strong enough.”
Australian rider Jack Miller was on the way to a podium when his bike let him down. Miller was strong from the start and hungrier than ever to prove his worth in amongst the differing manufacturers. On lap three it went pear shaped. The Alma Pramac Ducati MotoGP rider suffered a problem with the seats sponge causing him to rip it out and throw it behind him on track. Miller did everything in his power to recover although it was too difficult with his front tyre shredding to pieces. Miller: “It’s a real shame because we went very fast through the whole weekend and I was convinced that I could stay with the leading group until the end. Unfortunately, after the problem with the seat, I couldn’t control the bike in the corners and it was impossible to keep on. All things considered, the feeling is still positive and I can’t wait to be in Argentina”.
Fellow Repsol Honda rider Jorge Lorenzo was battered and bruised from a high side the other day during practice. He did well to bag some points on his debut though was suffering from lingering back and shoulder pain. As athletes, you do everything in your power to remain 100% fit and fully focused. With that said, shots of pain at in excess of 60o angle and 300km/h definitely push you to the limit physically. Lorenzo showed progress and promising race pace so it will be exciting to see him progress once his fitness levels are back to normal. Lorenzo: “There are many positive things today even if where we finished is not what we thought we could achieve. I was very limited by the crash yesterday, it was a very big impact everywhere and especially on my shoulder. It limited everything. From then, I was always slower than at the start of the weekend. I had some problems in the opening laps and lost about three or four seconds there. Without doubt we have much more potential and if we’re not unlucky we can be stronger.”
Under the floodlights of Qatar, we had certain riders excel and others shatter under the pressure. Fabio Quartararo made a mistake on the grid which resulted in him stalling his bike and having to start from pit lane. It was a solid ride from the French rider even with the error.
In contrast, Joan Mir from Team Suzuki Ecstar did well on his debut following in the footstep of Alex Rins who is strong. Both riders represented their team will considering the fact that their advantage concessions were cut due to high results in 2018.
Fourth and eighth are clear reminders that these youngsters are here to stay and push the fellow grid with all they have in their engines and minds. Argentina is up next! In the meantime, the riders will be resting, recovering and roaring to go at a circuit which always brings thrills and spills.