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MotoGP: Qatar's dynamic duo - and it wasn't the winner

Publication: 
Bryan Edwards
chiefofficersnet

The Qatar MotoGP race launched the 2013 season, the entry to the senior class of double champion Marc Marquez, a new qualifying format - and proof that Valentino Rossi plans on winning a record 10th World Championship.

There's something special about Valentino Rossi. OK, so his career spells that out, of course, but there's something else, too: after a dismal and disheartening spell at Ducati, where his confidence and his self-belief were sapped by inter-team troubles and a bike that, on a good day, struggled to remain in the mid-field despite Rossi's best efforts, he told journalists that one of the reasons for leaving Ducati was that he wanted to know if "I've still got it."

In the last eight laps of the race, Rossi fought from fifth to second, passing Crutchlow on the sand that created a narrow racing strip, passing Pedrosa (who had ridden a stirling race despite having a bike that, in qualifying, was visibly unstable, having a peg-to-peg battle with newcomer Marc Marquez and then starting - too late to make a difference - to chase down his team-mate and rival Jorge Lorenzo, making each lap faster than the previous one and, on the last lap, gaining a second on Lorenzo. But he cut it fine: just a couple of corners after the line, his bike ran out of fuel: he didn't even make it to where his supporters were going wild.

Rossi doesn't usually think second is a good result. But in Qatar, he has rarely seemed so delighted - even with wins.

And he's delighted, too, to be back with Yamaha. Interviewed in the UK's Motorcycle News he said that when he says there's a problem with the bike, they welcome the chance to improve it; but at Ducati, he said, they didn't believe him and they were angry because he had criticised the bike. That's very strange because the problems with the Ducati front end were visible from TV footage: they didn't even have to get on the bike to realise it was junk.

In Qatar, Lorenzo had rocketed off the line, leaving everyone else to fight over the narrow strip of black stuff. He built an unassailable lead. Rossi, left in the mid-field by a lacklustre qualifying, first made sure he stayed out of trouble, then he made sure he knew where the grip was, even on the sandy stuff, then he made sure he knew how the bike handled and where the limits were and then, when he knew what he could do and where he could do it, he started a charge. There were times when one had to remind oneself to breathe and times of child-like delight at seeing Rossi doing what Rossi does: finding space where none exists, grip where there is none and speed where the bike should be topping out.

But it was Marc Marquez who very nearly spoiled Rossi's party. The two are - off the track - friends. On the track they respect each other. But the first race of the season shows that Marquez has lost none of the fire that has brought him championships in both Moto2 and Moto2 (or whatever they were branded at the time). In a side by side dice with Rossi, he played Rossi's own game, putting his own bike in the places that The Doctor wanted to be in, forcing the veteran (Rossi is 34, after all) into wide lines and therefore the dust.

Lorenzo's win will be shown in the record books. But in the hearts and history of racing fans, today belonged, without doubt, to Rossi and Marquez.