Dominant victory for Jorge Lorenzo under the Qatar floodlights

MotoGP 2016 - Round One
MotoGP 2016 – Round One

With new Michelin tyres and new unified electronics, the Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar was set to not only start a new season of the MotoGP World Championship, but also begin a new era. Testing had given fans a preview of who was fast and what bikes were working well, but few had any idea what would happen as the lights went out on the first race of the 2016 season.

Qualifying saw incredibly tight times, all of the top 12 riders within a second and the front row divided by under a tenth of a second. All signs pointed to it being a stunning race, Jorge Lorenzo (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) lining up in pole position for the 62nd time in his Grand Prix career as he aims for back-to-back premier class titles for the first time.

Just behind Lorenzo on the grid was Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), the factory Honda rider having to push harder than ever to overcome several of Honda’s issues, adopting an even more wild riding style. Completing the front row was rising star Maverick Viñales (Team Suzuki Ecstar), the young Spaniard aiming to return Suzuki to the podium for the first time since 2008. Meanwhile, Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) started in fifth, he and Lorenzo having exchanged words in the press after an incident in FP4. The scene was set for an explosive start to the season.

As the lights went out it was Lorenzo who roared into the first corner ahead of Andrea Iannone (Ducati Team) and Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team). It was a poor start for Marquez who dropped back outside the top five. After the opening corners, Lorenzo led with Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) behind, the Desmosedici GP again starting well in Qatar. Meanwhile Rossi looked on in fourth.

The top end speed of the Ducati proved a force to be reckoned with as both Iannone and Dovizioso blasted past Lorenzo on the straight, dropping the World Champion to third as they ended the first lap. At the back of the leading trio Rossi stayed just ahead of Marquez as all five began to settle into their rhythms.

It was Andrea Iannone who led across the line at the end of the lap, both he and Dovizioso able to open up a lead of several tenths over the pursuing Yamaha pair. Meanwhile Pedrosa and Viñales, sixth and seventh, attempted to close the gap. At Turn 6 on lap three Marquez slid up the inside of Rossi to grab fourth, Rossi dropped back slightly after the pass, 0.3s from Marquez.

Fastest lap after fastest lap couldn’t split the top five, the Michelin tyres improving with each lap.  On the sixth lap ‘Desmo Dovi’ tried to take the lead but was quickly pushed back by an aggressive move from his teammate, Iannone living up his nickname of ‘The Maniac’ but Dovizioso wasn’t deterred and struck again later in the lap. Pushing harder and harder, Iannone suffered a fast fall at Turn 13 as he attempted to go up the inside of his teammate. Although he was unhurt, not finishing was a bitter pill to swallow. His fall was soon followed by Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) who crashed out of the race at Turn 4.

With Iannone gone, Lorenzo took up the challenge and pushed Dovizioso hard for the lead. Dovizioso was regularly at least 5km/h faster down the straight than Lorenzo, but on lap nine the Majorcan struck and went into the lead. A small gap emerged, allowing Lorenzo to maintain his lead even down the straight.

A string of fastest laps of the race followed as the Qatar GP entered the middle stages, both Lorenzo and Dovizioso exchanging fastest laps of the race. By mid race Lorenzo had an advantage of over 0.3s, working hard to stay ahead. Neither Marquez nor Rossi were able to make a serious impression on the leading pair, Rossi appeared to be fading away but then produced a 1’55.281 on the 14th lap of the race. The Michelin tyres went the distance as riders throughout the field were setting personal bests and fastest race laps till the end.

As the race entered its final five laps, Marquez closed in on Dovizioso for second as Lorenzo maintained and extended a half second lead to a second. With four laps to go Marquez effortlessly slid up the inside of Dovizioso to move into second. Marquez tried to close in on Lorenzo but soon found himself in the company of Dovizioso and Rossi once more. As the riders charged down the straight to begin the final lap Dovizioso passed Marquez into Turn 1.

Lorenzo would eventually cross the line a dominant 2.019s ahead of second, Dovizioso repeating his second place finish of 2015 after Marquez tried to pass in the last corner. The Spaniard settled for third with Valentino Rossi 0.1s behind in fourth. Dani Pedrosa completed the top five but was over 13 seconds back on the race winner.

