He stole the show in the pre-season, and now Maverick Vinales has done it in the main game with a superb win in the opening round of the 2017 MotoGP title in Qatar.
The Spaniard's first ride on the Movistar Yamaha was beautifully measured as he took it cautiously from the start before inching his way back up towards the pointy end.
In the final few laps it all came down to a battle between Vinales and Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team), with Vinales with more side grip and Dovizioso the higher top speed – which he was using to his advantage down the 1km Losail main straight.
Vinales' higher corner speed, particularly through the back half of the circuit, eventually told, and he won the 20-lapper by just under half a second, with the wily veteran Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha) in third ahead of Repsol Honda pair Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa.
Australia's Jack Miller (EG 0,0 Marc VDS Honda) was an impressive eighth, finishing just in front of rookies Alex Rins (Ecstar Suzuki) and Jonas Folger (Monster Yamaha Tech 3).
“I’m so satisfied, the team did such a good job keeping the bike with the right setup," said Vinales. "I started the race well – I arrived second into the first corner but then (Johann) Zarco appeared and I had to pick up the bike, otherwise we would have crashed.
"Then Marc and Dovi appeared and the track was quite slippery. I couldn’t make my own speed in the corner and I went off once in a fast corner. So it was hard in the early laps but then step by step I recovered my confidence. When I got to marc I thought that was the time to push. Then I arrived to Dovi and I didn’t know how to pass him. Thank you to the team because they did a great job!”
The original race start was delayed by 40 minutes after a light showier hit the circuit – but nothing like the day before when a deluge forced the cancellation of qualifying across all three classes.
Once the much anticipated season kicked off, Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) was the star turn as the rookie hit the front and was seemingly in control of the situation before he crashed at turn two on lap seven.
That left Dovizioso, Marquez and Andrea Iannone in the leading group, with Vinales and Rossi catching.
Iannone then crashed on lap 11, and shortly after Vinales dispensed with Marquez, who was clearly struggling after a late decision to race with a medium compound front tyre instead of his initial hard choice.
Once Rossi was into third, the race to the chequered flag was on but the Italian couldn't quite maintain the pace of the leaders.
At the sharp end, Vinales was the master as he brought up Yamaha's third successive victory in Qatar.
Last year's winner, Jorge Lorenzo, was 11th in his first ride on the factory Ducati after running wide on lap one and dropping back to 16th position.
Meanwhile, Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) and Scott Redding (Octo Pramac Racing Ducati) finished in sixth and seventh, followed by Miller.
“After all that’s happened this weekend with the weather and the lost track time, it is a great way to start the season inside the top 10," said Miller. "The small crash in FP1 really set us back on Thursday and then the weather pretty much dominated the next two days.
"What I’m happy about is that I could carry the momentum gained in the preseason and I’ve felt better each time I’ve jumped on the bike. It’s very positive to be in the top 10 and the only disappointment is that I was a little bit tense on the bike in the first part of the race and I was squeezing the handlebars too much and it had a bit of an impact on the transition from brake to throttle. Apart from that it was a very positive finish.
"It’s a result both myself and the team can build on and I want to thank my guys because they gave me a really competitive package this weekend.”
Other riders to crash were Alvaro Bautista (Pull&Bear Aspar Ducati), who was sitting well inside the top 10, and Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) – twice.
1. Maverick Vinales, Movistar Yamaha, 38m59.999s
2. Andrea Dovizioso, Ducati Team, +0.461s
3. Valentino Rossi, Movistar Yamaha, +1.928s
8. Jack Miller, EG 0,0 Marc VDS, +14.486s
Pole position: Vinales, 1:54.316 = 169.4km/h
Fastest lap: Johann Zarco, Monster Yamaha Tech 3, 1:55.990 = 166.9km/h
1. Vinales 25
2. Dovizioso 20
3. Rossi 16
4. Marc Marquez, Repsol Honda, 13
5. Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda, 11
8. Miller 8
Franco Morbidelli (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) was sublime in winning his first Moto2 race ahead of 2016 Qatar winner Tom Lüthi (CarXpert Interwetten) and Takaaki Nakagami (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia).
"This first victory is a great sensation after all this time' it's really amazing that I confirm that I am capable of winning races," said Morbidelli. "My pace was really strong and I was pulling away from the others once I got ahead of Lüthi and had a clear track, so it did not feel like a difficult race.
"The main thing today was to bring to the track what I had in my mind, that I could win here after such a strong preseason of testing and practice in Qatar.”
Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo) took an impressive first podium for the new KTM chassis, followed home by EG 0,0 Marc VDS rider Alex Marquez.
Luca Marini (Forward Racing Team) and rookie Fabio Quartararo (Pons HP 40) were sixth and seventh, while it was a disappointing day for Aussie Remy Gardner (Tech 3 Racing) who was taken out of proceedings by another rider on the opening lap.
1. Franco Morbidelli, EG, 0,0 Marc VDS, 40m18.480s
2. Tom Luthi, CarXpert Interwetten, +2.681s
3. Takaaki Nakagami, Idemitsu Honda Team Asia, +3.304s
DNF, Remy Gardner, Tech 3 Racing, +20 laps
Pole position: Morbidelli, 2:00.349 = 160.9km/h
Fastest lap: Morbidelli, 2:00.087 = 161.2km/h
1. Morbidelli 25
2. Luthi 20
3. Nakagami 16
4. Miguel Oliveira, Red Bull KTM Ajo, 13
5. Alex Marquez, EG, 0,0 Marc VDS, 11
Another Moto3 epic, with just 1.693 seconds separating the top nine riders. The race was won by Joan Mir (Leopard Racing) from British Talent Team rider John McPhee and poleman Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3), all aboard Hondas.
Aron Canet (EG 0,0 Honda), Romano Fenati (Marinelli Rivacold Snipers Honda) and Andrea Migno (Sky Racing Team VR46 KT) completed the top six.
The fastest rookie was 2016 Red Bull Rookies Cup winner and former Asia Talent Cup victor Ayumu Sasaki (SIC Racing Team), who took an impressive 11th on his full-time debut – despite being forced to evade another incident only a handful of laps before the end.
1. Joan Mir, Leopard Racing Honda, 38m27.364s
2. John McPhee, British Talent Team Honda, +0.135s
3. Jorge Martin, Del Conca Gresini Moto3, +0.218s
Pole position: Martin, 2:06.817 = 152.7km/h
Fastest lap: Fabio di Giannantonio, Del Conca Gresini Moto3 Honda, 2:06.860 = 152.6km/h
1. Mir 25
2. McPhee 20
3. Martin 16
4. Aron Canet, Estrella Galicia 0,0 Honda, 13
5. Romano Fenati, Marinelli Rivacold Snipers Honda, 11
Next round: Argentina, April 7-9