Jorge Lorenzo kicked off his MotoGP championship defence in perfect style on Sunday in Qatar as speculation about his future with Yamaha continued to swirl.
Lorenzo took pole at the Losail International Circuit on Saturday after edging out Honda’s Marc Marquez and Suzuki’s Maverick Vinales in qualifying by less than one-tenth of a second.
The Spaniard slipped down to third off the line as Ducati’s Andrea Iannone shot into the lead with Ducati teammate Andrea Dovizioso in tow.
Dovizioso moved into the lead of the race when Iannone crashed out, promoting Lorenzo up into second place before he duly passed the Italian on lap nine.
Lorenzo was tailed closely by Dovizioso, Marquez and Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi for much of the race before pulling clear in the closing laps.
Lorenzo eventually crossed the line to win the race with a buffer of two seconds, with Dovizioso holding on to second ahead of Marquez and Rossi as the trio were separated by just four-tenths of a second at the line.
“We are there, in first position, without struggling and suffering and riding in the perfect way. For me, over all laps, this race has been one of the best of my whole career and that was why I was able to win and could make this little difference in the last three laps that gave me the victory,” Lorenzo said.
“I was surprised how fast my pace was towards the end of the race. I was sliding so much, but at the same time I was very smooth and concentrated and made no mistakes and that’s why even with the pressure from Dovizioso, when I was at a margin of 0.4, 0.3, 0.5, I didn’t get nervous and kept riding better and better.
“I feel very proud of my riding and my race and also the work of the team, because we put together the electronics and the setting of the bike in a very good way.”
The victory was the perfect crescendo for Lorenzo on a weekend that saw his future become the main talking point up and down the MotoGP paddock.
Both Lorenzo and Rossi were due to be out of contract at the end of the season, only for Yamaha to announce that Rossi had signed a new two-year deal on Friday.
Lorenzo is known to be considering his future, having spent his entire MotoGP with Yamaha, and is thought to be considering a move to Ducati for 2017.
Lorenzo confirmed over the Qatar weekend that he has received an offer from Yamaha, but wants to wait before making a decision about it. Yamaha’s offer is thought to already be considering other riders for next season should Lorenzo choose to walk away.
The weekend also saw the frosty intra-team relations between Lorenzo and Rossi continue from 2015, with Rossi saying that he doubts his rival will leave Yamaha.
“To sign with Ducati you need to be brave, you need big balls,” Rossi is quoted as saying by motorsport.com. “So I think Lorenzo stays with Yamaha.”
Interestingly, Rossi made that exact switch from Yamaha to Ducati for 2011, only to endure the two worst years of his MotoGP career before rejoining his old team in 2013.