Jorge Lorenzo kisses the Michelin rear slick
Jorge Lorenzo kisses the Michelin rear slick
Jorge Lorenzo P1
Jorge Lorenzo
Jorge Lorenzo

“We are there, in first position, without struggling and suffering and riding in the perfect way. For me, over all laps, this race has been one of the best of my whole career and that was why I was able to win and could make this little difference in the last three laps that gave me the victory. It was a little down and up with the tyres. We made the decision to put on the soft rear tyre, because with the hard one we couldn‘t be so fast. The harder compound should become better and better, but I think what happened was the opposite. The softer tyre should get worse and worse, but it was faster and faster so this little difference was the difference between me and Dovizioso and Marquez. I was surprised how fast my pace was towards the end of the race. I was sliding so much, but at the same time I was very smooth and concentrated and made no mistakes and that‘s why even with the pressure from Dovizioso, when I was at a margin of 0.4, .03, 0.5, I didn‘t get nervous and kept riding better and better. I feel very proud of my riding and my race and also the work of the team, because we put together the electronics and the setting of the bike in a very good way.”

Jorge Lorenzo
Jorge Lorenzo
Andrea Dovizioso P2 +2.019
Andrea Iannone, Andrea Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi
Andrea Iannone, Andrea Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi

“Starting off the season like this is a dream! I am really happy and above all I want to thank my team because together we have done a fantastic job to become so competitive. Thanks to all of Ducati and the guys in my team: every so often I make them suffer, but I’m always there when it counts! I finished last season without having a good feeling with my bike and so to do the first race at this pace, with all the regulation changes, means that we have really done a great job. We are only at the start and maybe this won’t be the real situation throughout the season, but we have an excellent base that makes us confident for the upcoming races.”

Andrea Dovizioso
Andrea Dovizioso
Marc Marquez P3 +2.287
Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi
Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi

“I’m happy with this third place because I know that we gave our all and just two weeks ago we were one second off the pace compared to the other guys on the podium. I want to thank Honda and my team for all the hard work they are doing. The race was faster than we expected and we had a great weekend, because we got 100% out of our performance at a circuit that we find hard. I spent much of the race behind Dovizioso because I couldn’t pass him, and it was difficult to make up the ground lost with his better acceleration on the straight. Whenever I got close, I’d lose him again. Although I knew it would be difficult, I made another attempt with 4 laps remaining -but he overtook me on the last lap. I tried again in the last corner but it wasn’t possible. I hope that the circuits coming up on the calendar favour us a little more.”

Valentino Rossi P4 +2.387
Valentino Rossi
Valentino Rossi

“At the end it was a great race, the pace was very fast from the beginning to the end, but unfortunately I stayed behind and I didn‘t have enough speed to try and attack. I was there but I was never in the real fight, I was always a little bit behind. We need a faster pace and maybe the tyre choice can make some difference, but we don‘t know. Maybe with the soft tyre I could go faster or I could go slower. We arrived behind and unfortunately didn‘t get on the podium, but it was a good race anyway, with a good start. We are there, we have to work, but for sure we are competitive. Last year in Argentina was a great race, one of the best with a great pace and I was coming from behind, but this year it will be a different story, especially with the tyres. We need to understand our potential this year.”

Dani Pedrosa P5 +14.083
Dani Pedrosa, Maverick Vinales
Dani Pedrosa, Maverick Vinales

“It was a difficult race. I started well but I ran wide at the first corner. Nevertheless, I was only down in fifth or sixth place, which was a good position from which to follow the lead group, but my pace was not good enough and gradually I lost touch. The negative side to this race is the result and the distance from the winner, but the positive is that I learned more about the bike and maybe we can improve for the next race. Physically, I also held up very well. We knew that this was a difficult track for us, but now we must look ahead to Argentina.”

Viñales, Pol Espargaro (Monster Yamaha Tech 3), Bradley Smith (Monster Yamaha Tech 3), Hector Barbera (Avintia Racing) and Scott Redding (Octo Pramac Yakhnich) completed the top ten.

Maverick Viñales P6 +15.423
Maverick Vinales
Maverick Vinales

“Finally a sixth place is not a bad result, but it is not enough at this point. The whole weekend I had a very good feeling and my race-pace was around 1’55, while in the race I couldn’t make the same. Honestly, I’m not sure why; in the race I couldn’t find a proper feeling and I felt the bike sliding a lot, so we definitely need to see the data and understand what changed and happened. The positive thing is that for the whole weekend we have been very close to the top, maybe in the race we were a little unlucky because the weekend overall was very positive. I can’t wait to go to Argentina and work again on my GSX-RR; we have a lot of potential. If we manage to find better grip and finalise the set-up of the full seamless, for sure we will fight for the top positions. I must thank the Factory and the Team, they are doing a huge job to support me and I am sure that if we keep working hard we will find the best solution.”

