An unreal opening race of 2021 saw Yamaha come out on top; Ducati’s Zarco and Bagnaia pip Mir to the rostrum on final lap
Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP’s Maverick Viñales unravelled a stunning race to claim victory at the Barwa Grand Prix of Qatar, as 2021 kicked off in sublime style in the desert. Viñales climbed his way through the pack to eventually beat second place Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) by just over a second, as the Frenchman and Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) beat reigning World Champion Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) on the run to the line to stand on the rostrum.
The start of the race was something to behold. Bagnaia, Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team), Zarco and Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing) from 14th on the grid all propelled themselves to the front as Ducati’s holeshot device worked absolute wonders. Martin’s launch was insane and the rookie joined his fellow GP21 riders inside the top four, as Fabio Quartararo and Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP teammate Viñales got swamped off the line.
An utterly sensational getaway from the Ducatis saw Bagnaia lead Miller, Zarco and Martin, as Zarco then slipstreamed Miller down the home straight and grabbed P2 off the Australian. After sluggish starts, the two factory Yamahas were regrouping 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 did get past The Doctor and began hounding Martin.
Up top, the leading five were line astern. Quartararo and Viñales were attached to the back of Miller, good news for two Yamahas, but a disaster for 2020’s runner up. Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) was down in P20 after five laps, an awful start for the Italian. At the opposite end of the race, Pecco was dictating a slow pace as tyre saving modes immediately came into play, but Quartararo wasn’t messing around. El Diablo dived up the inside of Miller at Turn 15, the Ducati blasted by on the straight 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 passing point as Miller found himself down in P5 – was he struggling, or playing the long game? In free air, Rins was reeling in the leaders and was soon right up behind Miller’s exhausts. Viñales, meanwhile, was starting to look impatient behind Quartararo and this lead group, covered by 1.4 seconds, was over two seconds up the road from seventh place Mir.
12 laps to go. Viñales was up into P3 and immediately bridged the few tenths gap to Zarco. And with 11 laps to go, Viñales dived up the inside of Zarco for P2 and showed a wheel to race leader Bagnaia – the Yamaha man was swarming. Just behind, Rins 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 Quartararo. This was a fascinating battle.
Viñales and Yamaha’s strengths in the middle of the corners were clear to see. As can be said with Rins and Suzuki compared to the Ducatis. Turn 10 once more was the chosen passing place for Viñales and for the first time, the race leader wasn’t Pecco. Viñales, on Lap 15, took P1 as the top eight riders were now covered by just 2.3 seconds, with Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) in P9 just 3.5 seconds from the lead.
Viñales flashed across the line and held a half second lead with six to go. Zarco drafted Bagnaia and took P2 into Turn 1, with Mir passing Miller to grab 5th – the two Suzukis, once again, showing awesome Sunday pace. Now though, with five laps to go, Viñales and Zarco were starting to break clear. Viñales had a 0.7 second advantage over the Frenchman, with Zarco, in turn, holding a one second lead over Bagnaia. Behind the latter, Mir was now ahead of teammate Rins for P4. But Viñales was checking out. Top Gun had the afterburners on, 1.6 seconds clear was the number 12 now.
The battle for the podium was in full flow. Mir, at Turn 6, sweetly stuck his Suzuki up the inside of Bagnaia’s Ducati. And now, second place Zarco was under threat. With two to go, this was Viñales’ race to lose as attention focused on the battle for P2, P3 and P4. Pecco was staying in touch, with Zarco defending well to keep a hard-charging Champion behind him.
The last lap saw Mir desperately trying to find a way past Zarco, but a move wouldn’t come until Turn 15 – the penultimate corner. One corner and a run to the line was all that stood in the way between Mir and a phenomenal podium, but two Ducatis were about to prove just how quick they were in a straight line. As Viñales took the chequered flag in P1, Mir – slightly wide a Turn 16 – was left helpless as both Zarco and Bagnaia flew past the GSX-RR to claim P2 and P3 in spectacular fashion. A quite remarkable end to a thrilling encounter.
Quartararo crossed the line three seconds behind his teammate in P5 as the Frenchman gets the better of Rins by just three tenths. Two and a half seconds further down the road, Aleix Espargaro proved the Aprilia now belongs at the pointy end of the timesheets with a fantastic P7 ride. Aleix beat younger brother Pol by just 0.056s as the latter enjoys a fantastic debut with Repsol Honda Team.
Miller’s race never really got going after the opening couple of laps. The number 43 slid backwards in the latter stages and crossed the line in a disappointing P9, not what he nor Ducati would have been hoping for. Top rookie honours went the way of reigning Moto2™ World Champion Enea Bastianini (Esponsorama Racing). Huge credit goes the way of the Italian, a top 10 on your MotoGP™ debut is nothing short of spectacular – just nine seconds split Bastianini from the race win. That is what you call impressive.
Stefan Bradl (Repsol Honda Team) did another top job standing in for Marc Marquez, the German finished P11 and led 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 Morbidelli enjoy a very difficult evening – the latter finished outside the points in P18. Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) was the leading KTM rider in P13, teammate Brad Binder and Martin picked up the remaining points on offer in P14 and P15.
An utterly magnificent way to kick things off in 2021. Viñales was an unstoppable force in the desert for a second time, the best race win of his life? You’d have to say so. Zarco and Bagnaia ensure Ducati have something to shout about on a favoured stomping ground, with Mir proving exactly why he and Suzuki are reigning Champions – a classy Sunday ride. Stories everywhere you look, as usual, in MotoGP™. Round 1 is now in the history books, and Round 2 right here at Losail is just around the corner.
1. Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP)
2. Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) + 1.092
3. Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) + 1.129
4. Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) + 1.222
5. Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) + 3.030
6. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) + 3.357
7. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) + 5.934
8. Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) + 5.990
9. Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) + 7.058
10. Enea Bastianini (Esponsorama Racing) + 9.288