2017-03-26 23:29:37+0000 - Los Angeles, California, United States

MotoGP Round 1 Recap: Vinales Wins on the Yamaha

The Grand Prix Of Qatar; The Losail International Circuit. Zarco makes his mark and Vinales and Dovizioso battle it out for the top of the podium.

Today marked the first race of the 2017 MotoGP season and we have quite a bit to unpack. The Losail International Circuit in Qatar is a beautiful 5.380km (3.429 miles), 58 million dollar track that was completed in 2004 and has since been part of the MotoGP calendar. Unlike every other MotoGP venue, the opening race in Qatar is held at night under the lights of the desert circuit.

At the end of the 2016 season Repsol Honda rider Marc Marquez managed to bag yet another world championship with a few rounds to spare. (Marquez was crowned at the Motegi race in Japan). Nonetheless much of the buzz since then has been surrounding Movistar Yamaha's new rider, Maverick Vinales. Between winter test results and this weekend's practice and qualifying numbers, its become increasingly clear that the hype surrounding Vinales is proportionate and well deserved.

The twenty-two year-old Spaniard managed to qualify in pole position for 2017's inaugural race, proving Yamaha's decision to sign Vinales was a solid one. Last year when Vinales won his first premier class race I wrote an article about it titled "1st of many for Vinales", but I had no idea how accurate that title would become.

Another major focal-point recently has been Jorge Lorenzo's move to Ducati for 2017. There's been much speculation about how the #99 rider would fair on a Ducati, having spent the last nine consecutive years aboard a Yamaha. Today we got our first glimpse of what the 2017 season has in store for Lorenzo and the Borgo Panigale-based manufacturer.

The Race

In the first turn of the race the front of the grid seemed to jumble with riders trying to get out front early this on. By turn three of the first lap MotoGP rookie Johann Zarco (Monster Tech3 Yamaha) managed to take the lead followed by Marc Marquez on the Honda and then Andrea Iannone on his inaugural race aboard the Suzuki, having been replaced by Jorge Lorenzo at Ducati.

On turn five of the first lap Lorenzo came into the corner far too hot and ran way wide, dropping his position from the front of the pack to the mid-rear part of the field. On the final turn Dovizioso demonstrated the Ducati's power on the long straights and bypassed several riders landing in third. Fighting for the top five at this point were Pedrosa and Rossi were made a series of passes on each other until Rossi eventually came out on top.

A lap or so later the field had spaced out more but Zarco was still in front. Behind him was Marquez, and behind him was Dovizioso and then Iannone who were teammates at Ducati last season. Vinales, Pedrosa and Rossi (in that order) brought up the rear of the front-runners. At this point it was truly anybody's race to win.

Around this time Zarco managed to increase his lead and at the same time Cal Crutchlow who last year took home his first two premier class wins (Czech Republic and Australian GP's) crashed out on turn 16 when he lost the front end, retiring him from the race. That would make the second crash that night for the British rider making it an event Crutchlow will be happy to forget. On the next lap Dovizioso managed to slip past Marquez while Rossi began closing the gap between himself and his new teammate, Vinales.

Around one-third of the way into the race Zarco's lead continued to grow until he lost the front end while tipping the bike into turn two, crashing out of his first premier class race. While this was obviously a major disappointment to Zarco and the Monster Tech3 Yamaha team that gambled on two rookies this year, simply knowing one of their new riders is capable of winning if he learns not to crash must still welcome news.

This meant the first three positions were now Marquez sandwiched between the Andreas (Dovizioso, Marquez then Iannone). Two laps later Iannone was able to overtake Marquez. Towards the back of the field Alvaro Bautista became the third rider to crash out of the season's first race on his Aspar Ducati. Iannone and Marquez continued to jostle for second-place with Marquez eventually making a pass that would (at least temporarily) stick).

Meanwhile Lorenzo found himself aboard the unfamiliar Ducati in eleventh-place. Dovizioso's lead grew, giving him a little breathing room. Rossi took a turn too wide but held onto his position behind Vinales. As Iannone attempted to battle it out with Marquez, the Suzuki rider pushed the bike just a tiny bit too hard, resulting in a low side that left the #29 rider sliding through the infield.

Iannone's crash meant Vinales was now in third behind Marquez and Dovizioso. Vinales, who's lap times had been importing more and more each lap began his attack. After getting right up on the rear wheel of the #93 Repsol Honda rider, Vinales managed to pass Marquez inspite of Marquez attempting some defensive late braking. On the next lap Marquez entered a corner too hot and took a wide line allowing the senior Movistar Yamaha rider pass him. Dovizioso still lead the race but now he was followed by more closely by Vinales who appeared to be in increasingly top form. Rossi and then Marquez followed not far behind.

It looked like we were about to get our first taste of the highly anticipated battle between Vinales and Rossi, until Vinales put the hammer down and set his sights on Dovi, the only rider separating MV25 from the top of the podium. The battle between the Movistar Yamaha riders would have to come another day. On the next lap the young Spaniard made his move and just squeezed passed the Ducati. The fight was now on between Vinales and Dovizioso. This is and Zarco's temporarily lead will be what this race is likely remembered for.

Dovizioso then made the calculated decision to use the circuit's .663 mile main straight for his chance to pass Vinales. Ducati's GP machines in recent years have had a noticeable advantage on the long straights and this without a doubt was what lead Dovi to attack when and where he did. Though it was close, Ducati's #04 rider was again out in front.

Vinales then took a page out of Rossi's playbook and counterattacked at his first chance, overtaking Dovizioso via some impressive drive on one of the track's faster "S-turns". Dovi then tried the same pass on the long straight and an overly defensive Vinales miss-judged his line through turn one, allowing Dovizioso to take the lead yet again. With five laps to go it was anyone's race to win. A closely following Rossi appeared to be waiting for his moment to strike, but that moment would never come.

