New Repsol Honda rider Casey Stoner and team-mate Dani Pedrosa were neck-and-neck for the first half of Sunday's season-opening Qatar Grand Prix, until the Spaniard suddenly dropped away.
Stoner - fastest in every track session except warm-up, when Pedrosa moved ahead - seemed unable to repeat his practice pace early in the race, and looked to be trying hard just to stay with Pedrosa.
Indeed, Pedrosa looked to have a real chance of escaping, but by lap nine of 22 Stoner was suddenly back on the Spaniard's rear wheel.
Pedrosa later explained that he was struggling with his left arm, following a multiple collarbone fracture at Motegi last year, and couldn't control the bike or use the clutch properly.
But he was still lightening-fast out of the final corner and down the straight, leaving Stoner to seek a more inventive move through the twister sections.
That came on lap 12, at turn 12, after which Stoner rode away to a 3.440sec victory - but not over Pedrosa.
Yamaha's reigning world champion Jorge Lorenzo, who has spent much of the winter warning about the strength of the factory Hondas, came out fighting as he muscled his way past the Repsol Hondas to lead the opening lap.
Back in third by the end of lap two, Lorenzo nevertheless kept the orange RCVs in sight, and sensed blood when Pedrosa began to weaken.
Facing a significant top speed disadvantage, Lorenzo had to work hard to extract second from Pedrosa, and the pair swapped places numerous times before Lorenzo gained the upper hand.
Lorenzo seemed happier, and was certainly more animated, than any other rider after the race, while a dejected Pedrosa finished five-seconds from Stoner in third.