The his­toric 70th sea­son of mo­tor­cy­cle world cham­pi­onship rac­ing got un­der way in the Ara­bian desert on 18 March, a whole world away from the first premier-class world cham­pi­onship race hosted on a small, rainy is­land in the mid­dle of the Ir­ish Sea on 17



The un­for­get­table mo­ment of a mem­o­rable race came as the rid­ers com­pleted the 17th of 22 laps. They all knew this would be a race of tyre man­age­ment, so they spent much of the race fol­low­ing Zarco, click­ing off the laps, look­ing af­ter the tyres and wait­ing to pull the pin. Mar­quez un­der­lined this point af­ter the race. ‘Zarco led for so long be­cause we wanted him to.’

As the lead­ing seven of Zarco, Dovizioso, Mar­quez, Rossi, Crutchlow, Pe­drosa and Petrucci raced past the pits at over 210 mph (338 km/h), Dovizioso used the Du­cati’s grunt to take the lead. Mar­quez knew he must go with the Ital­ian, so he too went past the French­man, but the pair col­lided as they braked for Turn One, Mar­quez’s Honda lift­ing its rear wheel and fish­tail­ing left and right as he fought to re­tain con­trol. He just about man­aged that and some­how man­aged to deny Zarco a counter-at­tack.

Zarco was sud­denly go­ing back­wards, be­cause he had burned his front tyre. His ri­vals pre­sumed he had overused the tyre but Zarco claimed he had got a dud. Ei­ther way, he soon fell vic­tim to Rossi and the rest.

Now Dovizioso tried to make the break. He set his fastest lap on lap 19, ek­ing a lead of three-tenths over Mar­quez, while Rossi was a fur­ther half sec­ond be­hind. By now, the rest had lost touch. It would be a three-way fight for the win.

But Dovizioso had noth­ing more to give. ‘When I got to the front, I had fin­ished my rear tyre,’ he said. ‘I could make good lap times but not as good as I wanted. I couldn’t take my [usual] lines, so I couldn’t cre­ate the gap.’

Mar­quez was right be­hind, of course, like a dog with a bone. As usual, he was faster through left-han­ders, which kept him right with the Du­cati. As they started the last lap, the gap was less than two-tenths, with Rossi too far back to be in the game… un­less the lead­ers got tan­gled up.

Of course, at the last cor­ner, Mar­quez did at­tack Dovizioso, just like Motegi and Red Bull Ring last year. The re­sult was just the same: Mar­quez had to en­ter the cor­ner too fast, which ran him wide, al­low­ing Dovizioso to cut back in front. Nev­er­the­less, the fin­ish was very close, the RCV’s front wheel mere inches be­hind the GP18’s rear.

‘As al­ways, you have to win the race to un­der­stand the level of the com­pe­ti­tion and I didn’t ex­pect to fin­ish the race with Marc,’ said the vic­tor. ‘For sure, Marc did some­thing un­real to stay with me. I’m happy be­cause I made the last cor­ner in the per­fect way. He closed the door more [than at Motegi and Red Bull Ring] but I was able to turn the bike very quickly and use the Du­cati’s power on the straight.

‘I’m re­ally happy be­cause we con­firmed the hard work we did this win­ter. In the past we were com­pet­i­tive here but not like this year. I was able to make a re­ally ter­ri­ble start and gain a lot of po­si­tions, while at the same mo­ment sav­ing my tyres and de­cid­ing my strat­egy. It’s not so easy to have this chance when Mo­toGP is at such a high level it’s at, so I’m re­ally happy about that. We have con­firmed that we are more com­pet­i­tive than at the end of last year.’

Dovizioso’s seventh win from the last 14 races was mighty im­pres­sive, but Mar­quez’s sec­ond place was more omi­nous. Lo­sail is usu­ally one of the worst tracks for the Spa­niard and his RCV (he had fin­ished two of the pre­vi­ous three Qatar GPs seven sec­onds be­hind the win­ner), so Honda have made by far the big­gest im­prove­ment.

‘Twenty points at a very dif­fi­cult track is like a vic­tory,’ said the 25-year-old. ‘We did a great job, even though I strug­gled a lot with the hard front tyre which gave me a lot of risks in the left­hand cor­ners. An­drea de­serves the vic­tory be­cause he was faster and had more. My target was to con­trol him. When he passed Zarco and I went with him, I was on the limit, slid­ing around the track but I was able to stay there and able to try at the last cor­ner.’

