Andrea Dovizioso had openly doubted he could fight for Qatar victory just before the weekend, but following Casey Stoner's exit the Italian made the most of some impressive Honda engine power to take on reigning world champion Valentino Rossi for most of the race.

"My start was not so good but the first five laps were crucial for me to recover positions and glue myself behind Valentino," said Dovi. "My Honda was very fast on the straight and I could use this advantage to compensate for our weaker points on the track."

Dovi momentarily overtook his fellow Italian along the home straight on lap 16 of 22, but Rossi finally broke away soon after - with the second Fiat Yamaha of Jorge Lorenzo claiming second place with two laps to go.

"When Valentino overtook me I tried to re-pass him, but he overtook me again and then I didn't have the possibility to get back by," he stated.

That left Dovizioso to continue battling Nicky Hayden, the rider he had replaced at Repsol Honda for 2009 and whom he been directly behind, then in-front of, since lap three of the race.

Hayden looked to have stolen third with a pass just a few corners from the finish, but Dovizioso kept his cool and out-accelerated the factory Ducati to the flag.

"I did a masterpiece in the last corner of the last lap where I overtook Nicky on the inside and then I used all the power of the RC212V to get to the line first," said the #4, who beat Hayden by just 0.011sec.

Qatar was Dovizioso's second podium as a Repsol Honda rider and third in MotoGP. The next best Honda was LCR's Randy de Puniet in sixth.

Dovizioso's team-mate Dani Pedrosa had made another of his superb starts to jump from seventh to first and turn one, and put up stubborn resistance for the first half-dozen laps. However his much-publicised handling problems meant he was only seventh at the finish.

"I made a good start and was able to stay at or near the front of the race for the first few laps. It really wasn't easy though and we had a few handling issues with the machine that meant unfortunately it was impossible for me to maintain that pace," he confirmed.

"I fought as hard as I could to hold off the other riders but in the end there was no way I could keep them behind. On the one hand it's encouraging that we could achieve this early pace because the winter testing has not been easy, but on the other it proves we still have a lot of work to do to get the machine the way I need so that I can be at the front at the end rather than the start of the race.

"This isn't the ideal start to the season and I'd hoped to be able to fight for a podium here, but it's a long season and we'll stay focused and work as hard as possible to improve things. Congratulations to Andrea on the podium. We'll come back fighting at Motegi - it's a circuit I like and I hope to get a much better result there."

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