Marco Melandri had the potential to give the Hayate Racing Team a top ten finish on its MotoGP debut during Monday's Qatar Grand Prix.

The Italian lost 18.07sec, compared with his following lap, when he ran off track while holding eighth position on lap two of the rain-delayed race.

Subtracting that time lost from his final race time indicates Melandri's 'unofficial' Kawasaki ZX-RR would have finished 38.309sec behind the factory Ducati of race winner Casey Stoner, rather than the actual 56.376sec.

Had that happened, Melandri would have claimed ninth place, rather than the 14th he was officially credited with. All but one of the 18 riders finished Monday's race.

Melandri's best individual lap, a 1min 57.990sec, was only 14th best out of the 18 riders, but the Italian did show impressive consistency, enabling him to rise from 18th and last on lap two - after his mishap - to 14th by lap 15 of 22.

Melandri finished eleventh as a factory Ducati rider at Qatar last season, when the top Kawasaki - of John Hopkins - crossed the finish line 49.857sec from Stoner (in eleventh). That suggests - despite Kawasaki's factory withdraw - its '09 package (in the hands of Melandri) has still gained clear ground compared with one year ago.

Meanwhile, Monster Yamaha Tech 3's James Toseland, who ran off track on lap seven, dropping him from twelfth to 17th, lost around 13 seconds during his excursion.

However, the lap times indicate Toseland may not have finished higher than his credited 16th even without the incident (assuming no mechanical damage) since the Englishman crossed the finish line 14.692sec behind 15th placed Yuki Takahashi (Scot Honda). Toseland was ranked eleventh in terms of fastest race lap.

The following list shows which riders began the 2009 season better than last year, and vice versa, with the position difference shown in brackets for those that finished both events. Ranking is by 2009 classification.

Race positions: Qatar 2008 - 2009:

1.Casey Stoner: 1-1 (0)
2.Valentino Rossi: 5-2 (+3)
3.Jorge Lorenzo: 2-3 (-1)
4.Colin Edwards: 7-4 (+3)
5.Andrea Dovizioso: 4-5 (-1)
6.Alex de Angelis: DNF - 6
7.Chris Vermeulen: 17-7 (+10)
8.Mika Kallio: DNS-8
9.Toni Elias: 14-9 (+5)
10.Randy de Puniet: 9-10 (-1)
11.Dani Pedrosa: 3-11 (-8)
12.Nicky Hayden: 10-12 (-2)
13.Sete Gibernau: DNS-13
14.Marco Melandri: 11-14 (-3)
15.Yuki Takahashi: DNS-15
16.James Toseland: 6-16 (-10)
17.Niccolo Canepa: DNS-17
18.Loris Capirossi: 8-DNF

DNS = Did Not Start
DNF = Did Not Finish



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