Losail, Qatar – After stealing the headlines throughout preseason testing, Maverick Vinales retained them with a win first time out for Yamaha, but it wasn’t easy as he fought it out with Ducati Team’s Andrea Dovizioso in an awesome desert duel.
South Africa’s Moto3 world champion Brad Binder battled in his first Moto2 outing, however, qualifying 22nd and finishing 20th, while his younger brother Darryn, moving up to the Platinum Bay KTM Moto3 squad, scored points first time out with a solid 13th.
A stunning start from Andrea Iannone (Suzuki) from second on the grid was soon overshadowed as rookie Johann Zarco (Yamaha Tech 3) slammed into the lead in the first laps, getting away and making a gap as Viñales found himself falling back into the clutches of his team-mate.
But the fairytale came to an early end for Zarco as he slid out of the lead soon after – leaving ‘DesmoDovi’ out front.
With Dovizioso getting away in the lead, Iannone then crashed out of the fight for second - leaving reigning champion Marc Marquez (Honda), Vinales and Yamaha team-mate Valentino Rossi chasing the leading Ducati. After a classic scuffle between Rossi and Marquez, the Doctor set off in pursuit of his team-mate.
It wasn’t long, however, before there was some fresh air between leading two and Rossi, with a fight for the lead that saw Vinales’ corner speed pitched against the sheer power of the Ducati.
After trading places several times in the closing stages, Vinales was able to hold off a challenge from Dovizioso on the penultimate lap - and made it to the line to take his second MotoGP win, and his first in Yamaha colours.
Marquez came hone fourth, just ahead of works Honda team-mate Dani Pedrosa, who took fifth after getting the better of Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia) and was closing on Marquez at the end.
Espargaro's result was a first top six for Aprilia in his first ride for the Noale factory; he was followed home by Ducati privateer Scott Redding, Jack Miller (Honda) and top rookie Alex Rins on the second Suzuki, just ahead of Yamaha Tech 3 rider Jonas Folger, who completed the top 10.
Jorge Lorenzo, in his first ride for Ducati, went wide on the first lap after a good start, rejoined cautiously way down the field, and steadily worked his way through the field to 10th, only to be passed by Folger near the end and finish 11th.
After a year of incredible podium performances in 2016, Franco Morbidelli (Kalex) started off 2017 in stunning style with his first Moto2 victory. 2016 Qatar winner and key rival Tom Luthi (Kalex) was second, with Takaaki Nakagami (Kalex) completing the podium.
A stunning start from pole saw Morbidelli retain his lead off the line, with Lüthi tucking into second as Alex Marquez lost a place down to third. It was almost as-you-were at the front over the initial laps, as the front three were chased by Nakagami and Miguel Oliveira (KTM).
Morbidelli’s stunning pace throughout practice in Qatar did not desert him on race day as he got the better of Luthi and built up a lead of more than two seconds by mid-race.
Luthi put in a steady ride to second to begin an expected title charge with a solid podium, with Oliveira then left chasing Nakagami in a bid to get the new KTM chassis on the podium first time out - but Nakagamia held firm to take third.
Oliveira was followed by Alex Marquez, who brought it home in fifth after an early challenge for the podium.
Intermediate class rookie Fabio Quartararo (Kalex) had put in huge mileage in testing and it paid off as he bought it home seventh first time out, just losing out in a battle with Luca Marini (Kalex) for sixth.
Lorenzo Baldassarri (Kalex) moved up from his grid spot to take eighth, with Xavi Vierge (Tech 3) and Axel Pons (Kalex) completing the top 10.
Joan Mir (Honda) took an incredible first win of 2017, making tactical perfection look easy on the way to the flag. British Talent Team rider John McPhee (Honda) finished second after a stunning ride up from outside the top 10, with pole-sitter Jorge Martin (Honda) completing the podium.
A clean start for everyone saw Martin keep his lead from pole, just ahead of Philipp Oettl (KTM), as Niccolo Antonelli (KTM Ajo) and Mir moved up behind the leading pair, with Romano Fenati (Honda) down in eighth as a lead group of more than 10 riders tucked in behind the battle for the lead.
With 12 laps to go, McPhee joined the fight for the lead with Mir, Andrea Migno (KTM), Martin and Oettl. The last laps came down to a battle between Mir, McPhee, Martin, Aron Canet (Honda) - and veteran last lap overtaker Fenati.
After hitting the front and pushing hard to keep a small gap, Mir crossed the line clear to take a stunning second win - with McPhee defending an impressive second on his team’s debut. Martin completed the podium after a calm slice back through the front group over the final laps.
Canet, Fenati, Migno, Antonelli, Fabio DiGiannantonio (Honda), Marcos Ramirez (KTM) and Adam Norrodin (Honda) kept it clean after impressive pace throughout to stay in the freight train, completing the top 10 following the battle for the podium.