Valentino Rossi won the first race of the season for the first time since 2005 tonight after a gripping opening to the new MotoGP campaign in Qatar.
The reigning world champion triumphed by just over a second from Fiat Yamaha team-mate Jorge Lorenzo after red-hot pre-race favourite Casey Stoner crashed out of the lead on lap six at the fourth corner.
Stoner had quickly disposed of the typically fast starting Repsol Honda of Dani Pedrosa and a fourth successive victory at the Losail International Circuit looked a formality.
But with the Australian 2.093s clear of Rossi having just lapped 1.1s faster than the Italian, Stoner lost the front of his factory Ducati GP10 and was unable to restart.
His shock blunder handed Rossi a 78th premier class victory, but the Fiat Yamaha rider was certainly made to work hard for the first 25-points of 2010.
Rossi had taken second from Pedrosa on lap five but he was never able to pull away from the chasing pack once Stoner had crashed out of contention.
He came under severe pressure from compatriot Andrea Dovizioso and the superb Nicky Hayden before prevailing in an enthralling 22-lap encounter.
Rossi did briefly surrender the lead at the end of lap 16 when Dovizoso’s factory Honda RC212V, which was noticeably fast in a straight line, slipstreamed Rossi’s Yamaha YZR-M1.
But Rossi, who is chasing a tenth world title in 2010, immediately retaliated with a clinical pass on the brakes at the first corner on lap 17.
Rossi was then able to open out a comfortable advantage and he started the penultimate lap with a healthy 1.656s lead.
Second place went to Lorenzo, who again put in a brilliant performance on worn race tyres. The Spaniard was some way off the fight for the podium before he staged a stunning fightback in the second half of the race.
He dropped Hayden back down to fourth on lap 20 and then immediately produced another superbly executed overtake on Dovizioso on the same lap to claim second.
British GP winner Dovizioso claimed third, largely thanks to the top speed of his RC212V machine.
He’d been overtaken by Hayden on the last lap but exiting the final corner, Dovizioso won the long drag to the finish line by just 0.011s to deny American Hayden a deserved second rostrum finish for Ducati.
The Kentucky rider rode superbly throughout and he finished fourth ahead of compatriot Ben Spies on the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha machine.
Starting from 11th, Texan Spies clawed his way through to seventh on the first lap and he took fifth from the fast fading Pedrosa on lap ten.
The reigning World Superbike champion though was powerless to chase down the battle for the podium, but fifth is his best ever MotoGP result and already betters any performance by British rider James Toseland, who left Tech 3 to make way for Spies.
Randy de Puniet rounded out the top six on the LCR Honda to finish ahead of Pedrosa.
The triple world champion stormed from seventh on the grid to grab the holeshot but he was unable to maintain his pace and dropped back through the field. He eventually finished over 15 seconds behind Rossi but comfortably ahead of Colin Edwards in eighth.
Aside from Stoner, Mika Kallio also crashed his Ducati GP10, the Finn falling out of 15th on the lap three.
Spanish rookie Alvaro Bautista also fell off his factory Suzuki GSV-R in the closing stages.
1 Valentino ROSSI ITA Fiat Yamaha Team Yamaha 42'50.099
2 Jorge LORENZO SPA Fiat Yamaha Team Yamaha +1.022
3 Andrea DOVIZIOSO ITA Repsol Honda Team Honda +1.865
4 Nicky HAYDEN USA Ducati Marlboro Team Ducati +1.876
5 Ben SPIES USA Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Yamaha +3.903
6 Randy DE PUNIET FRA LCR Honda MotoGP Honda +9.322
7 Dani PEDROSA SPA Repsol Honda Team Honda +16.508
8 Colin EDWARDS USA Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Yamaha +19.867
9 Loris CAPIROSSI ITA Rizla Suzuki MotoGP Suzuki +20.893
10 Hiroshi AOYAMA JPN Interwetten Honda MotoGP Honda +21.100
11 Marco SIMONCELLI ITA San Carlo Honda Gresini Honda +31.638
12 Hector BARBERA SPA Paginas Amarillas Aspar Ducati +32.573
13 Marco MELANDRI ITA San Carlo Honda Gresini Honda +40.780
Alvaro BAUTISTA SPA Rizla Suzuki MotoGP Suzuki 1 Lap
Aleix ESPARGARO SPA Pramac Racing Team Ducati 15 Laps
Casey STONER AUS Ducati Marlboro Team Ducati 17 Laps
Mika KALLIO FIN Pramac Racing Team Ducati 20 Laps