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Quartararo paves his way to victory when Zarco and Martin duel
The first French 1-2 in the premier class, a rookie podium for Martin and a whole series of headlines: this was the Doha dogfight
Sunday 4th April 2021
Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha’s MotoGP) hit the bull’s eye at the TISSOT Grand Prix in Doha. That made 2021 a clean win for Yamaha so far, leading the first French 1-2 in the premier class when he got out of the chase pack at the perfect time. Compatriot Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) finished second in a duel with his rookie team-mate and pole sitter Jorge Martin. The French made history for his nation and beckons in the overall standings when he takes the championship lead. Martin, meanwhile, is making waves of his own as the rookie led much of the race from a spectacular start and only came home third the second time for his first podium in the premier class. There was a lot of drama behind those three too … and it was the next top 15 in history!
Martin kept his nerves off the line and shot to lead into Turn 1. Little did the Spaniard know he would be staying there for most of the race when his incredible Sunday began on how to go on. Zarco finished second behind him, but Qatar GP winner Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha’s MotoGP) reversed and Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull’s KTM Factory Racing) went from 12th to 4th in an absolutely stunning start. Both Suzukis also got off very well, as did third place, Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini), but it wasn’t a good start for the factory riders of the Ducati Lenovo Team or Quartararo. Jack Miller and Francesco Bagnaia were even at the lower end of the top 10 …
Martin kept his nerves on top and a MotoGP ™ freight train followed him across the line as Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) defeated Oliveira and got behind the leading Pramac duo. World champion Joan Mir on the second Team Suzuki Ecstar machine then threw it into the interior of Quartararo at turn 6 when the drivers got very close at the opening exchanges, with Viñales, Quartararo, Miller and Bagnaia ending up in seventh place with Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and Rins continue to chase Zarco forward.
Number 42 and Zarco kept swapping P2, and when Rins thought he’d done the job, the Ducati shot back down the straight. Bagnaia next tried to cut his way through as the Italian climbed to P5 and flew past Mir on the straight. Miller soon followed his teammate by doing exactly the same thing: wringing the neck of his GP21 on the front straight when Aleix Espargaro slipped to P7.
Martin was nearing halfway down the track, still leading, and looking as cool, calm, and collected as ever. Right behind him the tensions were boiling in the heat of the desert. At Turn 10, Mir pulled tight on Miller, contact was established between the two and the Ducati was far. After a front-end shock at Turn 9, Rins had another moment on the final turn before another flash between Miller and Mir brought the headlights back. When they got to the straight ahead, the two collided – and crashed when they lost their drive. The incident has been investigated but no action has been taken.
But Martin kept rolling and in the meantime Quartararo was in the lead up to fourth place behind the rookie, Zarco and Bagnaia. Rins almost found a way past number 20 on lap 15, but it shouldn’t be, and at seven it was still impossible to call. Miller was P6 with Viñales P7, Mir tried to find a way through eighth place, Aleix Espargaro and Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team), Binder and Enea Bastianini (Avintia Esponsorama Racing) won.
With seven to go, Quartararo cut past Bagnaia at Turn 15, but the Italian turned straight back onto the straight. However, it was reversed at Turn 1 when the Ducati skyrocketed and dropped from third to seventh place – when Pol Espargaro also boiled it up and sailed away. Both were able to get back in and at least stayed in contact when only nine seconds covered the top 18.
The last five laps began and it was the rookie who remained steadfast at the top with Zarco on his tail. Miller picked Quartararo just behind, but the Frenchman cut back to hold an important third place as the time to push was near. Viñales knew that too and slipped past Rins in fifth, but this time it was Yamaha’s number 20 that made up more ground when Quartararo struck second and sent Zarco, then soon passed Martin and took the lead.
Anyone’s course against Ducati on the main straight never went smoothly, however, and Martin sailed back. The answer would always come quickly, however, and Quartararo hit back at Turn 3, in the lead and with a little more time to break away from the grunt of Borgo Panigale. The lead was almost half a second and Viñales was stuck in a duel with Rins when his teammate got the hammer down.
When the final lap came, Quartararo’s lead was 0.7 seconds and El Diablo lost. Martin led Zarco in the battle for the podium. Viñales ran far in Turn 1 and also let Rins slip through in the battle for P4. So it looked like two French and a newcomer on the podium – but in what order?
Quartararo held it perfectly to pound Losail for the last time in 2021 and pulled out a few more tenths to cross the line for his first factory Yamaha win in a second and a half. Behind him it was war in Pramac, but a clean war. Martin held it on the last lap, but Zarco struck at Turn 15, muscled and let it stick. The number 89 flashed to take a look at the final corner, but the rookie thought against it and went back on the train to the line – decidedly from just 0.043. Zarco takes the lead in the championship and Martin has to be content with third place if you can look forward to an incredible first class podium.
In the battle for fourth place, Rins held on when he and Viñales competed against each other. The Spaniards parted at the flag by just 0.022 seconds. Bagnaia was another half a second behind the Spanish duel, the Italian taking P6 after trying to threaten a little earlier in the race. I finally came home 7th after a hot race and the reigning champion lost after the incident with Miller.
Binder cemented a brilliant P8 for himself and KTM as the South African rose by far to the best result of the Austrian factory in Losail. Miller drove a tougher P9 for the second race in a row at Losail. The Aussie also said he had an arm pump and that it was first on his agenda after Qatar. Aleix Espargaro completes the top ten where he didn’t start, but after another impressive race he’s still closer to the top than Aprilia was before.
Bastianini recovered from a more difficult qualifying and finished just 5.550 seconds behind the victory in P11 on another memorable day of the reigning Moto2 ™ world champion. He beat compatriot Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) by two tenths. Pol Espargaro drove P13 ahead of HRC test driver Stefan Bradl (Repsol Honda Team) after his excursion in Turn 1. Oliveira slipped in order to take the final point after his stunning start.
And that’s how history is made. 8.928 seconds is the gap between the winner Quartararo and 15th place Oliveira in the next top 15 positions we’ve ever seen. Doha delivers a stunner under the floodlights. Zarco travels to Europe with 40 points at the top of the overall standings, Quartararo and Viñales with 36 points each, but they are classified in this order. What will Portimao bring? We don’t have to wait long to find out!
Fabio Quartararo: “I haven’t won many races, but this one was a special win. I came from eighth or seventh place and saw that the pace and route were completely different from FP4 and Warm Up. I decided to really keep the tire for the end. When I saw Maverick approach, I thought, “Okay, now is the time to push and overtake.” It’s such an amazing moment for me, it’s a dream. I’ve always dreamed of winning in Qatar, unfortunately it wasn’t the first but the second! Thank you to everyone who believed in me. I’ve worked a lot this preseason to achieve this goal and the media always tell me that there is additional pressure to take Valentino’s place! I want to thank my family, Yamaha, my friends and I will enjoy this moment tonight with a nice McDonalds! “