Doha, Qatar - World champion Marc Marquez started his MotoGP title defence with a brilliant victory at the Losail International Circuit, beating Valentino Rossi in an epic battle, with Dani Pedrosa third.
Honda’s 21 year-old star produced a gritty performance to take maximum points despite breaking his leg in pre-season and missing the final two MotoGP tests.
In further drama Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo crashed out of the race lead at turn 15 on the first lap, starting his season with a DNF after he had struggled with grip issues throughout the weekend.
Meanwhile, after eight laps the race was over for Stefan Bradl who had led for several tours. Coming from seventh on the grid and taking advantage of Lorenzo’s crash and some errors ahead of him Bradl was writing headlines for LCR Honda but perhaps the pressure of Marquez and Rossi on his shoulder was too much as the German slid off track.
Marquez and Rossi then put up a superb duel for the lead that went down to the last lap and saw the young gun outpace the maestro by 0.25sec, with Pedrosa three seconds further adrift.
An excellent ride by Aleix Espargaro saw him take fourth on his debut for Forward Racing on their open-class Yamaha, after Alvaro Baustista (Honda) and Bradley Smith (Yamaha Tech 3) fell out of the podium hunt.
Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow did well in fifth and sixth respectively for Ducati – although Crutchlow finished 16 seconds behind his team mate after almost running out of fuel on his debut for the Italian factory.
A good first premier-class race for Scott Redding (Honda) saw him beat fellow open-class Honda rider Nicky Hayden into seventh by just 0.035sec.
Espargaro’s team mate Colin Edwards, riding his first race as a 40-year-old, and Andrea Iannone (Ducati) who recovered well from a fall on the final corner of lap two, rounded out the top 10.
Kalex rider Esteve Rabat looked threatening throughout the Qatar weekend, ultimately beating Nakagami to the line by 0.04sec after they had battled for the lead for several laps. Rabat ran wide on the first lap and dropped to fifth but just had too much for his closest rival over the 20 lap contest.
Mika Kallio a second behind the front two to round out an all-Kalex podium.
Three seconds further back in fourth was Thomas Luthi (Suter), three tenths ahead of Moto3 World champion Maverick Viñales (Kalex) who made an excellent Moto2 debut.
Simone Corsi (Forward KLX) ran well in sixth, from 10th on the grid, beating debutant Sam Lowes (Speed Up) who also performed solidly in his first Grand Prix.
The top ten was completed by Sandro Cortese (Kalex), Jordi Torres (Suter) and Anthony West (Speed Up), Cortese starting second on the grid with an injured foot and doing well to finish in extreme pain.
A disastrous start for Caterham saw Josh Herrin and Johann Zarco take each other out on the first lap, skittling Suter riders Alex De Angelis and Xavier Simeon in the process.
Jack Miller (KTM) took a brilliant maiden GP win in his debut for Red Bull, with the Hondas of Alex Marquez and Efren Vazquez second and third respectively.
Miller started from third on the grid and ran at the front with Marquez from the start as pole man Alex Rins (Honda) got a poor start and dropped to 12th.
Miller and Marquez disputed the lead for most of the race but a late mistake from Marquez let the Australian in on the final lap for his first victory and first podium in Grand Prix.
Behind the leading pair Vazquez crossed the finishing line just 0.047sec further back to complete the podium and step onto the rostrum for the first time since 2011.
Miguel Oliveira (Mahindra) was the best of the seven Mahindra riders in the race, missing the podium by just 0.015sec in fourth.
Rins put on an incredible late charge to finish just a fraction behind Oliveira in fifth.
Jakub Kornfeil (KTM) was also close to the front running group, eventually placing sixth, with the experienced Alexis Masbou (Honda) seventh, while KTM riders Isaac Viñales, Niccolo Antonelli and Francesco Bagnaia rounded out the top 10.