The per­for­mance of Honda’s lat­est en­gine made all the dif­fer­ence for Mar­quez and the other HRC rid­ers. Mar­quez was hardly out of con­trol all week­end and he didn’t fall once; a ma­jor change from 2017, when his crash av­er­age was 1.5 falls per week­end.

Crutchlow, who fin­ished fourth, 2.9 sec­onds be­hind Rossi, ex­plained the dif­fer­ence. ‘Honda have done a great job with the en­gine. We are more com­pet­i­tive on the straights, so we don’t have to fight the bike so much in the cor­ners.’

Rossi was de­lighted to be on the podium again. ‘I showed peo­ple I’m not too old,’ he said, just days af­ter sign­ing a 2019/2020 deal with Yamaha. ‘When Dovizioso got in front, the rhythm changed and that was the key mo­ment for me. I had to over­take Zarco and give my max­i­mum to go with An­drea and Marc. My idea was to stay as close as pos­si­ble, be­cause I knew Marc would try at the last cor­ner, but they didn’t lose a lot of time.’

Petrucci crossed the line a sec­ond be­hind Crutchlow, with Viñales right along­side af­ter a stir­ring come­back from 14th. A last-minute change of set-up to the Spa­niard’s M1 had al­lowed him to use more cor­ner speed which also helped re­duce his wheel-spin prob­lems. His last vic­tim was Pe­drosa, who com­plained of a mys­te­ri­ous lack of rear grip.

Zarco fin­ished alone in eighth, hav­ing led the race from lap two to lap 17. Ian­none was ninth, the lone Suzuki fin­isher af­ter Rins had slid off while in the thick of the lead bat­tle. Jack Miller com­pleted the top 10 in his first race with Pra­mac Du­cati. Top rookie was Moto2 champ Franco Mor­bidelli, a promis­ing 12th. KTM and Aprilia had grim re­sults: Pol Es­par­garo’s RC16 broke, leav­ing Bradley Smith KTM’s top fin­isher in 18th. Aprilia’s Aleix Es­par­garo had been bat­tling with Miller when he had fu­elling prob­lems on the fi­nal lap. Lorenzo crashed out when his brakes failed.


Francesco Bag­naia (VR46 Kalex) scored his first Moto2 vic­tory, lead­ing the whole race, bar­ring one cor­ner on the fi­nal lap when Lorenzo Bal­das­sari (Pons Kalex) briefly got past. The 21-year-old for­mer Moto3 win­ner, who al­ready has a Du­cati Mo­toGP ride for 2019, held on to win by 0.112 sec­onds.

Alex Mar­quez (Marc VDS Kalex) was also in the hunt un­til he had rear brake prob­lems that slowed him con­sid­er­ably. Some­how he man­aged to keep vet­eran Mat­tia Pasini (Ital­trans Kalex) at bay. The Red Bull KTMs of Brad Bin­der and Miguel Oliveira were next.

Joe Roberts, the sole Amer­i­can in the pad­dock, qual­i­fied 27th and fin­ished 25th on Moto2’s new­est chas­sis, the Ja­panese NTS. ‘The feel­ing with the bike was re­ally good,’ he said. ‘But the bike is still new and some­times if you try to find a good di­rec­tion, you find that it’s not the right way. It’s un­for­tu­nate we fig­ured this out dur­ing the race be­cause I think we had a lot of po­ten­tial to be quite far up this week­end.’


Honda con­tin­ued from where they left off last year, dom­i­nat­ing the Moto3 race with an­other podium lock­out. Jorge Martin (Del Conca Honda) won a race-long duel with fel­low Spa­niard Aron Canet (Estrella Gali­cia Honda) by 0.023 sec­onds. Podium first-timer Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leop­ard Honda) com­pleted the top three.

Canet drafted Martin out of the fi­nal cor­ner but didn’t quite have the speed to sling­shot past. Pole-starter Nic­colo An­tonelli (Sic58 Honda) dropped to 10th, then re­cov­ered to fourth, 0.045 sec­onds be­hind Dalla Porta. Gabriel Ro­drigo (KTM) was the first nonHonda rider in fifth.

A valiant ride from the The Doc­tor (46), but Dovi (04) proved to be faster on the Du­cati

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