Pol Espargaro P7 +18.629
Pol Espargaro
Pol Espargaro

“I am satisfied with the result today mainly because, looking back on how we finished the season in 2015, I was not entirely comfortable with riding last year’s M1. This year we have started differently and my feelings are better on this bike, plus I am convinced that I can do much more than before. Today the race was not easy, because I made some mistakes, especially at the start which didn’t go to plan. I was stuck behind some riders at the beginning and then I lost Maverick and Dani, which is a pity because at the end they had a very similar rhythm to me. It was a long GP but I am happy with the outcome especially after the battle at the end with my teammate. I was in front of Brad for nearly the whole race, with a gap of about one second. I controlled this amount of time and I was feeling comfortable but seven laps before the end, I encountered an issue where the sweat from my forehead dripped onto my visor and with the lights in Qatar, it dazzled me. Bradley caught 0.6 of a second in one lap and then right at the end he overtook. I fought back and retook him again then, but luckily I was first at the end of the race. For sure, Argentina will be a bigger challenge compared to here because we have had a lot of testing time in Qatar. In addition, I struggled at Rio Hondo last year so it will be tricky anyway, especially if the conditions are hot, yet we will give nothing but 100% just like we have done here.”

Bradley Smith P8 +18.652
Bradley Smith
Bradley Smith

“I am pleased with the race result today, but the start was a complete disaster, so from there onwards, I knew that things could only get better! I tried to make a few passes in the opening laps and found myself in the position with the other satellite riders. Then I tried to get into my rhythm and aimed to not make any mistakes. In addition, I wanted to understand as much as I could with the new setup for the race and how the bike behaved in the 22 laps. As time ticked down, I got into a good fight with my teammate, plus he was really strong on the brakes into the first corner. Before that, I passed Barbera when he made a mistake and after having finally an open track in front of me, I got some confidence, put my head down and went for it. It was fun chasing Pol with three laps to go and it’s been a while since we’ve had a really tough battle like that. On the last lap, I made the pass into the final corner, but the fact that he is four kilos lighter than me made the difference on the way to the line! It’s been a very tough weekend and we started on a difficult note on Thursday and Friday, yet the team did a fantastic job and kept on working hard. We stayed focused and in the end we came away with 8th position, which is already one place better than last year. In addition, we are only one point away from our target which is to be the top satellite bike and so we will try to rectify that in Argentina.”

Héctor Barberá P9 +21.160
Hector Barbera
Hector Barbera

“We have reached the goal we had before the race which was to finish in the top ten, but today I wanted to get something more. But we have to be realistic and know that we are fighting against factory bikes, and this is not an excuse. Now we are closer to the front and we can get better results. During the weekend I’ve been tense because it was the first race, we did not work as well as in the test and I made many mistakes. I’m the one who has to be more calm and transmit it to the team, but I’ve been nervous because I’ve seen myself close to the front and with more chances to get a good result. The championship just started and our real goal is to be in the top ten at every race, and when we have a really good chance, to fight for the top five. It was a shame, because I made a mistake riding behind Pol Espargaro and then Smith overtook me. Today we had the chance to fight for the seventh place, but nevertheless, to be the third Ducati is something positive.”

Scott Redding P10 +24.435
Scott Redding
Scott Redding

“I have mixed feelings after this first race. I’m happy but I expected more. “Disappointed” is not the right adjective because we had a pretty hard weekend with two crashes and bad qualifying. After the tests we thought we were in good shape but obviously we were missing something. Before the race I would have accepted a Top 8 or Top 10 in light of this difficult weekend and in the end we hit the goal. We can learn from this race, even from the start where I was not brilliant losing some positions. What I would like in Argentina? To find back the feeling of test. Here I found it not completely even if in the end things did not go so badly.”

Aleix Espargaro brought the second Suzuki home in 11th place ahead of Eugene Laverty, Alvaro Bautista and Jack Miller while Tito Rabat was the final finisher and took a single championship point for 15th.

