MotoGP Qatar: Enea Bastianini takes emotional maiden win in season opener

Enea Bastianini and Gresini Racing celebrate an emotional victory
Enea Bastianini and Gresini Racing celebrate an emotional victory

Enea Bastianini put the paddock on notice Sunday afternoon by storming to an emotional maiden victory in the 2022 MotoGP season opener in Qatar.

Bastianini led Gresini Racing to victory in their first race back as a sole independent team, sparking emotional scenes in the Gresini garage and beyond. The win comes just over a year after team founder Fausto Gresini died due to Covid-19. Fausto’s widow Nadia Padovani took over as team manager for the 2022 season.

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It’s Gresini Racing’s first MotoGP victory since Estoril 2006, when Tony Elias pipped Valentino Rossi to the line by 0.002s – a result which ultimately coast Rossi the title that year.

Running the Ducati Desmocedici GP21 which took Francesco Bagnaia, Jack Miller, and Jorge Martin to victory last year, Bastianini opted to run the medium rear tyre compared to most around him running the soft. The Gresini rider was held up behind Marc Marquez in the early stages, but in reality, this helped his cause as he was saving his stronger rear tyre further.

Once past Marquez, Bastianini set his sights on Brad Binder and made his move at the first corner on lap 14 to move into second. Pol Espargaro, who had led since the first corner, was just over a second down the road, but after pushing hard on soft tyres, the Repsol Honda man was beginning to lose grip.

Bastianini soon caught the Spaniard and used the power of his Ducati to overtake Espargaro down the start/finish straight as they entered lap 19. Espargaro out braked himself into turn one whilst trying to fend off his challenger, but the mistake allowed Bastianini to open a comfortable gap.

Binder, also on a medium rear, also got the better Espargaro and did close down Bastianini on the final lap, however the Gresini rider had done enough and crossed the line to take victory with an advantage of 0.346s.

“My feelings are incredible right now,” Bastianini said. “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.”

Whilst it was a successful day for Bastianini, the same cannot be said for the factory Ducati team, nor Jorge Martin on the Pramac Ducati. Miller retired with a technical problem at the end of lap seven, whilst title favourite Francesco Bagnaia fell whilst attempting a move down the inside of Martin at turn one, taking both riders out of the race.

Back on the track, Espargaro held on to third ahead of brother Aleix, whilst Marquez completed the top five on the second Repsol Honda.

Suzuki’s Joan Mir and Alex Rins were sixth and seventh respectively after being unable to match the impressive pace they showcased earlier in the weekend. The straight-line speed of the Suzuki was visible for all to see however, which bolds well for them.

Fabio Quartararo limped home in ninth after being out-dragged to the line by Johann Zarco’s Ducati, whilst Takaaki Nakagami completed the top 10 on the LCR Honda RC213V. Quartararo’s teammate Franco Morbidelli was 11th, ahead of Maverick Vinales and Luca Marini.

Andrea Dovizioso and rookie Remy Gardner secured the final couple of points on offer, with Darryn Binder narrowly missing out on a point by 0.012s. It’s a positive start to the year for the South African, who has made the giant step from Moto3 to the premier class.

Fabio Di Giannantonio and Raul Fernandez were the final two finishes, with Miguel Oliveira, Marco Bezzecchi and Alex Marquez all crashing out of the race.