Eight years have passed since the last season in MotoGP as an independent team from Gresini, eight more from the last time Gresini Racing was on the top step of the podium. The return to the premier class could not have been any more glorious for the team founded by the late-great Fausto Gresini, who collectively burst into tears of joy today at the Losail International Circuit courtesy of a masterful performance by Enea Bastianini, who put together the perfect race aboard his Ducati GP21 machine #23.
The performance by 24-year-old from Rimini was simply exemplary, as he kept close to the front of the field in the early stages while preserving the tyres around the fast-flowing Qatari track. After spending most of the race in fourth place, he realised he had what it takes to push for more and made his way past former MotoGP champion Marc Marquéz first, and then once having the better of Brad Binder he found himself in second place with a one-second gap to the then-leader Pol Espargaró.
With a relentless place, which included the fastest lap of the race – a 1’54.338secs on lap 17 – he bridged the gap to the front and then slipstreamed his way to the lead. From then on, he careful managed his margin up to the chequered flag, for a new incredible milestone for him and the whole of Gresini Racing.
“My feelings are incredible right now. I pushed hard from the start, but the most important thing was to save the tyre for the end of the race. I saw Pol pushing hard at the front, but I managed to overtake Binder and then at the end, once I got very close to Pol, I realised that I could try to win the race. I passed him down the straight at turn one and he went wide, so from then on it was all about staying in the lead and take the win home. It’s hard to express my feelings now, but I want to dedicate the win to Fausto because he gave me incredible motivation from above. This is a fantastic result for the whole team: we’re all in tears right now. I’m also very happy for my family at home, so a big thank you goes to everyone who made this possible.”
Binder made an electric start from the third row until the Lusail lights for the first race of 21 and the longest world championship season on record. The South African pushed his KTM RC16 into 3rd position in the formative laps and never budged from the leading quartet. He worked his way past Marc Marquez and then Pol Espargaro and was closing to the rear wheel of eventual winner Enea Bastianini by the checkered flag. Binder was just three tenths of a second from the Italian at the finish line.
“Incredible. If you told me we’d be 2nd in Qatar after the first test I wouldn’t have believed you. Today was a great day, it was a great weekend. I knew we had a good level but I had so much confidence and belief in the bike from beginning to end. We made such a huge step. For us to be on the podium in Qatar is insane. Now we’re looking for more!”
Pol Espargaro showed off the incredible potential of the new Repsol Honda Team RC213V with a brilliant third place finish ahead of Marc Marquez, who with a fifth place finish sees the Repsol Honda Team leading the Teams’ World Championship. Leading most of the race with Marquez close behind, Espargaro proved the potential of himself and the new package from Honda HRC. The Qatar weekend as a whole has been hugely positive and productive for both sides of the Repsol Honda Team garage as Espargaro and Marquez consistently ran with front-running pace.
There was no missing the power and precision of the Repsol Honda Team RC213V off the line as Pol Espargaro rocketed forward to lead from sixth on the grid, teammate Marc Marquez, who has started third, tucking in just behind him after the first corner. The pair settled into a steady rhythm in the opening laps as the MotoGP field fought behind them.
Espargaro’s pace didn’t relent as he steadily worked his way further forward, opening up an advantage of a full second towards the middle of the race. On lap 11 of 22, the #44 set his fastest lap of the race as he tried to maintain his lead. Expecting another kind of race all together, Espargaro spent the closing stages of the Qatar GP managing his tyres and fuel and soon found himself with Enea Bastianini for company. As the young Italian passed on the start of lap 18, the extra speed from his slipstream sent Espargaro wide at the first corner – ending his challenge for victory and seeing Espargaro hold steady for third.
This is Espargaro’s second podium finish with the Repsol Honda Team. Having led 17 laps today, Espargaro more than doubles the amount of race laps led in his MotoGP career. This is Espargaro’s best result in Qatar and his first podium finish at the opening round.
“It’s a great way to start the year, we made an incredible start and we were able to lead most of the race. Honestly speaking, we were not expecting a race like this and with the pace we had, so at the end we were really on the limit. It’s an incredible feeling to start the year like this, of course I am disappointed that when Bastianini passed me I got sucked into the slipstream and I ran wide, dropping to third. But still we have to be pleased to start the year like this at a track where I normally do not go well at and in the past has not been the best track for Honda. I wanted to show my potential and today I was able to do it. Much of the glory today has to go to Honda HRC, for all their hard work over the winter in Japan to build this new bike and allowing me to show my true potential.”