The first MotoGP race of 2022 proved first time lucky for Enea Bastianini and the Gresini Racing partnership at Qatar.
Having hinted at the potential in store throughout preseason testing - with an all-new circuit record at Sepang - followed up with topping FP3 and qualifying on the front row, Bastianini came out fighting for Sunday’s 22-lap season opener.
With Fausto Gresini guiding his early career into the World Championship, the first year as an independent premier class team for Gresini Racing with Nadia Padovani at the helm after the loss of her husband one year ago, proved emotional on every level.
The 24-year-old bided his time in the front group at the start before his characteristically strong late-race-pace came into it’s own. Bettering World Champion talents Joan Mir and Marc Marquez, Bastianini sat in third behind KTM’s Brad Binder until opportunity presented itself at the halfway stage. Dispatching the South African on lap 13, it took just five more to reel in Pol Espargaro out front, the Honda suffering with tyre wear in the closing stages and forced to settle for third overall. A late resurgence from the KTM saw the Gresini rider fight to maintain his victory, while concentrating hard to prevent any late mistakes which could destroy the dream.
"Emotional day for us, for all the team,” the first-time MotoGP race winner admitted from Parc Fermé. “We have cried all at the end of the race. We did a very good job from also the test and this weekend. The setup of the bike was incredible. We are working very well with the electronics to arrive prepared for the race and this morning in the warm up when I see our really good pace, I understand 'okay, I can manage good the race’.
“Yesterday for the first time I did a really good lap time in the qualifying and today we start from the first row. My decision to stay with the medium rear, at the end stayed the best choice for me. I push like my style in the last seven/eight laps and I win this race.
“I was confident but you don't know,” he continued. “Pol Espargaro was so fast in this race! Also he saved very well the tyre, he have the soft. Honda for me did a very good step and now it's a lot competitive. Also for me, I didn't expect Binder today, he did a really good race. It's not so easy for me to win but I did it.
“Honda, KTM and also Suzuki did a really good step from the last year and now we are all the riders so close. Data is the key of the MotoGP now!
“Is one of the longest lap of my life,” he said with a smile as he reflected on the approaching chequered flag. “I remember the same sensation in Portimao when I win the title in Moto2. It's not easy because Brad was so close to me and I pushed not a lot because was important to don't bring some risk but this is fantastic, to understand what will happen after the chequered flag.
"We have also the victory MotoGP. I understand my potential in Moto2, I think now I understand, ‘Okay, I can be fast everywhere, with all the bikes’. In MotoGP is not easy because many riders are so fast and sometimes is not possible to be on the front. But I'm here to arrive, always to do the best.”
Having ridden with Gresini for three years since his introduction into the World Championship in 2014 with the Go&Fun Moto3 outfit, a victory on the return to the family firm that means so much to him was more than he could have imagined.
‘The first one is unexpected. Was great for me today to go on the podium but to do a victory was so unexpected.
"I see Nadia in the eye and I see the eye of Fausto, the motivation of Fausto, the advantage with this team,” he explained. And also when I see all the faces of my guys of the team is so brilliant. All the guys are so motivated like me, and it stay possible to do this today, thanks to Fausto.
“Honestly I changed a lot from when I arrived in the world championship in 2014. Before I was so aggressive, now I work a lot to be more calm, especially during the free practice. Because to be nervous in this sport but I think in all the sport, is not the best choice. Also my team is like me, I'm really confident to speak with all my guys and I can manage really nice for the moment this one.”
Having stunned last season on two-year-old Ducati machinery by claiming two podiums at Misano, the opening weekend in Qatar proved more of a step into the unknown for the Italian as he lined up on 2021’s runner up.
“Today I haven't one plan because I never start on the top, in the first row in MotoGP,” he admitted. “I was behind I think in the fifth place, the first part of the race, and I have to save the tyre for the end of the race. I have learned this because in these last two, three years I think the best choice is to save always the tyre for the last part of the race but all the riders try to do this. For today I think I stayed the best one to do this and we will see if we can continue also in this direction in the next one.
“We don’t know but for the moment the ’21 bike is a really nice bike for me,” he said of the GP21’s potential over the coming season. “When I tried for the first time in Jerez last year, I understand the potential of this bike but you know I'm not in the factory team. I don't know if arrive some new parts from the ’22 bikes but for the moment is I think one of the best bikes and also I have one of the best teams behind me. In my team I haven't a lot of pressure now because I'm not in the factory team and I think for the moment, the other riders, especially with the 2022 bike have more pressures than me.
“I don't know if we can be everywhere fast like here but for the moment we have a good bike and also a good potential. When we are going Jerez we stay fast, in Mandalika also, in Malaysia, I did the record lap. I try to go always on a podium this year but sometimes for me will be difficult but we will see.”