Sete Gibernau has led a Telefonica Honda one-two in a dramatic first ever Qatar Grand Prix, which also saw Ruben Xaus take his first ever MotoGP podium and world championship leader Valentino Rossi crash out after a determined charge from the back of the grid.
The big pre-race news was that world championship leader Rossi and third in the points Max Biaggi had both been dropped to the back of rear of the field after members of their respective teams were caught illegally cleaning their eighth and twelfth placed grid slots last night. Did they honestly think no-one would notice...?
Following the inevitable morning protest by rival teams, both Italians were handed a six-second penalty to be added to their qualifying time; sending Biaggi to the back of the 22-rider grid and leaving Rossi - who held a 39-point world championship over Sete Gibernau heading into the race - to start just one place in front of the Camel Honda rider.
With the dusty racetrack extremely slippery off the racing line, Rossi and Biaggi - who had been second and seventh in a morning warm-up session led by Colin Edwards - clearly faced a serious test as to how far they could advance up the order this afternoon...
When the red lights went out to start the first Qatar Grand Prix, pole sitter Carlos Checa got a strong start to lead the field through turn one – but team-mate Rossi turned heads by quickly carving through the pack, then diving deep inside the field at turn one. He would emerge on the edge of the top 10!
But at the front Checa was leading Gibernau, Xaus, Nakano, Barros, Capirossi, Bayliss, Hayden, Rossi and McWilliams – Bayliss would stumble on the dust, while by the end of lap one Rossi was up to eighth, behind Capirossi... Biaggi was just 18th.
Checa would lose the lead to Gibernau after the Telefonica Honda slipstreamed past into turn one, and the ever impressive Nakano would repeat the move one lap later to take third from Xaus.
Edwards, Barros and Rossi were next to pass Xaus, but drama was to follow when Rossi then tried an optimistic out-braking move on the Repsol Honda rider into turn one - and hit the Brazilian. Neither rider fell, but Barros was knocked wide. Rossi instantly raised his hand to acknowledge fault... It didn't help Alex much though; he had dropped to 17th by the end of the lap after also slipping on oil from Shinya Nakano's Kawasaki.
But worse was to follow for the now fourth placed Rossi, who ran wide onto the 'grass' on the following lap (6), and was promptly thrown from his M1 when the rear kicked out – sending the Italian superstar sliding down the asphalt with sparks flying from both man and machine. Valentino was fortunately unhurt and quickly scrambled off the racing line, before starting the lonely walk home to consider his second DNF of the season.