The winners and losers of MotoGP's Grand Prix of Qatar

After an emotional season opener, we give you our winners and losers of the 2022 Qatar Grand Prix.

Qatar 2022 MotoGP podium with Enea Bastianini, Brad Binder, Pol Espargaro.

WE will start with the winners, and specifically with the provider of the aforementioned emotion.

WINNER - Enea Bastianini/Gresini Racing

Enea Bastianini’s performance in Qatar was not befitting of a rider with two podiums, at the beginning of his second season with a team who have re-emerged from their factory Aprilia tie-up with year-old Ducatis. It was a magnificent ride by the Italian, who came from as low as fifth to catch Pol Espargaro in the final five laps, before passing the #44 Repsol Honda rider, and escaping just far enough into the distance to evade Brad Binder’s late race pace.

Bastianini has always been a racer more than a qualifier. The 2019-spec Ducati he rode in 2021 mirrored those characteristics, meaning his qualifying suffered while his race performances were often impressive. 

This year, on the GP21, Bastianini seems to be more competitive over one lap. He started second and, although he dropped to fifth place by the end of the first lap, Bastianini was able to recover to second place by lap 13, after which it took him five laps to hunt down and pass Pol Espargaro, who had led from the start.

The story of Bastianini and Gresini is a beautiful, if brutal, one. It was Gresini Racing founder, two-times 125cc World Champion Fausto Gresini, who gave Bastianini his first Grand Prix ride in 2014 when Bastianini was just 16-years-old. The same is true for Bastianini’s 2022 teammate, Fabio di Giannantonio, who debuted with Gresini’s Moto3 team in 2016. 

Bastianini’s return to Gresini had further emotion, due to the death of Fausto Gresini in 2021. Gresini had already pledged that at the end of his team’s time running Aprilia’s factory team, Gresini Racing would once again become a fully satellite outfit. After his death, the running of the team was handed to Fausto’s wife, Nadia Padovani, who understandably was in tears when Bastianini crossed the line on Sunday night to win in Qatar. 

Somehow, the circle for Gresini and Bastianini feels, from the outside, somewhat complete. However, there remain 20 races in the 2022 season, and despite his slightly aged machinery, the #23 surely has more podiums, possibly more wins, coming between now and the end of the year. 

WINNER - The Espargaro Brothers

A rewind to the 2017 Qatar Grand Prix will show you Marc Marquez being caught by an Aprilia late on in the race, the RS-GP ridden by Aleix Espargaro. 

Five years later, Espargaro, again on an Aprilia, went one further, and passed Marquez for fourth place, five laps from the end of the 2022 Qatar Grand Prix. 

Aprilia, then, have a history of being kind on tyres. However, that has not been such a trend since they overhauled their bike for 2020, and unlocked its potential in 2021. In Qatar 2022, though, there was little doubt. With 10 laps to go, Espargaro was 0.8 seconds behind Marc Marquez, and at the flag he was 1.8 seconds ahead. Aleix Espargaro missed the podium in Qatar, but he showed he has the potential to fight for it. 

The other positive for Espargaro is that his teammate, Maverick Vinales, finished 21 seconds behind him. In a 22-lap race, that is quite significant. 

Aleix was not the only Espargaro with something to be happy about leaving Qatar. His brother, Pol, finished third, and led each of the first 17 laps. The younger Espargaro had suffered significantly in 2021, as a Honda RC213V which was biassed towards the front gave him insufficient rear grip to use the rear brake as he likes. 

With the balance of the new Honda shifted rearwards, Espargaro can use his rear brake, and therefore enter corners faster because he does not have to stress the front tyre as much anymore on corner entry. 

The #44 ran out of rear grip at the end of the race in Qatar, but he finished on the podium - his second for Honda. Additionally, Espargaro’s podium was the first podium for a Honda rider not called Marc Marquez in a race where Marc Marquez had started but not finished on the podium since Cal Crutchlow won in Argentina 2018, when Marquez took both a ride through and time penalty. 

WINNER - The Binder Brothers

MotoGP’s third pair of brothers, the Binders, also had a good night. Brad Binder finished second with strong late race pace at a track which in 2021 had been the worst of the season for KTM. Last year, the cooler night temperatures meant KTM were unable to run their preferred hard-compound front tyre, which proved critical for their race. This year, Binder ran a medium front tyre and over the last four laps was 1.7 seconds faster than Marc Marquez. While teammate Miguel Oliveira struggled to break into the top 10 before crashing out, Binder got faster as the race went on, and scored his best opening round position in a premier class race.

Darryn Binder, MotoGP’s least favoured rookie of the 2022 crop, also had a good night. Despite the flash of the likes of Marco Bezzecchi - who qualified 15th - or Raul Fernandez, who impressed in preseason, Binder had the better premier class debut. Although he qualified last, 1.2 seconds slower than Fernandez, he finished 16th, 1.2 seconds ahead of the Spaniard, and 0.012 seconds behind Remy Gardner who took the final point. 

LOSER - Yamaha

Onto the losers now, and it is difficult to pick where to start, as Ducati and Yamaha both had horrendous weekends in Qatar. 
We will start with Yamaha, since they won the Riders’ championship last year, but their champion rider, Fabio Quartararo, spent most of the race in eighth, and finished ninth after getting out-dragged to the line by Johann Zarco on the last lap - the #5 Pramac Ducati having come from 20th to beat his compatriot. 

Yamaha’s issues are quite simple: they do not have enough horsepower; the lack of horsepower costs them time in the straights, which encourages their riders to push in the corners, which means the tyres - especially the front - begin to struggle, and they lose speed. 
While the pace at the front was mostly between the low-1’55s and high-1’54s, Quartararo mostly circulated in low-to-mid-1’55s. That does not sound like a massive problem, but when there are seven riders who can lap relatively frequently at a pace two or three tenths faster, it makes a big difference. 

Meanwhile, Quartararo’s teammate, Franco Morbidelli, had an almost identical race - low-to-mid-1’55s, and unable to make any progress through the field but for when those ahead of him crashed.

It is going to be a tough title defence for Quartararo. 

LOSER - Ducati

Ducati’s night was not a whole lot better than Quartararo’s. They lost Jack Miller early on when his bike suffered an electronic issue that meant it could not find where he was on the race track. Then, Francesco Bagnaia - whose start was atrocious and who dropped to 15th in the first few corners of the race - crashed while trying to pass Jorge Martin in the first corner, taking the Spaniard with him. The sole remaining GP22 of Luca Marini finished 13th, 27 seconds off the win. 

LOSER - Suzuki

The final ‘loser’ is Suzuki. Sixth and seventh is not a disastrous pair of results for the Hamamatsu brand, but coming into the weekend, and particularly after a strong showing on Friday, they were expected to challenge for the win. They started strong, but a victory challenge never materialised. 

Although Suzuki’s engine has taken significant steps forward over the winter - Alex Rins topped the speed charts in FP2 - it would appear the rest of the bike needs to be adapted further to the new-found power. However, despite the issues, Joan Mir was only five seconds behind Bastianini at the flag, so the ground to make up is not monumental.