What was the big story of the MotoGP season opener in Qatar? It’s obvious: The Doctor is back. After a failed pass on Andrea Dovizioso, in which he ran wide and hit his brake lever protector on the back of Dani Pedrosa’s rear tire. “The protection saved me, because for sure I crash [without it]” he said afterwards.

He upped the pace and chased down the group containing Dani Pedrosa, Marc Marquez, and Cal Crutchlow, passed them all, and after a thrilling battle with Marquez, went on to take second place in his first race back with Yamaha. If anyone thought that Rossi might have lost it, this was the race in which he proved that he was still capable of being at the front, the only condition being that he has a decent machine underneath him.

That reading of the race, though both attractive and seductive, is not the complete picture. Viewed with a more jaundiced eye, Rossi was comprehensively thrashed by his teammate – “In this weekend, I think it is impossible to beat Lorenzo,” he admitted.

Closing down on a group being held up by a struggling Pedrosa, who had been troubled by a lack of rear grip all weekend, Rossi then had enormous difficulty dealing with a MotoGP rookie, racing for the first time in the class. Is that beautiful palace on the horizon real, or was it just a mirage, a trick of the light in the desert?

A little bit of both. First things first: Jorge Lorenzo was impossible to beat this weekend. He did nothing wrong from the moment he took to the track, carrying on in 2013 where he left off in 2012. “It’s like he’s not human,” Rossi said of his teammate. Lorenzo reigned supreme at Qatar, like an Emperor sent to Earth by the gods to rule motorcycle racing. Unfortunately, his overwhelming dominance did not gain his sponsors much TV time, as Dorna’s TV production unit concentrated instead – quite rightly – on the thrilling battle behind.

Rossi was also helped by Dani Pedrosa. The Repsol Honda man was hampered by a lack of rear grip, which is crucial to getting the RC213V to turn. Just how badly he was affected is obvious from the timesheets: where Jorge Lorenzo was 4.4 seconds faster over race distance than he was in 2012, Pedrosa was a full 4 seconds slower.

Pedrosa’s saving grace – and a disadvantage for his rivals – was the fact that the Honda’s power makes it very difficult to get past. As Cal Crutchlow has been saying all weekend, the high corner speed sweeping lines the Yamaha uses to go fast are no good if you are behind the Honda.

The RC213V needs to square-off the corner, and use its grip and power to fire out of the corner and accelerate away. It is, in a very limited form, the same problem which the old Honda 500cc V twins, and the Proton KR triple faced when up against the V4 500cc two-stroke bikes. Sweeping lines may be the fastest way around the track, but that won’t necessarily win you the race, if you get stuck behind a more powerful bike which is using a point-and-shoot style, and is robbing you of your corner speed.

While Crutchlow struggled to get by, Rossi had a lot less difficulty. “He was able to make a pass because he’s so aggressive,” Crutchlow observed, having watched the process from behind. Marc Marquez also struggled to get past his teammate, though Crutchlow put that down to choice, not a lack of ability. “Marquez was better than Pedrosa, and he could have passed him at any point. He was just playing with him, he was sitting up – don’t get me wrong, he was still riding hard, but he could have passed him loads of times in the first corner.”

Marquez himself put it down to learning how to race, and adapting his style to the MotoGP bike. He had learned he needed to ride differently with a used tire, using less lean angle and more drive. He had learned that a MotoGP race was a lot more physically demanding than a Moto2 race. And he had also learned that it was a lot harder to pass MotoGP riders than it was to pass the Moto2 boys.

The truth, once again, probably lies in the middle, Marquez sitting behind Pedrosa and observing, learning. Through the race his style began to change, standing the bike up earlier to get it off the corner faster. It stood him in good stead when he finally made the pass – something he did with due care and attention, not wishing to stoke the flames of a fire which will inevitably engulf the Repsol Honda garage, but which it is too early to really start.

So quickly does Marquez learn that it took Rossi several attempts until he managed to keep the young Spaniard behind him. Marquez is no respecter of authority, or status, or myth, and legend, and was just as determined to beat Rossi as he was to beat Claudio Corti, fighting a minute and a half behind him down in sixteenth. In the mind of the true motorcycle racer, other riders have no business being in front of him, whoever those other riders may be. Marc Marquez, above all, is a real racer.

