DOHA (REUTERS, AFP) - Gresini Racing's Enea Bastianini claimed his maiden MotoGP victory in style at the season-opening Qatar Grand Prix on Sunday (March 6), as other Ducatis were forced to retire owing to technical issues or crashes.
The 24-year-old Italian, who started second on the front row, finished ahead of Red Bull KTM's Brad Binder and Honda's Pol Espargaro came third, ahead of his older brother Aleix on an Aprilia.
“I think now it’s incredible,” said Bastianini, the Moto2 champion in 2020.
“At the end Pol was really close to me. I understood that now I could try to win the race, and I overtook Pol on the first corner after he went out.”
Bastianini paid tribute to the team’s founder Fausto Gresini, a two-time 125cc world champion who died aged 60 last year from the coronavirus.
“It’s difficult for me to speak. I dedicate this victory to Fausto. He pushed me a lot from the skies, and it’s fantastic for all the team. I think we’ve all been crying," an emotional Bastianini said while pointing to the heavens.
“It’s fantastic for the team. I think all the guys are crying.”
The Italian’s victory reduced team owner Nadia Padovani and the Gresini garage to tears as the team, founded by Padovani’s late husband, won their first race after reverting to being an independent outfit.
Six-time MotoGP champion Marc Marquez, whose past two seasons have been derailed by injuries finished fifth, and reigning champion Fabio Quartararo was ninth.
Pramac Ducati's Jorge Martin, who stormed to pole position in qualifying on Saturday, had a poor start and later crashed when Ducati's Francesco Bagnaia slipped and took both bikes out.
Marquez dropped further down, however, when Binder capitalised on a mistake while Bastianini, riding last year’s Ducati GP21, was still faster on the straight.
Ducati’s Jack Miller was forced to retire with a technical problem and the Australian stormed out of the garage after coming in, while his team mate Francesco Bagnaia struggled to catch up with the lead group.
Ducati’s night got worse when Bagnaia – last season’s championship runner-up – slipped and took out Martin as the Spaniard tried to overtake on the first turn, with both bikes sliding off the track.
The Italian manufacturer’s hopes rested on Bastianini, who started on the front row for the first time, and he overtook Binder before starting to reel in race leader Pol Espargaro, with the gap closing every lap.
The pressure paid off when Bastianini overtook Espargaro with four laps to go, using the Honda rider’s slipstream before he went wide in an attempt to defend his position and dropped to third.