Frenchman Fabio Quartararo last night couldn’t have chosen a better time or circuit to announce himself as a threat to his rivals in the new season.
The 21-year-old Monster Energy Yamaha rider won the Tissot Grand Prix of Qatar ahead of compatriot Johann Zarco and Spanish pole winner Jorge Martin to nail the second round of the 2021 MotoGP World Championship.
Once a popular name on the junior circuit where he won six Spanish championship titles including successive CEV Moto3 crowns in 2013 and 2014, the young Frenchman completed the 22-lap race in a time of 42:23.997 after grabbing lead with five laps to go.
Quartararo pushed Zarco (Pramac Racing) and his stablemate Martin to second and third spots respectively in a single lap to win the top place on the Qatar podium after an exhilarating battle at the iconic Losail International Circuit.
Zarco was +1.457 slower than Quartararo while Martin - who impressed with his pole winning performance on Saturday night - finished +1.500 seconds behind the rising French star. Zarco passed Martin on the final lap to seal the second spot.
Yesterday’s race was the first time that two French riders reached the podium in the elite class since 1954 when Pierre Monneret (winner) and Jacques Collot (third) in Reims. Exhibiting good pace last night also, second-placed Zarco has now secured the top position on the points table after the two rounds of the 2021 season.
“It is easy to say I have not won a lot of races but this was such a special win,” Quartararo said yesterday.
“I fought from 8th or 7th. I saw the pace of the track was completely different from the warm-up. I decided to keep the tyre for the end. When I saw Maverick (Vinales) coming behind me, and I said now is the moment to push. It is an amazing win. I always dreamed to win in Qatar. I worked a lot in the off-season to achieve my dream. The media told me always I need to work more to take Valentino’s place. Thanks for everyone who believed in me. I want to thank my family Yamaha, my friends. I will enjoy tonight’s race with a nice McDonald’s (meal),” he added.
Spain’s Alex Rins (Suzuki Ecstar, +2.088 seconds) and last week’s winner Maverick Vinales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP, +2.110 seconds), also of Spain, completed the top five.
Pole winner from the opening round at the same venue last week, Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team, +2.642 seconds), defending champion Joan Mir of Spain (Suzuki Ecstar, +4.868 seconds), South Africa’s Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, +4.979 seconds), Australia’s Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team, +5.365 seconds) and Spain’s Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini, +5.382) completed the top 10.
In an intense battle under lights, Quartararo zipped past Rins at the start of lap 15 and quickly went past Bagnaia at Turn 15. The French rider, on lap 18, went past Zarco and then rode like the wind and overtook Martin at Turn 15 to grab the lead. There was not stopping Quartararo then as he remained firm on his bike and retained lead to win by 1.457 seconds over Zarco.
MotoGP icon Valentino Rossi ended in 16th spot for new employers Petronas Yamaha SRT after he started the race from career-worst 21st in qualifying. Rossi, aiming to ride until the end of 2022, clocked a poor +14.246 seconds behind Quartararo.
Zarco seemed please to have made another podium in the MotoGP class to lead the 2021 points race.
“I was pretty happy when I took the lead. He has been faster than what Pecco (Bagnaia) did last week. He had better pace. I was able to stay behind him. Rins was with me a long time. When he was overtaking me, I was really using my engine in the straight to stay second,” Zarco said.
“When Fabio came and he took overtook, I tried to catch Fabio before and even on the last lap. I am second. I am still so happy. I am leading the championship so it is good,” he added.
Third-placed Martin said it was always going to be a difficult race for him after winning the pole position on Saturday.
“It was a difficult race. I am a rookie. I was in front for 3 laps but anyway I managed to compete well,” Martin said last night. “Slowly I controlled the power. I think I really had a mature race. The management of the race (from my side) was really good. When Fabio overtook me, I knew I had to push. But in the last lap, Zarco overtook me. It’s okay because he is chasing the championship title. I am happy for my podium,” he said with a smile.
The riders will now move to Portugal for the third round to be held on April 18.