Aleix Espargaró P11 +35.847
Aleix Espargaro, Scott Redding and Jack Miller
Aleix Espargaro, Scott Redding and Jack Miller

“This has been a very hard weekend and the race result reflects this. This afternoon in the warm-up I felt very uncomfortable, so with my Team and the Suzuki Engineers we decided to make a huge change in the bike, and I knew it was a gamble, but for some reason it gave me more confidence. It has been an extreme trial to make me more confident, for sure we will now analyse the data we collected here and test again in Argentina – but the good thing is that after the race we found some interesting hints on how to exploit a direction and this will help us a lot.”

Eugene Laverty P12 +41.756
Eugene Laverty, Jack Miller
Eugene Laverty, Jack Miller

“We made big progress here compared to preseason, suddenly on Saturday we had a big breakthrough and today we achieved a positive result. I had a problem at the start with a bit of wheelspin off the line because I was on a dirty part of the track and then on lap one Loris Baz ran me wide off the track. So it was a disastrous start but after that we managed to come back well. I had a good fight with Miller and Bautista and I think we can be happy to start the season with a twelfth place. The next race is Argentina, I rode there for the first time last season and already it became one of my favourite tracks. It really suits my riding style so I am happy to be leaving here with some confidence in the bag, the team is working fantastic and I think we can go to Argentina now to fight for the top ten.”

Alvaro Bautista P13 +41.932
Alvaro Bautista, Jack Miller
Alvaro Bautista, Jack Miller

“It was important to us to finish the race, but it was not a walk in the park. I managed to start well, but on the first corner there was contact with another rider. That made me run wide and I found myself in last place with a lot of ground to make up. From that moment I set my pace. In the first laps I had a strange feeling with the grip and that is something we will need to check. From mid-race I began to gain on the other riders until engaging in a great battle with Miller and Laverty. In any case, thirteenth place is a good result for us. I want to thank the team, Aprilia and the partners to this project. They all worked nonstop to get to this first race”.

Jack Miller P14 +41.982
Jack Miller, Alvaro Bautista
Jack Miller, Alvaro Bautista

“I finished the race and learnt a lot, so that’s the main positive to take away from tonight. It is the first time I’ve done full race distance since my pre-season injury and my leg didn’t cause me any problems and I am really happy with my physical condition. I was having a good battle with Laverty and Bautista but I made a small mistake on the last lap that let them back through, so that was a shame. It was good experience and now we can look forward to Argentina where I had a strong result a year ago.

Tito Rabat P15 +54.953
Tito Rabat
Tito Rabat

“It wasn’t an easy race but to finish inside the points gives us something to build on for the early part of the season. I’ve got to say a huge thanks to my crew because they have worked so hard in these last days to improve my confidence with the bike. The gap to the winner is bigger than we expected but this is all part of the learning process in what is the top class in the world. We gained a lot of experience and information here and I have a much better understanding of what I need to be faster. I will keep pushing with the same effort as always. Nobody said it was going to be easy but it is harder than I thought. We are here to learn and improve and I have no doubt I will do it.”

Michael Bartholemy – Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDSTeam Principal

“The race weekend here in Qatar and the pre-season has been a little complicated for us, so to see Jack and Tito both finish in the points is a good reward for their hard work and the dedication of the team. We need to improve and give them both a better feeling with the bike and the target in Argentina will be to start where they finished tonight, so we can see some clear progress. We have to be more competitive but I can’t fault the effort of Jack, Tito and the team. We all stay motivated and confident that stronger results will come.”

Andrea Iannone DNF

“Today I had a good feeling and I was able to be quick right from the start. In the early laps I wasn’t even pushing to the limit when I touched the white line in the long right-hander: the bike suddenly went away from me and unfortunately I was unable to do anything to avoid the crash. It was a pity because I think we could have fought for an important result in this race. During the weekend we were always fast and in amongst the leading positions but unfortunately this error of mine took me out of contention. I am however happy with the potential of my Desmosedici GP and I am sure that in Argentina we will again be able to demonstrate how competitive we are.”

Luigi Dall’Igna – Ducati Corse General Manager

“We are really satisfied with today’s result. Dovizioso took the new Desmosedici GP to a podium place on the bike’s race debut, conquering the runner-up slot with a great performance. In comparison with the podium here in 2015, for us this result has a completely different meaning, because this year, with the concessions allowed in the rule-book, Ducati raced under exactly the same conditions as Yamaha and Honda, demonstrating how competitive the bike is. It was a pity about Iannone, who was having an exceptional race and who led the first five laps before crashing out at Turn 13 on lap 6. In any case we have begun the championship with a very positive result and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone in Ducati Corse for the great commitment shown and the work they have done over the last few months.”

