Movistar Yamaha MotoGP’s Maverick Viñales made an incredible Yamaha debut at the start of the 2017 MotoGP season tonight, securing a perfect victory at the Grand Prix of Qatar. Teammate Valentino Rossi also put in a stellar performance during the opening round at the Losail International Circuit, finishing in third place for a double Movistar Yamaha MotoGP podium.
Movistar Yamaha MotoGPs Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi kept their heads cool under unnerving circumstances before the race and stormed to first and third position respectively.
As all sessions were cancelled yesterday, due to standing water on the track, thereby lessening the riders’ time to practice and perfect their race settings, the level of adrenaline on the grid was even higher than usual. The race start then being delayed twice, due to sudden rain causing dangerous track conditions, added even more to the tension. Eventually, after two warm-up laps to give the riders a feel for the track, the race got under way 45 minutes later than scheduled.
Viñales secured his first MotoGP pole position thanks to a stunning lap in FP1, but it didn’t help him at the start of the shortened 20-lap race. The young Spaniard gunned off the line and arrived at the first corner in second place, but had to sit up as 23 riders dashed through the first corner, losing him time and positions and pushing him back to fifth. He slowly picked up the pace as he got a feel for the conditions and, feeling the hot breath of his teammate down his neck, six laps into the race, he knew exactly when to put the hammer down.
As fellow Yamaha rider, Johann Zarco crashed out of the lead, the Spanish youngster saw the promise of a podium position dangling in front of him. He bridged the gap to Andrea Iannone and tapped on his back with eleven laps to go. A lap later the Italian cracked under the pressure and crashed in front of Viñales, who skilfully avoided him and pushed up to third place. Now on a charge, the Spaniard soon flew past Marc Marquez to start the hunt for leader Andrea Dovizioso.
Viñales put his head down to decrease the margin of 1.2s, making big strides. Two laps later he passed the Italian, clinching first position. Dovizioso fought back, overtaking the young hero at the end of the long straight, but Viñales used the nimble character of his YZR-M1 to perfection. The last five laps were filled with constant push and pull action between the two riders, but the Yamaha debutant’s stunning last lap, a personal best of 1’56.157s, saw him take the chequered flag in first place, 0.461s ahead of his closest rival. This victory makes Viñales the second youngest rider to win in the premier class with different manufacturers, after Mike Hailwood.
Teammate Rossi had to start his 2017 campaign from tenth position, but the Doctor didn’t take long to cut through the field. Launching his YZR-M1 past various rivals as the starting lights went out, he grabbed seventh place, despite a collision in turn one. With 18 laps to go the Italian was the quickest man on track, trying to pass Dani Pedrosa in front of him. Seeing the front group break away, he made his move a lap later and slotted in behind his teammate.
The Yamaha duo moved up two places as Zarco and Iannone fell victim to the high pace needed to stay in contention in the first hot battle, under unfamiliar track conditions. Rossi ran wide going into turn 1 with ten laps to go, but he recovered quickly. He followed his teammate past Marquez, making the crowd cheer, as now both Movistar Yamaha riders were in for a podium place.
The veteran bided his time as Viñales and Dovizioso battled for the lead. With four laps to go he set his personal best time, a 1’56.398s, and was looking threatening, but due to tyre wear he was unable to join in on the fight for the victory and had to settle for a hard-fought third place, crossing the line +1.928s behind his teammate.
Viñales’ superb win earns him first place in the championship standings with 25 points. Rossi now holds third place in the championship with 16 points. Thanks to today’s results Movistar Yamaha MotoGP take the lead in the teams’ championship with 41 points, whilst Yamaha leads the Constructor standings with 25 points.
The next round will be held at the Termas de Río Hondo circuit, in Argentina, in two weeks’ time.