Spain’s Maverick Viñales celebrated his debut appearance for Movistar Yamaha MotoGP by claiming the first MotoGPTM pole start of his career. He followed that up by winning the Grand Prix of Qatar in torrential rain, ahead of Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) and Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP).
As in 2009, heavy rain at Losail International Circuit forced the organisers to cancel the weekend’s qualifying session, which meant the grid order for the 2017 world championship opener was decided by free practice times. This put Viñales on pole, ahead of Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team).
The wet weather caused the start of the night-time clash to be delayed by 45 minutes, while the race itself was shortened from 22 to 20 laps.
Iannone got away to a lightning start, but it was Frenchman Johann Zarco who caused the first surprise of the season by emerging in front on his Yamaha equipped with the soft rear Michelin Power Slick. The two-time Moto2 champion held firm for five laps before a fall at Turn 2 handed control to Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) who had made the same choice of rear tyre.
At the halfway point, Dovizioso was tailed by Marquez who had swapped his hard front tyre for the medium compound at the last moment. Iannone had a footing on the podium when he fell (as in 2016), allowing the Movistar Yamaha MotoGP pair to home in on the leaders.
On Lap 11, Viñales (medium Michelin Power Slicks front and rear) succeeded in passing Marquez to secure second spot before closing the gap to Dovizioso. Viñales squeezed past into first place on Lap 13 but Dovizioso reversed the situation next time round, and the pair traded the lead seven times in all!
At the age of 22, Viñales went on to secure the second MotoGP victory of his career, chased over the line by Dovizioso who came second in Qatar for the second year running! Rossi ended up third, ahead of Repsol Honda Team’s Marquez and Dani Pedrosa.
The next round of the 2017 MotoGP World Championship will take teams to Autodromo Termas de Rio Hondo, Argentina, on April 7-9.