Cal Crutchlow DNF

“I’m extremely disappointed, but that’s an understatement to be honest. We had some electronic problems during the weekend and again in the race. The bike didn’t have a clue where we were on the circuit. It seemed to be reading the wrong sectors, so in the last sector it thought I was in the first sector and so on. This was why I crashed. I’m disappointed for my team because we all worked hard all weekend and I felt we could have got in amongst the front five that got away, but I just couldn’t accelerate onto the straight. I don’t know why it was, but we will investigate later and hope to be back fast in Argentina.”

Lucio Cecchinello – LCR Honda Team Principal

“It’s a shame for Cal’s crash tonight as he was running at a strong pace and improving each lap, closing in on Vinales and Pedrosa. However, we are still having some issues with the new electronics and this caused Cal’s crash. We are working very hard with HRC to overcome these issues and find a direction. Now we look ahead to Argentina where Cal had a great race last year and scored a podium! Thanks to all our sponsors for their great support as always”.

There were further crashes for Loris Baz (Avintia Racing) and Stefan Bradl (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini). Both were unhurt.

Loris Baz – DNF
Loris Baz
Loris Baz

“I was doing a good race, and step by step I was building my confidence to get a good pace. I was quite comfortable with Aleix, but I had some lack of front grip going into the corners and also traction getting out of them. I tried to change my lines to get the maximum of the bike, but going into the second corner I lost the front and crashed. I don’t know why, but it’s clear that I reached the limit. The first race went better than we expected and there are some positive things, as Hector had been showing. We have to keep working in the same line from the winter and I’m sure that in Argentina, a track I really like, we can do much better. We have 17 more races ahead and, although is always better to start the season with a good result, we have to be positive. I’m not a rider who crashes often during the races, and I feel sorry for my team that worked very hard during the weekend.”

Stefan Bradl DNF
Alvaro Bautista, Stefan Bradl
Alvaro Bautista, Stefan Bradl

“At the start I felt good. My feeling was getting better and better every lap and consequently so were my times. The crash is hard to explain. We need to analyse the data closely to figure out what caused it. My feeling is that there was a loss of grip for both tyres in turn 15. In any case, the start was positive. I managed to get my time below 1’57 in the race, so that means that my confidence is growing lap by lap. Now it will be important to take maximum advantage of the data collected and to have a good race weekend in Argentina”.

Yonny Hernández – DNF
Yonny Hernandez
Yonny Hernandez

“It is a shame to have finished the weekend like this. I could see in the warm-up my pace was good and I was able to follow guys like Rossi and Smith, I felt strong. Then I had a crash, which was my mistake, but I knew why it had happened so I still felt confident for the race. I focused hard on getting a good start and sticking with the guys in front of me in the first part of the race. Everything was going to plan and my feeling was fantastic but then the engine stopped. It is a shame it ended this way because we have worked hard all weekend to find the best setting for the bike but luck was not on our side here. The positive thing is my pace from warm-up and my start to the race. We leave Qatar with a good base that should allow us to be fighting for top ten finishes soon.”

The MotoGP World Championship are back on track on the first of April for Free Practice 1 of the Gran Premio Motul de la República Argentina.

MotoGP Race Results
  1. J. LORENZO MOVISTAR YAMAHA MOTOGP 42’28.452
  2. A. DOVIZIOSO DUCATI TEAM + 2.019
  3. M. MARQUEZ REPSOL HONDA TEAM + 2.287
  4. V. ROSSI MOVISTAR YAMAHA MOTOGP + 2.387
  5. D. PEDROSA REPSOL HONDA TEAM + 14.083
  6. M. VIÑALES TEAM SUZUKI ECSTAR + 15.423
  7. P. ESPARGARÒ MONSTER YAMAHA TECH3 + 18.629
  8. B. SMITH MONSTER YAMAHA TECH3 + 18.652
  9. H. BARBERA AVINTIA RACING + 21.160
  10. S. REDDING OCTO PRAMAC YAKHNICH + 24.435
  11. A. ESPARGARÒ TEAM SUZUKI ECSTAR + 35.847
  12. E. LAVERTY ASPAR TEAM MOTOGP + 41.756
  13. A. BAUTISTA APRILIA RACING TEAM GRESINI + 41.932
  14. J. MILLER ESTRELLA GALICIA 0,0 MARC VDS + 41.982
  15. T. RABAT ESTRELLA GALICIA 0,0 MARC VDS + 54.953
  16. S. BRADL APRILIA RACING TEAM GRESINI N.C. (11 laps)
  17. L. BAZ AVINTIA RACING N.C. (14 laps)
  18. C. CRUTCHLOW LCR HONDA N.C. (16 laps)
  19. A. IANNONE DUCATI TEAM N.C. (17 laps)
  20. Y. HERNANDEZ ASPAR TEAM MOTOGP N.C. (21 laps)
MotoGP 2016 Round One Podium
MotoGP 2016 Round One Podium
Lüthi wins dramatic Moto2 race in Qatar
Tom Luthi
Tom Luthi

