Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso won an explosive opening race of the season in Qatar. The Ducati rider rode a calculated race, holding off Marc Marquez in an intense end of race battle to take the chequered flag just 0.023 seconds ahead of the Honda rider.
Dovizioso said: “I’m so happy. The strategy was clear for me and really good. I stopped Rins every time because he wanted to be faster too soon, and that was bad for the tyre and I was right. I stop him every time, fortunately I have more power on the straight. I lose a little bit of time in the middle of the corner because his speed in the middle of the corner is amazing, but I was able to overtake him every time and stop him and continue to save the tyre, that was the key to try and put Marquez on the limit in the last few laps. And that was the key, I’m so happy I was able to do that.”
2019 saw an almost identical finish to last year’s race, with the final corner once again being pivotal. Dovizioso said: “It was good because it helped me to understand his bad situation on the rear tyre. I stayed at the front for the entire race so I couldn’t know the positive and negative parts. My strategy was clear, I had to overtake him immediately, push because he didn’t really have the same speed as me and that’s why I was able to win.
“He was able to try again in the last corner, and he is so good with that. But in the end he did a mistake. Only Marquez in that situation is thinking about overtaking riders, all other riders – no. So I did a perfect lap to put him on the limit, but at the end you have to be ready with him in this battle because he is like this.
“It was different. I didn’t expect him on the entry to the last corner. But I did like, a dummy, and in that situation he had to release the brake because he could hit me. So that was the key and for sure he was too fast to stop the bike. So we were very close on the entry but in the end it was easier for me to stop him on the exit. Last year he was able to brake so good, so good and stop the bike, last year I was closer when I changed the line. This year the exit was easier.”
It was Dovizioso who got the holeshot from pole, he and Pramac Racing’s Jack Miller grabbing P1 and P2 into Turn 1 as Marquez held position just behind. Polesitter Maverick Viñales didn’t get the start he was aiming for as his Yamaha dropped to sixth on Lap 1, with :CR Honda’s Takaaki Nakagami and team-mate Cal Crutchlow catapulting through to the top five.
The race then began to settle into a rhythm, with a train of riders at the front led by Dovizioso keeping a steady pace at the front. Rins was the man on the move on Lap 4 as the Spaniard made more progress after a sharp start from P10 on the grid, the Suzuki man coming through to take the lead by Lap 5 before the Spaniard fought with Dovizioso.
On Lap 12 Dovizioso was back at the front, and the pace then turned up a notch as he and Marquez started to create a gap back to third place Ducati’s Danilo Petrucci, who’d made his way through the group. The pace then slowed again, however, as Dovizioso went from a 1:55.3 to a 1:56.1 to bring the top eight back to within just over a second…
With seven to go, the top eight were covered 1.2 seconds and that’s when Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi really started to make up ground, picking off his team-mate first and then Suzuki’s Joan Mir to go up to P6.
With three laps to go the fight for the win became a five-way scrap, with Petrucci, Viñales and Mir fading off the pacesetters.
Reigning champion Marquez got the better of Dovizioso on the penultimate lap, but the Ducati struck back down the straight. Crutchlow held P3, Rins P4 and Rossi P5, lurking behind and waiting for the fireworks to begin at the front. Pushing hard, Marquez had a slight moment with the front at Turn 3, before making a lunge up the inside of Dovizioso at Turn 10. It was a brave move, but the Ducati cut back up the inside on the exit, setting up another classic grandstand finish.
It looked like a carbon copy of the 2018 race at the final corner, with Marquez diving through on the inside, sitting up Dovizioso but running wide. From there it was another classic point and shoot contest to the line as both gunned it on the exit, but Dovizioso couldn’t be caught and made it out ahead. It was closer than last year though, with just 0.023 separating the two as the flag dropped.
Behind, Crutchlow kept his cool to take a remarkable podium on his first race back since his huge Australian GP crash, with Rins a valiant P4 and Rossi again proving you should never rule ‘The Doctor’ out.
It wasn’t such a successful race for Honda’s Jorge Lorenzo, who was making his competitive debut on the factory Repsol bike; the five-time champion suffered a nasty highside at Turn 6 in FP3 and despite being declared fit for the rest of the weekend, he only managed a 13th place finish. However, a scan on Tuesday revealed he suffered a fissure of the first rib, an injury which will take three to four weeks to heal.