His talent is also beyond doubt. A podium in your first race: Jorge Lorenzo did it, Dani Pedrosa did it, it is what you are supposed to do if you aspire to be world champion. Giving Valentino Rossi trouble, and beating your teammate, is exactly what he should be doing. Rossi joked that he would have to try to beat Marquez as often as possible in the first half of the season, before the Spaniard got any experience.

But the biggest story of Sunday, perhaps, is the change in the minds of the riders that happened during and after the race. Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner concentrated all their efforts on producing inch-perfect laps, pursuing perfection to such an extent that a pass was a risky proposition.

Valentino Rossi, with his new-found ally Marc Marquez, do not care for such niceties, and are only interested in passing the man in front of them, however they can. Marquez was being ultra cautious around Pedrosa, aware that any mishaps with his teammate could ignite an already difficult situation between the two riders’ managers, Emilio Alzamora and Alberto Puig.

Next time, he will be less cautious, and resume his naturally more aggressive approach. This approach is what will shake up MotoGP, as both Marquez and Rossi do whatever they need to get past riders, instead of sitting politely behind them waiting for a mistake, as has been the custom of recent years.

Cal Crutchlow has already learned he needs to follow the way of Marquez and Rossi. Asked what he was going to do to avoid being stuck behind a Honda the next time it happened, he was clear: “Take a leaf out of Valentino’s book, and start charging them. If that’s the only way to do it, then we’ve got to do it.”

If Rossi can qualify better – he admitted that this is something he needs to work on, exploiting the new QP system – then he may be close enough to stick with Lorenzo, and attempt to get in front of him. It will not be long before Marquez has the speed to join them – given how quick he was at Austin, it may even come next race – and then we shall see how Lorenzo deals with a dual attack. As other riders see that an aggressive approach is yielding results, then they, too, will try the same tack.

So sure, The Doctor is back. But more importantly, there’s a new youngster in town with the same attitude, and at least as much talent. The combination of Rossi and Marquez is going to have a profound effect on this season of MotoGP, but also the series in years to come. It is the shot in the arm which the series badly needs, restoring the thrills and excitement which had been missing in recent years.

Judging by the number of journalists hoarse from shouting at the TV monitors in the media center at Qatar on Sunday night, this could be a very good year indeed.

Photo: © 2013 Scott Jones / Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.

  • BBQDog

    Bravo for The Doctor. He made my day. Couldn’t sit on the chair the last 4 rounds.

  • Westward

    Couldn’t help but recall Marco Simoncelli’s response about his aggressiveness, “They will arrest me!”

  • Paul McM

    It was a great race to watch… even if SpeedTV failed to screen 8 laps out of 22 by my counting (2 laps “hidden” by each extended commercial break). Some very nice on-camera video in this race, including a forward-looking cam used to great advantage during passing maneuvers. As good as the video feed was, the overall production on SpeedTV was equally disappointing — to the point of being infuriating. No rider interviews, many missed action segments. Not a word (as usual) about the bike technology (tell us about the electronics — explain how the quick-shift Honda transmissions work — maybe comment on the new fuel restrictions [Rossi ran out of gas on the cool-down lap], tell us about those rear tire problems on the Honda. Heck, for starters, just tell us how much the bikes weigh and how much power they make. Please — give us something (anything!), besides an inane running commentary of what was obvious from what the eye can see. Someone who watches a full hour of MotoGP coverage for the first time will come away knowing absolutely nothing about the machines. Lorenzo, Rossi et al could have been riding lawnmowers for all the SpeedTV producers seem to care about the machines. This is nuts — by contrast the F1 TV producers understand that engine/chassis/aero tech is a big part of the appeal, and what makes F1 more than NASCAR without fenders.

  • Alasdair

    I’ve been watching MotoGP for 4 years and this was the first time I have fully understood why Rossi is so popular – he was fantastic to watch. As was Marquez. Great 3 races

  • emem

    Can’t wait to see Rossi beaten again.

