DOHA - Italy's Andrea Dovizioso won a thrilling season-opening Qatar MotoGP on Sunday, surviving a last lap challenge from world champion Marc Marquez.

Dovizioso re-took the lead on the final bend of the 22-lap night race to record a notable victory on a track where he had finished as runner-up for the past three years.  Nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi came home in third place on a Yamaha.

Dovizioso, who finished runner-up in the world championship last year, first snatched the lead with five laps to go from long-time leader France's Johann Zarco, who started on pole. The Italian held off Marquez, on a Honda, until the dramatic last lap, before taking the chequered flag and his first 25 points of the season. "It was a perfect race, perfect weekend," said Dovizioso. "We worked very well."

The Italian had been in good form in practice and qualifying and it was surprising that he started fifth on the grid. Even worse, a bad start on his Ducati meant Dovizioso fell down the field at the start before he was able to haul himself back towards the leaders. He added: "It was a really bad start but I was calm, I recovered very slowly and saved a lot of tyres." "I was able to push at the end, even though the tyre was finished."

Spaniard Marquez said he had tried to push Dovizioso "100 per cent". Nine-time world champion Rossi said he was happy with a podium finish, adding he wanted to follow it up with more this year.

"I expect more than last year," said Rossi, who also finished third in Qatar in 2017. "Thanks to my team, thanks to Yamaha and we try to continue this."

France's Zarco eventually trailed in eighth, despite leading for two-thirds of the race, dropping off disappointingly at the business end of the contest. Britain's Cal Crutchlow came in fourth with Danilo Petrucci fifth. Last year's winner in Doha, Maverick Vinales took sixth on a Yamaha.