By the time the riders had reached lap seven of 22, three riders had already fallen by the wayside, with James Toseland, Cal Crutchlow and Chris Vermeulen all crashing out of contention.
A disastrous start to the year for defending champions Yamaha, Toseland lost the rear of his R1 through Lukey Heights, the former champion unlucky to land directly on his already badly injured hand. Causing considerable damage to his bike in the process, Toseland cut a forlorn figure as a walked off circuit clutching his wrist.
Crutchlow added to Yamaha's woes with a tumble at Honda just three laps later, and only two laps after Vermeulen had suffered an identical accident on the Kawasaki having battled his way up to an early seventh position. Shane Byrne was another to get it wrong at Honda, dropping to 20th after running off the circuit early on.
It meant the depleted chasing group of Rea, Max Biaggi
and Carlos Checa
were left to dispute fourth position, although they would be joined by the recovering Guintoli and Smrz, as well as Leon Camier, by lap ten.
Back at the front, Fabrizio and Haga were beginning to reel Haslam back in, inching closer down the home straight as they benefitted from the GSX-R1000's slipstream. Despite this, Haslam kept his lines clean through the corners ensuring Fabrizio was never in a position to launch a convincing overtaking attempt.
Even so, Fabrizio continued to pile the pressure on, wringing the best from the Ducati 1198 to shadow Haslam as they entered the final lap.
With Haslam erring towards defending his lines, Fabrizio began to form his offense – a last ditch attempt to tuck beneath the Suzuki through the long final bend and slipstream past down the straight.
Although Haslam rebuffed Fabrizio's efforts through the left-hander, it was the Italian who got the better slingshot out of the corner as he pulled alongside his rival down the long home straight. Launching across the finish line with barely anything to separate them, although the timesheets initially had Fabrizio classified as the winner – prompting premature celebrations in the Ducati camp – a quick decision on the photo-finish would see the result reversed just a few seconds later.
A dramatic race to start the season with, a somewhat bemused looking Haslam was left to celebrate an emotional first win at World Superbike level, while a visibly disappointed Fabrizio had to make do with second.
Although he fell no more than a second behind the leaders, Haga wasn't able to build on his superb start as he crossed the line in third. Nonetheless, the podium remains just reward for his team after their mighty efforts to get him out on the grid.