Maverick Vinales followed up his pre-season form with victory in the opening race of the season. The Spaniard was making his Yamaha debut in Qatar after his switch from Suzuki, and held off the Ducati of Andrea Dovizioso and his team-mate Valentino Rossi.
The race was reduced to 20 laps due to a 40 minute delay caused by rain whilst the bikes came on to the grid. This came after qualifying had been washed out, meaning that the grid was based on the combined times from free practice.
But the inconvience of the rain was soon forgotten, as rookie Johann Zarco made a flying start and hit the front. The Frenchman looked comfortable as he led his more experienced competitors, but he crashed out on lap 7.
Andrea Dovizioso seized the opportunity to hit the front, leading world champion Marc Marquez and former team-mate Andrea Iannone. As Dovizioso controlled the race, Marquez and Iannone battled for second position, before Iannone slipped out on lap 11.
It was then when Maverick Vinales, who suffered from a poor start, and Valentino Rossi, who started back on the fourth row, made their way past Marquez and started hunting down Dovizioso.
Vinales managed to catch Dovizioso, but kept being frustrated as he was unable to escape from the Ducati’s superior horsepower down the front straight. But with only a few laps remaining Vinales was finally able to gain enough of a lead to consolidate his position and take the win by 0.461 seconds. Dovizioso took second, whilst Rossi crossed the line 1.467 seconds later.
Marc Marquez, who switched to a softer front tyre during the delays at the start of the race, slipped back, but was able to hold off his team-mate Dani Pedrosa, whilst Aleix Espargaro took sixth on his Aprilia debut.
Scott Redding finished as the top Brit, finishing in a lonely seventh place, two seconds behind Espargaro and five seconds clear of Jack Miller. None of the other Brits scored points, with Bradley Smith finishing seventeenth on his KTM debut, and Sam Lowes a further place back on his first appearance in MotoGP. Cal Crutchlow suffered a race to forget, falling twice early on.
Alex Rins finished as the top rookie in ninth, just beating Jonas Folger to that accolade. Both, however, finished ahead of Jorge Lorenzo, who looked uncertain on his Ducati debut, finishing eleventh.
Joan Mir took the opening race of the day, as the Spaniard held off a group of four riders, headed by Britain’s John McPhee, that finished within half a second of the Moto3 winner.
Franco Morbidelli secured a dominant win in Moto2. The Italian took his first Grand Prix victory, 2.681 seconds clear of Thomas Luthi. Britain’s Danny Kent finished thirteenth.
The next race is in Argentina, taking place on April 9.