Record-setting Bagnaia takes first MotoGP pole of season in Qatar
Doha, Qatar: Italian Francesco Bagnaia of Ducati grabbed the first pole position of the new MotoGP season in Qatar on Saturday after edging Frenchman Fabio Quartararo of Yamaha in qualifying.
Another Yamaha rider, Spaniard Maverick Vinales completed the front row after nudging out seven-time MotoGP world champion Valentino Rossi -- in his 26th Grand Prix season -- of Yamaha satellite team SRT, late in the session.
Australian Jack Miller (Ducati) and Frenchman Johann Zarco (Ducati-Pramac) will also start from the second row.
Bagnaia, the 2018 Moto2 champion before stepping up to the elite class the following year, claimed his maiden pole in a track record of 1 minute 52.772 seconds.
"(It's the) best way to start my career with a new team. I can be happy about the result," said Bagnaia.
"Already yesterday I was thinking it was possible to arrive at (1 minute) 52 (seconds) and in the second attempt when I started pushing I thought it was possible after the third sector.
"I think it's possible we make a really great result tomorrow."
Quartararo said he was still hopeful of a Yamaha win on Sunday.
"It's a shame... (But) I'm quite happy, I think we did a great lap," said Quartararo.
"I feel we have great potential tomorrow."
Zarco, meanwhile, was able to boast the fastest speed on a MotoGP lap, 362.4 km/h (225 mph).
'Suffers in the wind'
Miller failed to capitalize on achieving the best free practice time of 1 minute 53.387 seconds.
The third row on Sunday will see Italian Franco Morbidelli (Yamaha-SRT) alongside Spain's Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia) and Spain's Alex Rins (Suzuki).
After facing electrical difficulties with his Suzuki, reigning champion Joan Mir ended up 10th fastest ahead of Japan's Takaaki Nakagami (Honda-LCR) and Honda's new recruit Spaniard Pol Espargaro.
Bagnaia predicted that Ducati, Yamaha, and Suzuki could all be in with a chance of winning on Sunday.
Yamaha holds the record for successes at the Losail circuit with eight wins against Ducati's five, but the Italian manufacturer has a distinct straight-line speed advantage, ably proven by Zarco's new record.
Quartararo said that a strong start would be vital because of his bike's relative weakness overtaking rival manufacturers.
The field will also face Qatar's distinctive seasonal hot winds which typically pick up a substantial amount of desert sand.
"We know our bike suffers in the wind but other bikes have the same problem, only Honda is not affected," said Bagnaia.
KTM has not yet got into their stride with Portugal's Miguel Oliveira in 15th, South Africa's Brad Binder in 19th, Italy's Danilo Petrucci in 20th, and Spain's Iker Lecuona at 21st.
Rookies Enea Bastianini from Italy (Ducati-Avintia) and Spain's Jorge Martin (Ducati-Pramac) had a promising first outing coming 13th and 14th respectively.
In the Moto2 category, British rider Sam Lowes has staked an early claim for the season after dominating qualification ahead of Spain's Raul Fernandez, newly promoted from Moto 3.
On pole for Moto3 will be South Africa's Darryn Binder who overcame a rocky start to qualifying, managing to set the circuit record for the division as he pulled ahead of 16-year-old Spanish rookie Izan Guevara and Britain's veteran John McPhee.