Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez opened up his 2014 MotoGP World Championship title defense with a thrilling victory at Qatar. The Honda ace beat Movistar Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi by two-tenths of a second at the checkers. Marquez’s teammate, Dani Pedrosa, rounded out the podium.
The battle at Losail proved hazardous for a number of riders, first among them Rossi’s factory Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo. The 2012 MotoGP champ flew off the start from the second row to take the lead through the opening turns, but mid-lap on the first rotation Lorenzo lost control of his M1 and went down. His bike was inoperable after the incident, though luckily he escaped without serious injury.
"I made a mistake, it was a long time ago that I last did that in a race," said Lorenzo. "We are not perfect; we are only human and sometimes we make mistakes. The tires were different to last year and the temperature of the tarmac was a little colder. I didn’t take these circumstances into account and I was too fast into the corner when the front and rear tire were not ready yet."
After Lorenzo’s off, LCR Honda MotoGP’s Stefan Bradl took over the front followed by Tech 3 Yamaha’s Bradley Smith in second and Marquez in third. Marquez pushed past Smith on the second lap and proceeded to trail Bradl through the initial portion of the race. Position shifts behind the two front-runners were numerous, with Pramac Racing’s Andrea Iannone holding to fourth until Lap 2 when a crash forced him to regroup near the back of the pack. Go & Fun Honda Gresini’s Alvaro Bautista pushed his way up the ranks, reaching fourth after Iannone’s off followed by Rossi, Pedrosa and Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso.
Four laps in Bautista made a move past Smith for third-place, and was able to hold close to Marquez in a bid for the runner-up spot. The following lap Rossi passed Smith as well and proceeded to close a small gap to catch the lead pack.
Bautista was tenacious behind Marquez and when the Repsol rider ran wide in Turn 1 five laps in, Bautista slipped into second-place. The two battled briefly as Marquez fought to answer back, which the defending MotoGP champion finally did when Bautista ran wide himself after a big rear-end wobble one lap later. Bautista’s mistake also allowed Rossi to close-in tight and make an attempt at third, but the Gresini rider held-fast to podium position. Another mistake soon after sent Bautista wide again and Rossi was able to slip by easily podium position.
Pedrosa, meanwhile, was climbing up the ranks, passing Bautista soon after Rossi to take over fourth. Bautista and Smith didn't give up though and stayed within sight of the lead pack as the race reached mid-point.
Rossi began challenging Marquez for second with 15 laps remaining and the two swapped position a few times behind Bradl, who continued his smooth ride in the lead.
Bradl’s hopes of a win were then cut short when he lost control of the machine and went down. Marquez took over the front but was passed by Rossi halfway through the race. Rossi defended well against Marquez for a number of laps, but with nine to go the Repsol rider moved ahead of The Doctor to retake the lead. Behind, Pedrosa and Bautista held close to the two front-runners, but neither was able to challenge for more than third-place late in the contest. Bautista made it past Pedrosa as the race wound down, but in the final laps the Gresini rider went down, handing third-place back to Pedrosa. Smith, who was holding steady in fifth, also went down in the final laps.
Rossi turned on the heat in the penultimate lap, going hard at Marquez for the lead. Rossi passed Marquez a handful of times during the second-to-last rotation, only to have Marquez answer back. It was an aggressive, heated battle between the two champions, providing an air of uncertainty to how the race would end.
Marquez charged ahead on the final lap however, closing the door on Rossi's attempt at a pass as they entered Turn 1 and maintaining a slight, but unclosable gap on the Doctor to the finish line.
"I'm very happy with the result today," said Marquez. "The 25 points are important but it’s also been an important race, because I was coming back from an injury that caused me to miss most of the pre-season. Also, this weekend there were a lot of riders up at the front, all with a great pace, and seeing how the race went, this win is a big one. The battle with Valentino was the best part of the race besides the win, I really enjoyed it!"
Thanks to the number of fallen riders throughout the race, NGM Moblie Forward Racing’s Aleix Espargaro jumped up to fourth by the finish. Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso took fifth followed by his teammate, Cal Crutchlow, in sixth. MotoGP rookie Scott Redding, Bautista’s teammate, grabbed seventh trailed by Drive M7 Aspar’s Nicky Hayden in eighth and Aleix’s teammate, Colin Edwards, in ninth.
MotoGP Qatar Results 2014
1. Marc Marquez (Honda)
2. Valentino Rossi (Yamaha)
3. Dani Pedrosa (Honda)
4. Aleix Espargaro (Forward-Yamaha)
5. Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati)
6. Cal Crutchlow (Ducati)
7. Scott Redding (Honda)
8. Nicky Hayden (Honda)
9. Colin Edwards (Forward Yamaha)
10. Andrea Iannone (Ducati)
11. Hiroshi Aoyama (Pramac Racing)
12. Yonny Hernandez (Ducati)
13. Karel Abraham (Honda)
14. Danilo Petrucci (ART)
15. Broc Parkes (PBM)
16. Michael Laverty (PBM)
17. Mike Di Meglio (Avintia)
2014 MotoGP Championship Points
1. Marc Marquez, 25
2. Valentino Rossi, 20
3. Dani Pedrosa, 16
4. Aleix Espargaro, 13
5. Andrea Dovizioso, 11
6. Cal Crutchlow, 10
7. Scott Redding, 9
8. Nicky Hayden, 8
9. Colin Edwards, 7
10. Andrea Iannone, 6