    Marquez is fantastic for the championship but like all multiple champions, he’ll run people off the track before he’ll let them win (Rossi, Schumacher, Senna…) which is why he’ll become ‘one of the greats’.

  • BBQdog

    @emem: Marquez has a problem with his eyes or a mental problem, probarbly both. Seen many very stupid and unsporty actions like Valencia. He is fast but it will be after his career has ended we will hear what was wrong with him.

  • Bruce

    Paul, you’re absolutely right about Speed. It’s unfortunate Bein Sports did not secure the US broadcast rights for GP as well as WSBK. Contrast the two broadcasts. Bein had a pre-race show, Speed had “Dumbest Stuff on Wheels”. Bein had commercial free flag to flag coverage. Speed missed laps and cut away to commercial as Rossi caught up to Cal and the Repsols, with Rossi’s pass on Cal during the commercial. Bein showed post-race activities, while Speed showed us Nascar’s Best Throw Downs! Embarrassing production work all around, and I don’t think Speed can take credit for the quality of the feed, as they are not at the source.

    Great race though, with the exception of the US riders. Another lap and Nicky would likely have nipped by Dovi for team bragging rights, for what that’s worth when they’re 24 seconds back.

  • Damo


    I thought hating Rossi went out of style last year? Out of curiosity, why is it you just CAN’T wait to see Rossi beaten? Do you have some irrational dislike for a man you never met? Do you think Motorcycle racing wins should be determined by pole results?

    Maybe no one will put any aggressive moves out and they can all circle the track at a respectable and gentlemanly speed in order to avoid hard feelings. Would this type of racing make you happy?

    Don’t throw names out like Rossi, Schumacher and Senna and insinuate they aren’t as great as history makes them out to be.

  • Norm G.

    re: “explain how the quick-shift Honda transmissions work”

    no. if we told ya, then we’d have to kill ya.

    re: “Bein had a pre-race show, Speed had “Dumbest Stuff on Wheels”. Bein had commercial free flag to flag coverage. Speed missed laps and cut away to commercial as Rossi caught up to Cal and the Repsols, with Rossi’s pass on Cal during the commercial. Bein showed post-race activities, while Speed showed us Nascar’s Best Throw Downs! Embarrassing production work all around”

    guys, stop complaining. start supporting. until they announced a last minute TV deal, you were an RLCH away from having your wives/gt’s forcing you into watching the food network and reruns of vanilla ice’s home improvement show all season long. is that what you want…?

    smarten up, just be glad you can watch ANYTHING. there are alot of AMA guys shittin’ their pants right now wondering if there’s going to be any coverage…? guys like DUNLOP, ERICK BUELL, YAMAHA, THE TALE OF 2 JOSHES (ie. HAYES/HERRIN), CARDENAS, etc. those guys would kill for half-ass coverage right about now.

  • Trojanhorse

    @Paul totally agree. They just don’t get it!

    I’ve said it before and will say it again…if you are even a casual fan of MotoGP and have a good high-speed internet connection, get a subscription. It is worth every penny, you won’t regreat it.

    Pro-tip if you find it expensive, and have friends – the sub can be used by more than one computer. Hint hint.

  • smiler

    Like the comment about the cotrasting styles of Merguez Rossi and Lorenzo Lil Dani.
    With Crutchy just behind and the Ducati’s seemingly looking they might possibley, in the right condisitions, if Audi get them sorted way may be competitive. Then MotoGP might not the the total yawn it usually is.
    Good to see Rossi back and Dovi at least trying to stuff the Ducati up Rossi’s nose.
    With the Yamahaha engine deal, Suzuki back next yr then CRT’s days are numbered fortunately.
    It would be great to see Colin Edwardsa back in WSBK for one more seaon before calling it a day.
    Perhpas even Hayden, he deserves a little of Ducati’s family spirit by the end of this season.

  • Josh

    I hope someone can close the gap to Lorenzo. Having a lone wolf leader is boring.

  • David

    Stoner will be back next year.

    He will not be able to sit at home and not partake in this kind of action. (I HOPE!)

  • Chaz Michael Michaels

    MotoGP is back!! The Doctor IS back! The race at COTA is going to be awesome (and I got tix!).

