The class may have changed from 125cc to Moto3 but Maverick Vinales’ dominance of the smallest class in Grand Prix racing showed no signs of ending after the Spaniard emerged victorious at an exciting season opening Qatar Grand Prix.
Having qualified second Vinales lost ground at the start and fell behind the quick starting Ramano Fenati. The Italian rookie started seventh but shot through the field to lead the opening lap ahead of fellow rookie Arthur Sissis and pole sitter Sandro Cortese.
Vinales wasted little time in disposing of Sissis and Cortese and was hot on the heels on Fenati from the start of the second lap. The Italian federation rider however showed no sign of nerves affecting him on the biggest stage of his life and even with Vinales breathing down his neck he held the lead until lap six when Vinales moved through.
It would have been expected for Vinales to pull away but he couldn’t shake off the attentions of Fenati with the rookie retaking the lead at half distance. It seemed that a fairytale debut win was on the cards but ultimately in the closing laps his inexperience started to count with Vinales able to open a comfortable gap to the flag.
For Vinales the result marks confirmation as his status as the title favourite but the race also showed that in Moto3 there will be a shake up of the established order.
Riders such as Fenati, Sissis and Alex Rins were expected to be fast this year but for all three rookies to finish in the top ten showed that Moto3, in a similar fashion to Moto2, will allow the individual rider to make the difference as opposed to their performance being dominated by the motorcycle they ride as was the case in 125s.
Speaking after the race it was clear that Vinales was relieved to have lived up to the expectations being placed on his shoulders:
“It feels good, I feel satisfied. We go more fast [sic] and we have a good pace,” commented the race winner.
Vinales, third in last year’s championship, was made to work exceptionally hard by debutant Ramano Fenati. The Italian astounded everybody with an assured ride to second having led for large periods of the race before losing ground in the closing stages.
The composed ride from Fenati has to rank as one of the most outstanding debuts in Grand Prix history with the 16 year old looking instantly at ease in the class. His success will surely herald expectations that he can match Vinales title surge of 2011 but while it is clear that he has immense talent it would be wise to wait for more races until such pressure is heaped on his shoulders.
With Vinales and Fenati out of sight at the front of the field the race evolved into a fight for the final step on the podium but it was Sandro Cortese who came out on top of a seven bike battle to clai the spot.
The German was pleased with his weekend’s work but clearly aware that an 18s gap to the race winner was far too great:
“Pole yesterday and a podium [today] is nice,” said Cortese after the race. “But we have to work very hard to close the gap to Vinales”
Cortese held off the attention of GP returnee Miguel Olieveira and the impressive Zulfhami Khairuddin.