It was his first win in factory colours and he finished ahead of fellow Frenchman Johann Zarco and pole-winner Jorge Martin, from Spain, in the closest top-15 finish in history.
Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) emerged victorious as he and runner-up Zarco (Pramac Racing Ducati, pictured here) hand France their first double premier class podium since 1954.
History was made there and history secured for MotoGP rookie Martin too as the Pramac Racing star bagged his maiden MotoGP rostrum.
The start was again a sight to behold as both Pramac Racing riders got away perfectly from P1 and P2 on the grid, but the Qatar GP round one race winner a week earlier, Spain’s Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP), went backwards as Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) propelled himself from P12 to P4 in an absolutely stunning start for the Portuguese star.
Both Suzukis got away very well too, as did third place Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) but it wasn’t a good start for the factory Ducati Lenovo Team riders or Quartararo. Australian Jack Miller and Italian Francesco Bagnaia didn’t make good use of the Ducati front holeshot device and found themselves in the lower ends of the top 10.
Martin held his nerve and led the opening lap without trouble as a MotoGP freight train followed him over the line as Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) got the better of Oliveira to sit behind the leading Pramacs. World Champion Joan Mir on the second Team Suzuki Ecstar machine chucked it up the inside of Quartararo at Turn 6 as the riders got very close for comfort in the opening exchanges. Viñales, Quartararo, Miller and Bagnaia were scrapping for 7th with South African Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing), with Rins hounding Zarco.
The Suzuki man and Zarco kept interchanging P2 and just when Rins thought he’d got the job done, the Ducati blasted back by on the straight. It was a very intriguing start to the race but leading the way still was the cool, calm and collected Martin. Was the rookie phased in just his second MotoGP race? Absolutely not.
Bagnaia was the man on the move as the Italian moved his way up into P5, soaring past Mir on the straight, with Miller soon following his teammate through by doing the exact same thing: wringing the neck of his GP21 on the front straight as Aleix Espargaro slipped to P7.
As we approached half race distance, Martin was still leading. However, tensions were starting to reach boiling point in the heat of the desert. Turn 10 saw Mir make a harsh move on Miller, contact made between the two, Miller was wide. Rins, after a front end scare at Turn 9, had another moment at the final corner before Miller and Mir clashed coming onto the front straight. A controversial moment. This battle was insane and no one was leaving an inch.
There was so much going on in the fight behind leader Martin. Quartararo was up to P4 now behind Martin, Zarco and Bagnaia, with Rins almost finding a way past on Lap 15. There was seven to go, Miller was P6 with Viñales P7, Mir was trying to find a way past eighth place Aleix Espargaro as Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team), Binder and Enea Bastianini (Avintia Esponsorama Racing) were hunting.
Turn 15, seven to go, Quartararo cut past Bagnaia. But Bagnaia was straight back by on the straight. Turn 1 then saw Bagnaia run very wide and the Italian went from P3 to P7, with nine seconds covering the top 18 riders. This was a special, special encounter in Doha. An incredible race entered the final five laps and still, Martin was leading – and looking brilliant.
Miller picked up Quartararo at Turn 1 with five to go but the Yamaha cut back underneath to hold P3. Viñales was past Rins for P5, as Quartararo then sliced up the inside of Zarco and then passed Martin at Turn 15, but Martin returned to P1 down the straight.
Quartararo responded and made a move stick at Turn 3, now it was the Frenchman’s chance to try and break the tow. Viñales got a track limits warning as he and Rins went toe-to-toe, as Quartararo laid down a 1:55.182 to stretch out a lead of half a second to Martin, who was keeping team-mate Zarco at bay.
The last lap of an incredible battle then came around and Quartararo’s lead was 0.7 seconds. It was Quartararo’s to lose at this point as team-mate Viñales ran wide at Turn 1, allowing Rins to slide on through in the battle for P4. The Yamaha and Suzuki men were 0.6 seconds down on the two Pramac riders, barring a disaster, it looked like the podium positions were decided.
Quartararo was making no mistakes and edged his lead up to one second halfway around the last lap, despite a scary moment when hitting debris, with Zarco tucked right up behind Martin. Zarco was tempted earlier in the lap but at Turn 15, the Frenchman decided to stick it up the inside of his rookie team-mate. The move stuck, Martin hinted at fighting back but chose to play it safe in P3. Quartararo stormed across the line to win his first race in factory colours by 1.457 seconds, as Zarco pipped Martin by 0.043 seconds in an historic day for Pramac Racing. Unreal from all the guys on the podium.
Fourth place was held by Rins as he and Viñales tussle it out, the Spaniards separated by just 0.022 seconds at the flag. Bagnaia was a further half a second behind the Spanish duel in P6 as the factory Ducatis get beaten by the Pramac riders, but it’s not a terrible result for the Italian.
Mir eventually came home in P7 after a heated race, Binder cemented a brilliant P8 for himself and KTM as Miller takes a disappointing P9 for the second race in a row at Losail. Miller was in the thick of it throughout but it’s definitely not the result the Australian would have been looking for.
Aleix Espargaro picks up a P10, the Spaniard will be downbeat by that result but it’s another race that proves Aprilia and the number 41 are in the hunt. Bastianini recovers from a poor qualifying to finish just 5.550 seconds adrift of the win in P11, another beautifully worked race from the reigning Moto2 World Champion, he beat compatriot Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) by two tenths.
Pol Espargaro ran wide at Turn 1 with seven laps to go which cost him plenty of time, however, after a tricky weekend, HRC’s new recruit showed promise on Sunday to finish best Honda. HRC test rider Stefan Bradl (Repsol Honda Team) was right behind Pol Espargaro in P14, with Oliveira slipping down the order to pick up the last point.
Just 8.928 seconds. That was the gap between winner Quartararo and 15th place Oliveira in the closest top-15 finish ever seen. An utterly bonkers premier class races under the lights.
A breathless Sunday in MotoGP ends with Zarco emerging as the early World Championship leader. Two P2s give the Frenchman 40 points as Quartararo heads home from Doha level on points with team-mate Viñales on 36 apiece – a great couple of weeks at Losail for the factory Yamahas. The 2021 season is here and wow, have we got a phenomenal World Championship on our hands.
Next up in a couple of weeks: Portimao and the Portuguese Grand Prix.
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Top 10 at round two, Qatar:
- Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP)
- Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) + 1.457
- Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing) + 1.500
- Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) + 2.088
- Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) + 2.110
- Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) + 2.642
- Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) + 4.868
- Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) + 4.979
- Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) + 5.365
- Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) + 5.382