Again with five laps remaining, Movistar Yamaha's #25 rider managed to pass Dovizioso on the inside and had the speed to make the overtake stick. Both riders knew their machine's strengths and were blatantly making the most of them in a very tactical fashion. Rossi made sure to stay within striking-range for whenever he decided to pull the trigger but ended up settling for the points instead of risking it.

Meanwhile Aprilia's new #41 rider Aleix Espargaro who had recently commented on the Aprilia RS-GP's "Good overall level", displayed the accuracy of his statement when he passed established contender Dani Pedrosa aboard his Repsol Honda, landing Espargaro in the top five just behind Marquez. Aleix's brother and fellow premier class rider Pol Espargaro was piloting KTM's New RC16 at rear end of the field. KTM had participated at the final race of 2016 in Valencia (Spain) as a wildcard and unfortunately went home with a DNF though Pol has stated "We've improved the KTM pace a lot."

There were now less than four laps until the checkered flag and the tension and excitement were heightening. On turn one with three laps remaining Dovizioso again demonstrated the Desmosedicci GP17's power on the straights and daringly fought with Vinales late on the brakes, passing him once again. With two laps to go Vinales retaliated, passing up the inside of Dovizioso for the final time.

At the start of the last lap the top five positions belonged to (from first place down) Vinales, then Dovizioso then Rossi, then Marquez and finally Pedrosa who had reclaimed his position in fifth from Aleix Espargaro. The gap between Vinales and Dovizioso grew as did the one between Dovizioso and Rossi. This meant the positions remained the same for the final lap. While this may sound anticlimactic, the focus of the last lap was not about Dovizioso making a pass on Vinales, but rather whether or not Dovi could get close enough to Vinales to be able to his bike's awesome drive and horsepower out of the final turn to pass the Yamaha and win the race. In the end it didn't happen and Vinales took first place and won his first race aboard the M1 (Yamaha). This is his second win in the premier class after his first victory last year at the British Grand Prix aboard Suzuki's GSXRR. With both their riders on the podium today the Movistar Yamaha garage must be pretty happy with today's outcome.

Today's race showed us that there are maybe more championship contenders than ever in recent the history of MotoGP. Slow riders can't be taught to go fast but fast riders can be taught not to crash so another rookie world champion may be possible. Once Zarco has spent more time on MotoGP machines he will have a much better grasp on tire-wear management and how the fuel level effects the bike's performance. His performance today definitely makes him an unexpected one to keep an eye on. Last year Marquez finished in third at Qatar so his fourth place finish today shouldn't be taken as an indication of his competitiveness this season. With a great race today and seventeen more rounds to go we almost certainly have some fantastic racing to look forward to from MotoGP this season.

Final Results

  1. Maverick Viñales ESP Movistar Yamaha MotoGP (YZR-M1) 38m 59.999s
  2. Andrea Dovizioso ITA Ducati Team (Desmosedici GP17) 39m 0.460s
  3. Valentino Rossi ITA Movistar Yamaha MotoGP (YZR-M1) 39m 1.927s
  4. Marc Marquez ESP Repsol Honda Team (RC213V) 39m 6.744s
  5. Dani Pedrosa ESP Repsol Honda Team (RC213V) 39m 7.127s
  6. Aleix Espargaro ESP Factory Aprilia Gresini (RS-GP) 39m 7.660s
  7. Scott Redding GBR Octo Pramac Racing (Desmosedici GP16) 39m 9.781s
  8. Jack Miller AUS Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS (RC213V) 39m 14.485s
  9. Alex Rins ESP Team Suzuki Ecstar (GSX-RR)* 39m 14.787s
  10. Jonas Folger GER Monster Yamaha Tech 3 (YZR-M1)* 39m 15.068s
  11. Jorge Lorenzo ESP Ducati Team (Desmosedici GP17) 39m 20.515s
  12. Loris Baz FRA Reale Avintia Racing (Desmosedici GP15) 39m 21.254s
  13. Hector Barbera ESP Reale Avintia Racing (Desmosedici GP16) 39m 28.827s
  14. Karel Abraham CZE Aspar MotoGP Team (Desmosedici GP15) 39m 29.122s
  15. Tito Rabat ESP Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS (RC213V) 39m 29.469s
  16. Pol Espargaro ESP Red Bull KTM Factory Racing (RC16) 39m 33.600s
  17. Bradley Smith GBR Red Bull KTM Factory Racing (RC16) 39m 39.703s
  18. Sam Lowes GBR Factory Aprilia Gresini (RS-GP)* 39m 47.130s
    Danilo Petrucci ITA Octo Pramac Racing (Desmosedici GP17) DNF
    Andrea Iannone ITA Team Suzuki Ecstar (GSX-RR) DNF
    Alvaro Bautista ESP Aspar MotoGP Team (Desmosedici GP16) DNF
    Johann Zarco FRA Monster Yamaha Tech 3 (YZR-M1)* DNF
    Cal Crutchlow GBR LCR Honda (RC213V) DNF
  • Rookie

Luckily none of the riders that crashed out of today's race suffered any injuries, all of them walking away unharmed. You can watch the full race in the video below....

3 Comments
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@alexive come to accept a North American Racer free grid but I'm hopeful Motoameric, RC390 and red bull rookies cups might give us a homegrown contender.........I miss 2006 when you could see an American win the US GP at Laguna 

 
  • alex
  • 2017-03-29T10:16:44-04:00

What is it with those Spaniards? They seem to be creating a race of genetically engineered, super human racers from a very early age. 

Great to see Ducati doing so well again.

 

Looks like another exciting season.