Marc Marquez blew away any remaining doubts over his fitness as the 2014 MotoGP season got off to an explosive start under the floodlights of the Losail circuit in Qatar.
Just six weeks on from breaking his leg in a pre-season training accident, Marquez looked to have lost none of the sharpness that took him to the title in his debut season last year, taking a superb victory following an absorbing duel with Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi.
Northern Ireland’s Michael Laverty was 16th after being hit with a ride-through penalty for jumping the start on his PBM machine.
For a time it appeared as though seven-time MotoGP champion Rossi would take an unlikely victory as he vied for the lead with young Spaniard Marquez in the final laps.
But ultimately the Italian had to play second best as pole-sitter Marquez pulled away to win by just 0.259 seconds, with Dani Pedrosa making it two factory Hondas on the podium as he came through for third place.
“I enjoyed that race a lot,” 21-year-old Marquez told BT Sport.
“After the injury, I didn’t expect that race to be honest. But yesterday I had a good feeling, and today, with the battle with Valentino, I didn’t think about the injury.
“The last lap I pushed 100 per cent but the lap before we overtake each other two or three times, and that was so nice.”
An incident-packed race in the desert also witnessed the Yamaha of former champion Jorge Lorenzo crash out of the lead on the opening lap, while the LCR Honda of Stefan Bradl also suffered an accident when out in front on lap nine.
Bradley Smith (Yamaha Tech 3) threw away good points when he crashed out of fifth place with five laps remaining, but it was a better day for fellow Britons Cal Crutchlow and Scott Redding.
Ducati rider Crutchlow took sixth despite appearing to run out of fuel on the final lap, while Gresini Honda’s Redding was an impressive seventh on his debut in the premier class on the Open class RCV1000R.
The race began with a heated battle into the first corner, with Smith, who qualified third on the grid, almost assuming the lead only to see Lorenzo sweep through from fifth on the grid.
Lorenzo had struggled with grip throughout the weekend, however, and his problems came to the fore before he had even completed the first lap as he slid out while pushing too hard on cold tyres.
“I lost the front. I made a mistake,” the two-time world champion told BT Sport.
“The tyres are different from last year and were cold. I risked too much, I entered too fast.”
That left Smith briefly out front but Bradl swept past moments later for a lead the German would hold until lap nine when he went off at high speed in similar circumstances to the incident that claimed Lorenzo.
Nicky Hayden was eighth behind Redding.