El Diablo picks up his 11th MotoGP™ pole as Bagnaia’s blistering time gets cancelled; Rins and Zarco on front row
It’s pole position number 11 in MotoGP™ for Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) after the Frenchman benefits from Francesco Bagnaia’s (Ducati Lenovo Team) misfortune to claim Grande Prémio 888 de Portugal Saturday P1. The Frenchman’s new lap record, a 1:38.862, was good enough to beat Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) by 0.089s as Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) cements a front row start in P3 despite a crash.
Qualifying kicked off at 14:10 local time and in the first part, we saw MotoGP™ World Champions Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar), Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) and Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT). Reigning king Mir and Marc Marquez were lapping together at the beginning of Q1, with the Suzuki star the session’s early pacesetter. However, on the second flying lap, tucked right behind Mir, Marquez went 0.146s faster than Mir and it was the duo who sat P1 and P2 at the end of the first flying laps. Fascinating stuff at the start of Portimao qualifying.
Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol) was 0.131s shy of Mir in P3 as the Q1 riders headed out for a second time attack, with two Q2 spots at stake. The former World Champion then rumbled out of pitlane behind the current World Champion, but Marc Marquez’s first lap on his second run wasn’t going to trouble anyone. His teammate Pol Espargaro, minutes after a monster highside in FP4, was also searching for a Q2 place – as was Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing).
Champion vs Champion: Marquez stalks Mir as mind games begin
Mir improved his last with just over a minute to go, but he remained P2 – 0.049s behind Marc Marquez. Pol Espargaro moved ahead of Binder to P4 in the session but no one would trouble the returning Marc Marquez and Mir, the two most recent MotoGP™ World Champions sailed into the pole position shootout.
The last time Marc Marquez was in Q1 was at the 2019 Thailand GP, and that day, he took pole. Would history repeat itself? We were about to find out. Home hero Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) was the leader on the road but Aleix Espargaro’s (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) first lap was a quick one – a 1:39.452 put the Spaniard P1, but not for long. The benchmark was set by Quartararo, the best of the weekend so far, a 1:39.028 on his first flying lap. After setting two red sectors, Zarco then crashed unhurt at Turn 11, how costly would that prove for the World Championship leader? Crucially, the Frenchman was able to ride his GP21 back to pitlane.
Meanwhile, Bagnaia went P2 to cut Quartararo’s advantage down to 0.117s, with the latter having a huge, snappy moment on the entry to Turn 8. That ruined his second flying lap. Bagnaia’s lap got cancelled though, as did Maverick Viñales’ (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) because of yellow flags waving for Zarco’s crash. Mir slotted in behind second place Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) to provisionally sit on the front row, if the number 36 stayed there, that would be his first front row in MotoGP™. But there was plenty of action left to play in Portimao Q2, as Marc Marquez – who was yet to set a time – emerged from pitlane alongside eighth place Rins.
Quartararo emerged with fire in his belly after having to scrap his second flying lap. El Diablo was 0.137s under his own time through Sector 3 and coming across the line, it was a new all-time lap record for Quartararo. Oliveira snuck into P5, Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) went P2, Luca Marini (SKY VR46 Avintia) shot up to a magical P4 as the cameras panned to Rins, Marc Marquez and Quartararo. Shadowing Rins, Marc Marquez climbed onto the front row and just behind the Spaniard, Quartararo was lurking. The latter couldn’t improve on that lap though but huge drama was about to follow.
Oliveira suffered a very fast crash at the bottom of the hill at Turn 9, thankfully the Portuguese rider was ok. Zarco, having just crashed himself, suddenly propelled into P2 before Morbidelli went P5 to knock Marc Marquez down to the third row. Bagnaia was the man to look out for though, he was on an absolute charge. Pecco held a three tenth advantage heading into the final sector and the Italian didn’t slow up, setting a blistering new all-time lap record to steal pole position away from Quartararo. However, on the cool-down lap, Bagnaia’s lap was cancelled. Yellow flags were still waving because of Oliveira’s crash when Bagnaia sped through, and a phenomenal time was chalked off, leaving Bagnaia having to start from P11 – heartbreak for Pecco.
This meant Quartararo starts from pole position for the first time this season, 0.089s ahead of Rins who grabs his equal-best MotoGP™ qualifying result. Championship leader Zarco is in a great position on the outside of the front row, he also benefits from Ducati teammate Bagnaia’s misfortune. Miller will spearhead Row 2 thanks to a P4 in Portimao Q2, he’s joined by Morbidelli and Marc Marquez. The latter couldn’t have hoped for much better than that for his first qualifying session in nine months, now it’s all about what the number 93 can do over race distance.
Aleix Espargaro qualifies seventh for the second consecutive race in a row, another great job by the Spaniard and Aprilia. Marini recovered from a rapid FP4 crash to claim his best MotoGP™ qualifying result in P8, fantastic for the Italian, who lines up ahead of ninth place Mir on the third row. It’s not a repeat Portugal pole position for Oliveira after his crash, but he was perfectly ok and will be raring to go on Sunday afternoon from P10. Bagnaia was understandably miffed coming back into pitlane, P11 is far from ideal after thinking you’re on pole.
Far from ideal are three words to describe Viñales’ Q2, two of his laps were chalked off for yellow flags and exceeding track limits by the slimmest of margins. The new track limit sensors were triggered by Viñales, whose last lap was good enough for pole position. Unfortunately for Top Gun, there’s now a lot of work to do from P12.
Yet another mouth-watering MotoGP™ qualifying unfolds, and yet more drama unravels in this brilliant sport. Quartararo’s pace has looked superior, but Sunday is surely going to serve up some more surprises. Tune in for the MotoGP™ race in Portimao at 13:00 local time (GMT+1).
1. Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) – 1:38.862
2. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) + 0.089
3. Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) + 0.129
4. Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) + 0.199
5. Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) + 0.241
6. Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) + 0.259
7. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) + 0.307
8. Luca Marini (SKY VR46 Avintia) + 0.524
9. Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) + 0.536
10. Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) + 0.583
11. Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) + 0.620
12. Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) + 0.945