    I wanted not to like Marquez…I don’t even know why…probably because of the whole “rookies can’t have a factory ride rule” going out the window to make way for him.

    Stoner will want back in by mid-season at least. He can stay home, big baby. I would love to see Stoner in a race with Marquez. Marquez would blow him into the sand trap and Stoner would be red faced and whining.

    Great idea to make MotoGP even better: demote Bradley Smith and promote Espargo and Redding. Or just add more Moto2 riders in general… but still demote Bradley Smith.

    Lastly, Nicky! quit Ducati and ride a satalite Honda or Yamaha. C’mon, time to go racing again.

  • JW

    Despite what anyone says, Rossi and Marquez inject a very nessasary opposition into the 2013 motogp season. The sport will be better for it, whatever the outcome is..

  • CTK

    Re: SPEED- guys, $130 or whatever for the pass is not a lot of dough. The connection got a little choppy during the key parts but you can always rewind, pause, etc. I got it and it paid for itself in 1 session.

    Re: Rossi- his performance yesterday was art. If he can get qualifying under control I could see him giving Lorenzo the business. Lorenzo has stepped his shit up, but I don’t think he has had to really deal with riders as aggressive as Rossi/Marquez in a long time. Not to downplay his accomplishment- he won the race- but it’s way easier to hold a lead with no traffic to fight. Lorenzo’s lap times (he was up to the 57s by the last lap) reflect this. If Rossi can qualify well, he can play chess w/Lorenzo and win. Lorenzo is like a machine which is good and bad.

    Re: Marquez- podiuming on your first race and battling with a revitalized Rossi to get there. You gotta love it. Definitely looking forward to seeing him at CotA.

    Lorenzo should jump on a Ducati and let Rossi/Marquez fight for the championship. Hell, maybe once Rossi/Marquez get in their stride he might have to work for it. In any case I am not sure I could have asked for a better opener. Moto3 was pretty damn good too.

  • “But the biggest story of Sunday, perhaps, is the change in the minds of the riders that happened during and after the race. Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner concentrated all their efforts on producing inch-perfect laps, pursuing perfection to such an extent that a pass was a risky proposition.” – Stoner?

  • 76

    @Paul McM is spot on, Some people just dont get it. The sharing of the technology with the viewer is such a huge part of what makes F1 interesting. The anticipation, the build, the sit down interviews. It connects, and yes to even those that have never changed oil or turned a wrench in their lives. MotoGP needs to innovate on how it connects with its viewers and fanbase. Currently they beat the same drum just sometimes louder than others.

  • Micahel

    …And no one was complaining after the race… And not one camera shot of someones overbearing wife… It was awesome.

  • Slangbuster

    I have to agree that the Moto GP Video Pass is fantastic and is an absolute must for all Moto GP addicts. It blows Speed in the weeds and is on a whole new level of coverage. At 99 Euros it’s little more than a night out with the wife and she can watch it with you all year long as you spend “quality time” together. Check it out and a big Thank You to Scott Jones for letting me use his credit card…He’s such a giver. :)

  • In a rare turn of events, MotoGP outshone Moto2 for delivering the goods on Sunday. IMO, of course, but I thought the race for 2nd was thrilling and it was brilliant to see Vale at full song on the M1. Marquez was as I expected him to be and I just can’t wait to see him mature.

    Moto3: Outstanding race. Great dice by all the podium finishers.
    Moto2: Loved to see Nakagami lead and I hope that he continues to grow this season. Would have loved to see Redding be able to give a bit more stick to Espargaro, but seeing Espargaro win is never a bad thing.
    MotoGP: The Doctor is back. What will MM look like in Corner 3 @ Phillip Island at season’s end?

    Stay tuned.

    Re: — not only is the current coverage good, but you can see every race from all three classes on-demand all the way back to 1998! Currently, I’m reliving the 2001 season. Watching the 500s fly around Donnington Park is the very definition of joy for me.

