DOHA - World champion Marc Marquez stormed to pole position for the season-opening Qatar Grand Prix on Saturday, just a month after breaking his leg. The 21-year-old Spaniard, riding a factory Honda, claimed his 10th pole in the MotoGP class and 38th overall. Marquez, who became the sport's youngest world champion when he triumphed in his rookie year in 2013, finished ahead of compatriot Alvaro Bautista on a Honda and Britain's Bradley Smith on a Yamaha Tech3.
Marquez broke his right leg in a dirt-bike accident in his native Spain at the end of February and had admitted in the run-up to the floodlit Qatar race that he was nowhere near 100% fit. The world champion only got back on his bike on Thursday and went into qualifying having been only fifth fastest in the three practice sessions. But he charged to pole in a time of 1min 54.507sec with Bautista just 0.057sec behind and Smith, who had suffered a nasty crash in Friday's final practice, missing out by less than a tenth.
"I'm very happy, after the injury and the loss of half the pre-season. It's very important to be here on the front row. But the pole position makes me happy," said Marquez. "Tomorrow is the most important; it will be very hard as there are many riders on the same pace. Physical condition will also be difficult for me, as I don't have full power in my leg so I have to use more arms and this is quite hard over long a distance."
The second row is made up of Andrea Dovizioso on a Ducati, 2010 and 2012 world champion and 2013 runner-up Jorge Lorenzo on a Yamaha and Dani Pedrosa on the second factory Honda. "We are still having problems with the rear grip but we are getting closer to the front top riders," said Lorenzo, who underwent three operations in the winter to mend his collarbone which he had shattered in two falls in 2013.
"We made a good position for tomorrow; fifth on the grid is good for the start. There are six riders within one tenth of a second and the race will be very long so if we can make one step on the bike we can fight for the podium or even a victory, which would be amazing for the circumstances." Yamaha's Aleix Espargaro, who had swept all three practice sessions, was only ninth, having walked away from two crashes.
Nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi, on the second factory Yamaha, starts on the fourth row ahead of Ducati's Andrea Iannone and Pol Espargaro on a Yamaha Tech3. "I'm not very satisfied because I am just in tenth but I am only half a second from pole position and my lap time is not so bad," said Rossi. "The problem is that the balance between everybody is very close; we are 12 riders within half a second."