Online Sport Editor Jamie Klein reflects on a thrilling MotoGP race that saw Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi battle it out for the win:
Young against old, Honda against Yamaha, Spain against Italy, the rookie champion against the past master. The duel for supremacy between Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi at the opening round of the MotoGP season at Qatar on Sunday evening was nothing short of breathtaking.
Evoking memories of Rossi’s epic tussle with Jorge Lorenzo at Catalunya back in 2009, the penultimate lap of the race saw Marquez’s orange Repsol Honda and Rossi’s blue Movistar Yamaha constantly swapping positions at what seemed like every turn, neither rider giving an inch as their motorcycles gleamed under the floodlights lining the technical Losail circuit.
What an incredible #MotoGP opener! I thought Rossi had it for a second but you just can never discount Marquez. Unbelievable racing
— Jamie Klein (@KleinonF1) March 23, 2014
Ultimately, though, it was Marquez who prevailed, finding an extra gear and setting his personal best lap time on the very final lap of the race to put the win just out of reach of the mercurial Rossi, who himself had defied all expectations by rising from a lowly 10th on the grid to challenge for the win.
Now at 35 years of age, time is running out for Rossi to recapture past glories. Controversially sacking long-time crew chief Jeremy Burgess at the end of last season was viewed by many as a final throw of the dice for a man who boasts no fewer than seven premier class titles on his CV.
Indeed, Rossi stated from the outset that how he fared in the opening few races of 2014 would determine whether or not his glittering career would last beyond the end of the year. If his ride at Qatar doesn’t prove a false dawn, it might just be that the man they call ‘The Doctor’ ends up hanging around a little longer yet.
But, the day unquestionably belonged to Marquez; what made the 21-year-old’s achievement all the more remarkable is the fact that he had broken his leg in a dirt bike accident just six weeks prior to the race, missing the final pre-season test as a result.
If Marquez can ride this well without being at full fitness, his rivals will dread to think just how much quicker he could prove once his leg is completely healed.
Pundits ran out of superlatives for Marquez last year as he broke just about every rookie record going in his first season of MotoGP competition; with a year of experience under his belt, there really is no limit to what he could achieve this season.
In particular, Marquez’s closest title rival from last year, Lorenzo, will be rueing a lost opportunity to get one over his great adversary. It was the Yamaha rider who got the hole-shot heading into the first turn after a spectacular launch from fifth on the grid, but the two-time champion threw it all away as he let the front end get away from him towards the end of the first lap – ending his evening prematurely in the gravel.
Lorenzo was far from the only rider to hop off his bike as the race progressed, though. Stefan Bradl looked to be rekindling his Moto2 rivalry with Marquez as he took the lead after Lorenzo’s demise, but the German suffered an almost identical incident on lap eight as his Honda hit the deck.
The other satellite Honda rider of Alvaro Bautista looked set for a podium finish in the dying stages too as he muscled his way past the factory machine of Dani Pedrosa, but was yet another rider to end up in the gravel. So too was Britain’s Bradley Smith, having taken his best ever grid slot in third place on board his Tech 3 Yamaha before dropping out of what would have been a solid fifth place.
It wasn’t all bad news for the Brits however, as Cal Crutchlow made it home sixth on his first race for new employers Ducati – running out of fuel as he crossed the finish line – with debutant Scott Redding taking a fine seventh place on board his open class Honda ahead of former champion Nicky Hayden on identical machinery.
Indeed, the future appears bright for Britain in MotoGP. Even if Smith, Crutchlow and Redding lack the machinery to take it to the likes of Marquez for the time being, consistently impressive performances throughout the year could well put them in the mix for a better ride come contract renewal time.
When that time comes, it seems hard to believe that Yamaha won’t make some kind of effort to prise Marquez out of Honda’s grasp. Rossi made the leap after winning three titles on the trot for Honda, carrying on exactly where he left off with Yamaha, and it could well be that Marquez by the end of the year fancies taking on a similar challenge.
But, whatever he decides, the superhuman Marquez looks set to continue re-writing MotoGP history. Let’s just hope, if that’s the case, that races like Qatar become the norm rather than the exception.bookmark me