Marc Marquez took his amazing career to a new level with a dazzling victory over Valentino Rossi in the Qatar Grand Prix to set a platform for his MotoGP championship defense.
It was a win that may define his 2014 season, coming just six weeks after a broken leg with a performance that overshadowed Rossi’s stunning ride from tenth on the grid.
Marquez and the factory Honda team showed that that no amount of rule fiddling can slow this team that has packaged an awesome racing weapon – rider and bike.
While Marquez celebrated, the race was a nightmare for his Yamaha rival Jorge Lorenzo who crashed out from the lead on Lap 1. He goes to the second race in Austin already 25 points behind the defending champion.
The over-hyped challenge of Aleix Espargaro on an Open class Yamaha M1 failed to materialize with the podium dominated by factory bikes with Dani Pedrosa third (Honda) behind Marquez and Rossi.
Espargaro started ninth and finished fourth, 11.6s behind Marquez and thus keeping his record of never winning a race intact.
Marquez, 21, engaged the age-defying Rossi, 35, in an absorbing late race battle with a series of uncompromising overtakes that both riders enjoyed.
Rossi less so, because on the final lap he was easily outpaced by Marquez who combined skill, some brute force and perfect timing to win.
“The battle with Valentino was great, and I enjoyed it a lot. And then, on the last lap, I pushed 100 percent,” Marquez said.
“On the lap before, we passed each other three or four times and it is one year (Qatar 2013) since I had a battle like this with Valentino, which he won last year, but this year I did it.
“I hope to have some more battles with him in the future.”
Just how close Rossi, Lorenzo and Pedrosa can now get to Marquez will be intriguing, especially at the next race in Austin which Marquez won last year.
Marquez won in Qatar having missed six days of crucial pre-season testing and still battling the pain and discomfort from the leg fracture he suffered while dirt bike riding in February.
He says he hopes to be much closer to 100 percent fitness for the Texas GP.
Rossi turned back time in Qatar and hopes to continue that form in a bid to convince himself he can still be a winner and extend his career with a new contract into 2015.
“When I arrived to the front after starting tenth I knew I would have to fight with Marc at the end of the race because we were the guys who had a little bit more pace,” Rossi said.
“But even when I was in second place, I didn’t want to make any mistakes because I had Dani Pedrosa and Bautista behind and for me to arrive on the podium was great.
“I tried to play my cards on the final lap, I had my chance to win, but unfortunately Marc was stronger than me on the last lap and he deserved the victory.
“It was great, great battle and I enjoyed it a lot but next time I will try play my cards in a better way on the last lap.
“Now the key is to continue like this because last year I made a great start to the season but then in the other races I had some problems.
“But now I feel stronger and I ride the bike in a better way, so from Austin I want to try and stay in front. I know it is difficult with the Hondas and Marc but we have to try.”
Lorenzo’s daring strategy over going out fast and challenging his rivals to stay with him – which won him eight races in 2013 – came unstuck after a stunning opening move from fifth on the second row.
Lorenzo had been out of sorts for most of the weekend chasing setup with the new spec rear tires, and his concerns that the open class rules were too generous.
Lorenzo admitted that he may have been caught out by a cooler track and lack of tire temperature. It would have been interesting to see his race pace against Marquez, who went with the harder compound rear tire, and Rossi.
That will come at COTA for the next race in Austin on April 13.Marc Marquez, MotoGP, Qatar, Valentino Rossi