Valentino Rossi’s Ducati nightmare seemed like a distant memory in Qatar last night after the Italian made a dream return to Yamaha by finishing second after a terrific late tussle with rookie Marc Marquez.
An early mistake and failure to quickly navigate a way by German Stefan Bradl in the opening exchanges of the 22-lap race seemed to have crushed the nine-times world champion’s hopes of a top three finish on his YZR-M1 return.
But reminiscent of some of his famous fightbacks in the past, Rossi clawed back a deficit of close to four seconds on Cal Crutchlow to haul himself back into the podium fight that also involved Marquez and struggling Spaniard Dani Pedrosa.
The 34-year-old took second from Marquez on lap 20 and then brilliantly fended off a relentless attack from the reigning Moto2 world champion to help Yamaha to a 1-2 for the first time since the Estoril round in Portugal at the end of 2010.
A jubilant Rossi, who only managed three podiums in 35 races at Ducati, said: “After the last race of 2012 my first target was to try arrive in the podium in Qatar in my come back with Yamaha so I am so happy for this.
"I tried the maximum and unfortunately in qualifying I didn’t have enough confidence in the bike for the maximum lap, so I had to start from the third row.
"I had good pace in the warm-up so I thought with a good start I would try to overtake the two or three guys in front because I knew I had the rhythm for second place but unfortunately to overtake Pedrosa I touched him and I go wide.
"From that moment my race became a little harder, especially because I lost a lot of time with Bradl. When I was free I needed two laps to understand the rhythm of the other guys because at the beginning I thought they were too far ahead.
"But then I went in 55 for three laps and knew I could arrive with the guys in front, so I pushed even more but also concentrated to keep some energy for the final battle. I enjoyed it a lot because I saw the podium coming closer and closer lap by lap.
"I was happy to fight and I thought the hard battle would be with Marquez and it was like this. I didn't make a mistake, I pushed a lot and this second place is the maximum I could do."
Rossi’s YZR-M1 ran out of fuel on the slowing down lap, as happened to him after he won the season’s opening round in 2010 at the floodlit Losail International Circuit.
He’d probably thought he’d never throw his leg over a Ducati again, but got a ride back to the pits on the back of pal Andrea Iannone’s Pramac GP13 machine.
For more on Rossi’s brilliant Yamaha return in Doha, see the April 10 issue of MCN.