IT is hard to know who will be happier between Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi after the MotoGP 2013 curtain-raiser in Qatar.
A dazzling return on the Yamaha from the veteran Italian was enough on its own illuminate the night-time race at Losail, but it should not overshadow what was an exemplary ride from world champion Lorenzo.
After fending off a half-hearted lunge from the fast-starting Dani Pedrosa at turn one, Lorenzo was able to build a lead with an unchallenged display of silky-smooth riding at the front and romp to a richly deserved victory.
And it was all the more deserved after numerous commentators – this blog included – played down his chances in the face of fearsome pre-season testing pace from the Repsol Hondas.
This year’s championship will be awarded after 18 races, not just one, but Lorenzo’s win is a more-than-welcome if somewhat unexpected boost to Yamaha’s hopes.
Perhaps even more unexpected was the successful return of Rossi, as the gregarious Italian recovered from qualifying in seventh and a mistake on lap two to register a hugely impressive second place.
Any doubts lingering over his motivation following two desperately disappointing seasons on the recalcitrant Ducati were quickly banished as he slayed old sparring partner Dani Pedrosa and young pretender Marc Marquez in a thrilling podium scrap.
The Doctor emerged from a messy scuffle for sixth before biting half-second chunks out of Cal Crutchlow’s commanding lead to overhaul the Tech3 rider.
Rossi then wasted little time in disposing of the Hondas, with Marquez putting up more resistance than Pedrosa with an audacious move at turn one to briefly reclaim second from the GOAT.
But it was to no avail as the rampant Italian retook second spot to cap a mightily impressive performance.
Whether it was written in the stars over the Qatar desert or not, Rossi’s return to form – with a cavalier performance of dash and verve not seen since his heyday – has restored the excitement to an ever-so-slightly stagnant MotoGP in one fell swoop.
It will be fascinating to see if he can maintain his superb form, but Rossi and Lorenzo’s pace on a track which one would have thought would suit the straight-line grunt of the Hondas over Yamaha’s poise and agility certainly bodes well for an exciting season ahead.
The same cannot be said for the factory Hondas. In pre-season they were so impressive, so dominant, that there were whispers of this season being little more than a precession to the title for Pedrosa, possibly with minor interference from the prodigal Marquez.
Instead, the ruthlessly ambitious Moto2 champion – who has every reason to be happy with a podium on his premier class debut – will not doubt be frustrated at letting second spot slip, while Pedrosa’s limp surrender to both young buck Marquez and a resurgent Rossi is even more of a worry.
Whether Pedrosa has lost his race pace with the season just starting, whether he has cracked under the pressure, or whether this is just a minor blip remains to be seen.
However, the race in two weeks’ time at Austin – where Marquez dominated in pre-season testing – cannot come quickly enough as Honda seek a cure for their bruised ego.
There is still plenty of the season left for Pedrosa to bag his maiden MotoGP crown and shake off the unwanted tag of the best rider never to win a top-class title.
But what is clear is that, if this were an 18-round boxing match, round one has most certainly gone to Yamaha, possibly with a Honda knock-down thrown in for good measure.