World Champion Marc Marquez started his MotoGP™ title defence with a victory in Qatar, beating Valentino Rossi in a close battle, with Dani Pedrosa coming home third Repsol Honda¢s 21 year-old rider produced a gritty performance to take maximum points despite breaking his leg in the preseason and missing the last two MotoGP tests. 

In further drama Movistar Yamaha MotoGP¢s Jorge Lorenzo crashed out of the race lead at turn 15 on the first lap, meaning his season starts with a DNF after he had struggled with grip issues throughout the weekend. After eight laps the race was also over for Stefan Bradl, who had led the contest for several circulations. 

Indeed, Marquez and Rossi then went on to have a great fight which went down to the last lap and saw the Spaniard outpace the Italian by 0.25s – with Pedrosa three seconds back to complete the podium. An excellent ride for Aleix Espargaro saw him take fourth on his debut for NGM Forward Racing on their ”Open¢ Yamaha. 
Espargaro cashed in on the crashes of Alvaro Baustista (GO&FUN Honda Gresini) and Bradley Smith (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) as they fell out of the podium hunt. Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow did well in fifth and sixth respectively for Ducati Team, though Crutchlow finished 16 seconds behind his teammate after almost running out of fuel on his debut for the Italian factory. 

A good first premier class race for Scott Redding (GO&FUN Honda Gresini) saw him beat fellow ”Open¢ Honda equipped rider Nicky Hayden (Drive M7 Aspar) to seventh by a 0.035s margin. The top ten was rounded out by Hayden¢s compatriot Colin Edwards (NGM Forward Racing), riding his first race as a 40 year-old, and Andrea Iannone (Pramac Racing) who recovered well from a fall on the last corner of lap two.


Marquez clinches the pole of the first race in 2014

World Champion Marc Marquez will head the grid for Sunday¢s first MotoGP race of the year at the Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar with Alvaro Bautista and Bradley Smith also qualifying on the front row. 
Despite only returning to riding his Repsol Honda machine on Thursday after breaking his leg in preseason training, Marquez showed his rivals he means business again in 2014 with a great charge to pole with a 1¢54.507 lap.

GO&FUN Honda Gresini¢s Bautista had provisional pole but eventually qualified second by a +0.057s margin, whilst Smith was also close to the top spot missing out by less than a tenth. That result is Smith¢s first ever premier class front row qualifying effort and was a great response to his FP3 horror crash. Another solid run for Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) sees him head the second row, with Jorge Lorenzo (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) and Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) managing to pull something out of the bag in fifth and sixth respectively having struggled for much of the weekend so far. 
Stefan Bradl (LCR Honda MotoGP) leads the third row with a time just 0.364s off the pace, with Q1 participant Cal Crutchlow (Ducati Team) improving to eighth. 

A disastrous session for Aleix Espargaro (NGM Forward Racing) saw him qualify ninth, having walked away from two crashes, appearing to crack under the pressure of Q2. He had led the way earlier in the weekend and was furious with himself after both falls.

Rossi's helmet featuring  LEDs

Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) starts in the unfamiliar territory of row four, ahead of Andrea Iannone (Pramac Racing) and Pol Espargaro (Monster Yamaha Tech3).


Aleix Espargaro completes clean sweep after heading third session

An exciting FP3 session at the Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar saw Aleix Espargaro (NGM Forward Racing) on top again, outpacing Andrea Iannone (Pramac Racing) and Alvaro Bautista (GO&FUN Honda Gresini) in the top three. 

The revelation of the winter and of the Qatar weekend so far, Espargaro posted a 1¢54.773 best time on the ”Open¢ Forward Yamaha, with Iannone and Bautista trailing him by 0.413s and 0.467s respectively. Ducati Team¢s Andrea Dovizioso and World Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) completed the top five, neither of them having attended the test visit. 

There was a big crash for Monster Yamaha Tech3¢s Bradley Smith at turn 5, but the Englishman limped away from the huge highside and was able to post the sixth best time of the evening. Former World title winner Jorge Lorenzo¢s woes continued as he looked uncomfortable outside the top ten for most of the session and he was potentially heading for Q1 participation before pulling out a 1'55.495 to go seventh. 

Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) was tenth on Friday courtesy of his best FP2 time, whilst Stefan Bradl (LCR Honda) and Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) squeezed into the top ten, Rossi with a late best time in the final minutes.

Comment: The regulations favor the Teams at the “Open” category, especially on slippery tracks. Thus the Championship is expected to be quite more competitive than last year. In 2013 the gap between Factory and Open was huge, with the competition at the front being focused among four riders while now the top class riders are pushed below the fourth place at the first F.P. sessions of the season.


Espargaro stays on top as pace quickens

The FP2 practice for the MotoGP™ riders at the Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar saw Aleix Espargaro (NGM Forward Racing) on top again, with Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) and Alvaro Baustista (GO&FUN Honda Gresini) two and three. 

Espargaro¢s 1¢54.989 best time was 0.2s better than he went in FP1 and was 0.3s quicker than his closest rival in this session as Dovizioso pushed hard on the GP14 in second. The Italian was nearly two seconds sharper than on Thursday on the softer Bridgestone tyre. Bautista looked good again in third, though he was almost half a second down on Espargaro. 

Repsol Honda riders Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez stepped up their pace in fourth and fifth respectively, though they will want to close their half second gap to the top of the timesheet in FP3. Marquez survived two big wobbles with his injured leg, whilst Pedrosa looked less than happy at the end of the session. Bradley Smith (Monster Yamaha Tech3) and Stefan Bradl (LCR Honda MotoGP) were sixth and seventh, with rookie Pol Espargaro (Monster Yamaha Tech3) in eighth after a crash early in the session. 

Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) was a second off the pace in ninth with his compatriot Andrea Iannone (Pramac Racing) just behind him in tenth. Jorge Lorenzo (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) was in the unfamiliar territory of 11th, +1.183s behind his countryman Espargaro. At the meantime the new Tech-Air airbag was revealed, probably the most advanced and comprehensive protection possible!


Espargaro sets the pace as the motoGP action commences

Aleix Espargaro (NGM Forward Racing) set the pace in the opening FP1 session of the year for the premier class in Qatar, with Alvaro Baustista (GO&FUN Honda Gresini) and Bradley Smith (Monster Yamaha Tech3) second and third respectively. 

In the first Grand Prix practice session of the new ”Open¢ class era it was Espargaro in P1 with his Open entry Forward Yamaha with a 1¢55.201 best lap, with Bautista 0.466s behind him. Espargaro¢s pace was over 0.3s slower than he went in testing here two weeks ago. 

At the start of his second season in MotoGP Smith was third by a 0.6s margin, with Andrea Iannone (Pramac Racing) and rookie Pol Espargaro (Monster Yamaha Tech3) also in top five as the riders who tested in Qatar occupying the top end of the timesheet. The younger Espargaro brother appears to be riding smoothly despite his collarbone injury sustained ten days ago at this track. 

Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) and Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) were the quickest Factory riders in sixth and seventh, whilst the top ten was completed by Colin Edwards (NGM Forward Racing), Jorge Lorenzo (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) and Nicky Hayden (Drive M7 Aspar). World Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) was 11th as he tested his fitness after breaking his right leg in preseason.

MotoGP Rewind: 2014 preseason buildup