Starting from pole position and having won the 2015 edition of the Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar, many saw Jonas Folger (Dynavolt Intact GP) as the race favourite. The German got a great launch from the line and soared into the lead, unaware of the issues unfolding behind him.

Takaaki Nakagami (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) and Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) settled in behind Folger, but the German was off like a rocket and opened up a one second lead by the end of the first lap. Lowes and Nakagami were joined by Tom Luthi (Garage Plus Interwetten) but disaster quickly struck for a number of riders behind.

Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport), Sam Lowes, Marcel Schrotter (AGR Team) and Alex Rins (Paginas Amarillas HP 40) were all handed ride through penalties for jumping the start. Zarco came into the pits first followed by Lowes, Schrotter and Rins on the following lap.

While this drama was unfolding, Folger continued to push at the front but the German quickly found he had exceeded the limit and fell at Turn 4, crashing out of a comfortable lead on the third lap. “I was pushing really hard to make a gap, it would have been the last lap of pushing hard. It was my fault, I expected a lot more,” he said after the incident.

This handed the race lead to Franco Morbidelli (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS), the Italian battling with Luthi out at the front. As Luthi took the lead Nakagami and Robin Mulhauser (CarXpert Interwetten) were also handed ride through penalties for jumping the race start. At this stage Nakagami was sat in third position.

The battle continued to rage between Luthi and Morbidelli at the front, the Italian living up to his reputation as one of the hardest men in the intermediate class, throwing himself up the inside of Luthi whenever a gap opened.

With 15 laps to go Nakagami came into the pits for his ride through penalty, promoting Simone Corsi (Speed Up Racing) to third with Sandro Cortese (Dynavolt Intact GP) right behind him. Luthi and Morbidelli remained locked in combat, two great battles for first and third lifting the crowd to their feet. The Swiss rider showed his experience, staying cool, calm and collected despite the constant assault from Morbidelli.

On lap ten Morbidelli regained the lead of the race and attempted to open up a gap ahead of Luthi. Behind the leading duo, Cortese latched onto Corsi like a rabid dog, doing everything he could to remain with the Italian as they raced for the final podium spot.

The battle for fifth was also thrilling, Luis Salom (SAG Team) leading a group of five riders including reigning Moto3™ World Champion Danny Kent (Leopard Racing). Little did they know this would quickly become a battle for the podium. On the 14th lap of the race it was announced that the race starts of Morbidelli and Cortese, who were at the time in first and fourth, were under investigation by race direction.

Unaware of what was going on, Morbidelli continued to push at the front with Luthi in tow, the Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS man doing all he could to earn his first race victory in the World Championship.

In the closing laps Morbidelli was able to hold a steady lead of just over a tenth of a second from Luthi but midway through the penultimate lap the Swiss rider saw his chance and began to close in. Unfortunately for the Italian and his team it was announced on the final lap that Morbidelli would be handed a 20 second penalty after the race. Sandro Cortese was also given the same penalty.

This fact was unknown by the leading duo, Morbidelli and Luthi continuing to fight for the win as normal. Luthi just edged out the Italian as they dragged to the line, but it would be of little consequence as Morbidelli found himself pushed down to seventh.

Luis Salom and Simone Corsi completed the podium, both in their first races with new teams. Corsi was also the leading non-Kalex machine, a great first result for Speed Up.

There was a stunning fourth place finish for Hafizh Syahrin (Petronas Raceline Malaysia) who ended ahead of experienced campaigner Dominique Aegerter (CarXpert Interwetten).

On his return to the Moto2 class, Kent secured sixth ahead of Morbidelli. A great ride after his jump-start penalty saw Alex Rins end the race in eighth ahead of Lowes, who also received a penalty for the same incident.

