Francesco Bagnaia led a historic first Ducati 1-2-3 in a tense Valencia Grand Prix when Valentino Rossi ended his illustrious MotoGP career with a run in 10th place.
After 432 Grand Prix starts in 26 seasons, the nine-time world champion Rossi brought his career to 10th place in an emotional final after qualifying there.
The Petronas SRT rider made up one place to ninth on the first lap, but was downgraded to eleventh when Enea Bastianini raced past on his Avintia Ducati at the start of the race.
But a fall by Takaaki Nakagami put Rossi back in the top 10, with the Italian legend holding Franco Morbidelli’s factory Yamaha back to finish his final race in the fourth top 10 of a difficult 2021 season.
Poleman Jorge Martin nailed his start off the line to take the lead on the first corner at the start of the 27-lap final while Jack Miller and Joan Mir shadowed him.
Miller took the lead on the run at Turn 1 early on lap two, although Martin retaliated at Turn 2 while Mir would force his Suzuki into the Australian’s interior at Turn 4.
Bagnaia and Alex Rins would also quickly overcome Miller as he appeared to have difficulty stopping his factory Ducati in the early stages, while Bagnaia and Rins overtook me on lap four to chase Martin.
Up until the sixth tour, the top four of Martin, Bagnaia, Rins and Mir briefly opened a gap of around one second on the rest, although the top trio would soon fall behind for me.
Rins and Bagnaia traded second place on the same lap, but the former’s hopes of victory were dashed when he crashed at turn 6 on lap 11.
The pace of Martin and Bagnaia kept them out of reach of the pursuing Mir after Rins’ crash, and the Ducati factory rider glanced at Pramac’s Martin at Turn 6 on lap 15.
This proved unsuccessful, but Bagnaia took a great run on Turn 12 and followed Martin’s line back through the left turn on Turn 13 for a clinical pass for the lead into the final turn.
Bagnaia drove the best lap of the race and was more than four tenths behind, although Martin kept his factory Ducati counterpart within reach for a few more tours.
But on lap 22, Bagnaia had started to stretch his legs again, increasing his lead to over six tenths and further to over a second – although it slackened on the last lap – when he won the checkered flag for his fourth win in 2021.
Valentino Rossi, Petronas Yamaha SRT
Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images
Behind, Mir’s podium finish faded as the race came to an end, and Miller regrouped in the second half after previously pretending to be chasing Martin when he made the final tour.
But Martin would stay in second place ahead of Miller to complete the first Ducati 1-2-3 in MotoGP history, while Ducati’s factory team secured the team’s title to expand its constructors’ crown in 2021.
In the end I faded to fourth place and beat world champion Fabio Quartararo on the factory Yamaha by a little more than two tenths, while Johann Zarco from Pramac completed the top 6.
Brad Binder held seventh place on the KTM ahead of Bastianini, Aprilias Aleix Espargaro and Rossi.
Franco Morbidelli finished 11th on the second factory Yamaha, while Andrea Dovizioso from SRT, Alex Marquez from LCR, Miguel Oliveira (KTM) and Iker Lecuona from Tech 3 rounded off the points on his last MotoGP outing.
Maverick Vinales on Aprilia, Avintias Luca Marini and the outgoing Danilo Petrucci on Tech 3 KTM were the last finishers.
Honda pulled Pol Espargaro back before Sunday’s race after his heavy crash in FP3 on Saturday. This was the first time since Assen 1992 that no Honda works team driver started a premier class Grand Prix in which Marc Marquez was already excluded with visual problems.