The Italian impresses with a late charge for the lead as Pol Espargaro faces tyre troubles.
The opening round of 2022 saw two riders chasing their maiden victories in the MotoGP class, with Gresini Racing’s Enea Bastianini eventually taking the honors as he powers his Ducati GP21 to success, a beautiful tribute to the late Fausto Gresini. It was also the team’s first victory on Ducati machinery, as well as their first premier class victory since Toni Elias in the 2006 Portuguese Grand Prix.
The race began with Jorge Martin on pole, where a poor start dropped the Spaniard all the way down to 8th. The Repsol Honda pair meanwhile rocketed off their grid spots to take a 1-2 with Pol Espargaro leading Marc Marquez, as Brad Binder took his KTM to the third spot from 7th on the grid. Marquez attempted a lunge on his teammate on the second lap, but Pol immediately retook the lead after a corner, a lead he would maintain for a majority of the race.
While the younger Espargaro controlled the pace at the front, the podium battle started hotting up as Binder eventually took 2nd from Marquez, while Bastianini began pressuring Suzuki’s Joan Mir in 4th. He eventually found his way past Mir and approached Marquez in no time. While Mir found himself in the podium battle early on, his teammate Alex Rins endured a more difficult start as he would struggle to pass Fabio Quartararo until the fourth lap, where he took advantage of Suzuki’s horsepower upgrade and Yamaha’s notorious power deficit to sail past the Frenchman for eighth position.
Just a lap after his pass on Mir, Bastianini attacked Marquez at the first turn for the third podium spot, and held his place for a handful of laps to save his tyres as Pol extended his lead by tenths lap after lap. The Suzukis meanwhile began struggling for pace, despite being the pre-race favorites after dominating the practice sessions. Mir began dropping his laptimes and eventually lost 5th to Aleix Espargaro, who was seeking Aprilia’s best result in the premier class.
By the 13th lap, Pol managed to build a gap as big as 1.4 seconds while keeping a consistent pace, while Bastianini found his way past Binder in the main straight before even reaching the first turn. As he charged his way to the front, Pol’s soft tyres began wearing out quickly and he eventually started to lose his pace, while the Italian used his medium rear tyre choice to his advantage and closed into the lead rapidly. At the same time, Aleix made his way past Marquez to take 4th and maintained his gap to the lead that his younger brother was quickly losing.
After tailing Pol for several more laps, Bastianini flew past the Spaniard in the main straight and crossed the line with the lead with four laps remaining. Pol tried his best to minimize his deficit, but pushed too hard and made a mistake in the first turn, running wide and losing the runner-up spot to Binder. Bastianini maintained the lead towards the end, although Binder managed to clamp down his 1 second gap on the final lap, eventually ending the race three tenths behind the Italian. Pol managed to hold the final podium position ahead of his older brother, taking his second ever podium for Honda. Aleix brought his Aprilia home to 4th, and despite missing out on matching their career-best 3rd, he managed to finish only 2.242 seconds off the leader, the closest Aprilia has ever finished in the top class. Marquez covered the top five, struggling in a similar fashion to his teammate as both Repsol Honda boys opted for a full soft compound setup.
The Suzukis of Mir and Rins finished 6th and 7th respectively, a disappointing end to what looked like a promising weekend. Johann Zarco charged to 8th after a miserable weekend where he qualified 18th, using Ducati’s horsepower to beat Quartararo to the line by a photo finish of 0.007 seconds. Taka Nakagami took another solid finish for LCR to round off the top ten, with Franco Morbidelli finishing 11th ahead of Maverick Vinales. Luca Marini finished 13th, beating Andrea Dovizioso to the line once again with Ducati horsepower.
The final point was sensationally battled out by the rookies throughout the race, as Darryn Binder impresses with his pace after many expected him to cruise in last place. He was another victim of Yamaha’s power deficit as he lost the final point to KTM’s Remy Gardner by a hundredth of a second. He nonetheless impressed by beating the remaining rookies Fabio DiGiannantonio and Raul Fernandez, the latter being the last finisher.
The first retiree of the night was Jack Miller who pulled into the pits with 16 laps to go, with reports later saying that he was heard complaining about electronic issues. On the same lap, leading rookie Marco Bezzecchi crashed out of 13th position, a sad end to his impressive debut which saw him both outqualifying and outracing his teammate Marini. Alex Marquez’s struggles continued as he crashed out with 13 laps remaining, as well as Miguel Oliveira a lap later. The big talking point eventually came at the 11th lap, where Francesco Bagnaia attempted a move on Jorge Martin on the first turn and lost the front end, wiping Martin out of the race with him. Bagnaia immediately ran up to the Spaniard to apologize and check on his condition.
While Ducati’s factory team come home empty handed, it is Enea Bastianini that saves Bologna’s day, and we’re yet to see more from the young Italian who never fails to impress on older machinery. As the Qatar weekend comes to a close, we look forward to the next round at the Indonesian Grand Prix, the nation’s first in 25 years.