It was the performances of Pecco Bagnaia in the first Sepang test and then Fabio Quartararo in Qatar that got me thinking; have any riders making their debuts in the MotoGP four-stroke era won first time out or even qualified on the front row?
The simple answer is no to the first question but yes to the second. One hundred and six riders have made their debuts in the premier class during this era, yet nobody has won first time out. Two, however, have qualified on the front row and one in pole.
Three Spanish riders have come closest first time out and finished on the podium. The first was Dani Pedrosa at his home grand prix at Jerez in 2006. Dani, racing the Repsol Honda for the first time after winning the 125cc and two 250cc world titles, finished second four seconds behind Loris Capirossi on the factory Ducati.
Two years later, another double 250cc World Champion Jorge Lorenzo made his MotoGP debut in Qatar. It was Ducati once again that won the race with Casey Stoner in the saddle. Lorenzo, on the factory Yamaha, was second five seconds down with Pedrosa third. Marc Marquez made his much-heralded debut in the premier class in 2013 with those 125cc and Moto2 world titles under his belt. Under the Losail International floodlights, he eventually finished third behind the Yamaha´s of Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi. Marquez did go one better than his countrymen Pedrosa and Lorenzo by winning the world title first time out, however.
I would have thought more debutants would have qualified on the front row. Perhaps taking a big risk on that one important qualifying lap but it’s not the case. Those two riders who have qualified on the front row have suffered very different fortunes since those impressive performances. Lorenzo followed up a pole position at that opening round in 2008 with a brilliant second place. He went onto to win three MotoGP world titles and fancies his chances to make it four this season riding the factory Honda.
Alongside Lorenzo on the front row at Qatar in 2008 was British rider James Toseland. The World Superbike Champion, riding the Tech 3 Yamaha, made a sensational start to his MotoGP career. He qualified in second place and finished sixth in the race and looked set to make a big impact in the premier class, but it didn’t happen. Injuries forced him to retire to pursue a new career in the music industry and as a television pundit.
Bagnaia and Quartararo step onto the big stage for the first time under the spotlights this weekend after impressing in pre-season testing. Can they re-write the history books by winning first time out? It’s a very big ask and just check out the previous 106 riders who have tried. The last rider to win on his premier class debut was Max Biaggi with victory at Suzuka in 1998 on the two-stroke Honda but records are there for the beating.