Completing the top ten was Moto2 rookie Luca Marini (Forward Team), Rossi’s half brother battling through the pain barrier for a top ten finish after a heavy crash in Qualifying on Saturday.

Edgar Pons (Paginas Amarillas HP 40) and Julian Simon (QMMF Racing Team) crashed out of the race. With 14 laps remaining Alex Marquez (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) fell at Turn 4. Xavier Simeon (QMMF Racing Team) fell with five laps remaining, but remounted before retiring. Axel Pons (AGR Team) slid off at Turn 14 late in the race, as did Xavi Vierge (Tech 3 Racing). No riders were seriously injured.

Moto2  Race Results

1 – Thomas Lüthi   (SWI)   KALEX    40’14.293

2 – Luis Salom (SPA)   KALEX    + 9.610

3 – Simone Corsi (ITA) SPEED UP   + 9.665

Moto2 2016 Round One Podium
Moto2 2016 Round One Podium
Antonelli claims thrilling first victory of the year
Niccolo Antonelli
Niccolo Antonelli

The 2016 Moto3 World Championship officially began at the Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar, a thrilling racing unfolding under the floodlights as 33 riders hunted a strong result to start their 2016 campaigns with. All riders opted for the medium front and medium rear tyre options.

Starting from pole position, Romano Fenati (Sky Racing Team VR46) charged off the line to lead during the opening corners with Livio Loi (RW Racing GP BV) and Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) hot on his tail. Loi attempted to take the lead with 17 laps to go before running wide at Turn 1, dropping outside the top five.

Brad Binder and Jorge Navarro (Estrella Galicia 0,0) tried to break away but the great impact of the slipstream in Qatar saw all of the top 20 riders running together. Positions constantly changed as the top five slowly began to ease out an advantage with 15 laps remaining. The straight continued to see dramatic changes in position, the rider leading out of the final corner frequently finding themselves sucked back to fifth.

Throughout the race Francesco Bagnaia (Aspar Mahindra Team Moto3) was the strongest Mahindra, the Italian a stalwart of the top five. The Mahindra rider was able to dice with the likes of Niccolo Antonelli (Ongetta-Rivacold), repeating his superb ride from the 2015 race.

As the laps ticked down, rookie Nicolo Bulega (Sky Racing Team VR46) hunted the riders ahead, his aggressive style from the Moto3 Junior World Championship going nowhere since stepping up. With 11 laps remaining the Italian cut the gap down to under three tenths, able to finally benefit from the leader’s slipstream.

With half race distance complete, Binder once again took the lead, benefiting from the frantic fighting behind. Try as he might to escape, the South African was caught by Fenati on the straight and the brawl resumed once more. The leading six continued to tussle, Binder able to stretch a small lead through the corners but caught each time down the straight.

Behind the leading six a large eight-rider battle rumbled along for tenth position, Fabio Quartararo (Leopard Racing) controlling the second group for much of the race.

With four laps to go rookie Bulega struck and took the lead, Binder responding immediately as the two KTM men sparred for supremacy. Bulega was able to retake the lead as his teammate Romano Fenati put in several hard moves to wrestle his way into second; meanwhile Enea ‘The Beast’ Bastianini (Gresini Racing Moto3) cut the gap with each lap.

In true Moto3 style it all came down to the last lap, Binder beginning it in the lead as Romano Fenati ran wide at the first corner and dropped to sixth. The corners ticked down as Antonelli tucked in behind the South African, waiting for his chance to strike.

The drag to the line was where it all happened as Antonelli played the race to perfection, pulling out of Binder’s slipstream to steal the race by 0.007s. Binder was second with Bagnaia putting his Mahindra on the podium. This is Antonelli’s third career victory and his best ever start to a season. In similar fashion, Binder’s seventh career podium is by far the South Africans best opening round.

Fenati secured a solid fourth from pole while Bastianini rounded out the top five.

Bulega’s heroic charge saw him end sixth on his full time World Championship debut ahead of Jorge Navarro, Livio Loi, Philipp Oettl (Schedl GP Racing) and Jakub Kornfeil (Drive M7 SIC Racing Team) completing the top ten.

Moto3 Race Results

1 – Niccolò Antonelli   (ITA)   HONDA 38’12.161

2 – Brad Binder   (RSA)    KTM   + 0.007

3 – Francesco Bagnaia (ITA)  MAHINDRA    + 0.148

Moto3 2016 Round One Podium
Moto3 2016 Round One Podium