  • Yeah, Doc can still cut the mustard… The usual Repsol Game of Thrones will end up in tears. As usual. All that Spanish inner animosity is all Yamaha needs. Stars of the week? JLo was unstoppable, VR46 was impatient (he said he had to be aggressive at the start, but…) and spectacular, and spanish midgets… there will be blood. Bad one. This is seventh year that Pedrosa rides factory Honda, with zero titles. Only Repsol can do that magic. On the other side, Marqy is faster then him, but again often faster then himself. It’s only a matter of time when he will be the cause of monstrous pile-up… or sending his team mate in another time zone. That kid is as fast as he is reckless. On the other hand, inner wars attract viewers. Doohan/Criville battle is nothing compared with what two spanish dwarfs will bring on the table. Let the slaughter begins…

  • emem

    @ Damo

    Whoa, take it easy big fella ;) It’s just a comment on a website…

    Rossi: I think he’s brilliant! Big fan. But I like seeing someone so revered in sport having been at the top get beaten because it makes you question their position in history. Rossi is no doubt top two or three.

    The greats: I’m not denying all those we mentioned aren’t greats, I’m simply implying that when their back is against the wall they will do whatever is necessary to win – for better or worse.

  • Westward

    Too bad you folks don’t get BBC or Eurosport coverage. They do a great job at covering MGP. Even the Aussie One does too… Download them if you can…

    @ Alasdair

    If you can get a hold of the 2010 race Motegi, the 2009 race of Catalunya, the 2008 race at Laguna Seca, and the 2007 race at Assen. Those examples are what makes Rossi look like a legend. Multiply all of that by what he has accomplished over a career and that is why he is a legend. Not one of the best but the best.


    Rossi will be acknowledged as the best by the time he hangs it up. Agostini’s win total seem more impressive because he has 17 more than Rossi. But Rossi has more victories in the premiere class. Ago raced in a day when a season consisted of 10 race, compared to the 17 & 18 of today.

    And like Agostini, Rossi was the only other champion to regain his title after an absence of over two years. Until recently joined by Stoner. But like like Ago & Stoner, Rossi repeated as Champion the following season as well.

    Memories are short, but in 2010 Rossi took Qatar after Stoner crashed out. But he did so in a dominating fashion. Then the following week he injured his shoulder, still made it on the rostrum the races after before breaking his leg in practice. Out for four races, he came back and was a regular on the podium and even stuck it to Lorenzo at Motegi to take the victory.

    Rossi’s lack of competitiveness the last two years only came down to the bike. If not for an impatient mistake early in the race this past Sunday, he might have been battling Lorenzo for the win, instead of Marquez for second position.

  • @emem: “Rossi is no doubt top two or three.”

    Vale is already pretty much the greatest of all time. As Westward very well pointed out, Ago raced in an era when the seasons had much fewer races. In terms of total accomplishments, there is no doubt at all that Rossi will surpass Ago’s accomplishments. In my estimation, he already has. (Nothing against the great Agostini!) Apples to oranges. They were both legends of their time. The difference here is that Rossi’s time isn’t over yet. The Ducati Drought was a blip … an anomaly in his career.

    “I’m simply implying that when their back is against the wall they will do whatever is necessary to win – for better or worse.”

    Those guys do exist, but they don’t survive at the top level of sport for very long. Schumi made some questionable choices in his earlier years in F1, but he thankfully outgrew most of those shenanigans. Last year, Marquez, I think, made similar errors in judgment, putting his bike where there just wasn’t room to do so cleanly. There’s a fine line between brilliantly aggressive riding and forcing an error that causes a shunt. Watching the calm determination of pre-season testing along with the first race indicates that Marc is growing up. Barring future mistakes, he seems to have already embraced a premier-class mentality.

    No doubt, there may be times when both Rossi and Marquez find their ambitions exceeding their talent during their drive to succeed. That said, Vale didn’t get to the top by being reckless. Marc will have already been given the mandate to behave. He got several warnings last year; he’s very much aware that it’s not in the sport’s interest to injure others on the way to victory.

  • Westward

    Rossi’s ambition could never exceed his talent, only the bikes capabilities… Marquez is a slightly different kettle of fish…

  • I was alluding to Casey Stoner’s comment to Vale after the crash in Jerez: “Obviously your ambition outweighed your talent”. Not literally, mate, just figuratively. IOW, mistakes get made and somebody pays the price.