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Quartararo puts Rins on pole, while Marquez and Mir play cat and mouse in qualifying
The French take it 0.089, Marquez plays some mind games and Bagnaia and Viñales suffer round cancellations in Portugal
Saturday 17th April 2021
Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) is the new lap record holder at the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve when the Frenchman eclipsed his 11th MotoGP ™ pole position. It was a dramatic qualifying at the Grande Premio 888 de Portugal, in which Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) emerged as the second-best challenger within a tenth of Quartararo and Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) closed the front row as championship leader and continues his fast form – this time despite a crash.
However, the first headlines came in the first quarter. Reigning MotoGP ™ Champion Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and returning eight-time World Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) were both in session and the fireworks didn’t quite start, but a fuse was definitely lit. Marquez followed the Suzuki during their first few runs and the two were split by just one and a half tenths in Marquez’s favor before the number 93 shaded the Suzuki rider side by side back into the pit lane. You were 1-2, Marquez-Mir.
In the next rounds, some drivers threatened, but the two champions stayed in the lead. I improved, but only stayed behind, this time by just 0.049. Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol), Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) and Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) couldn’t quite break the Marc Marquez-Mir stranglehold, and the two sailed through as Alex Marquez, Pol Espargaro and Binder were left on the grid on the 13th, 14th and 15th.
And so began the second quarter. Home hero Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) was the front runner on the road, but Aleix Espargaro’s (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) first lap was quick – a 1: 39.452 put the Spaniard to P1 initially, but not for long. The benchmark was set by Quartararo, the best of the weekend so far, when he scored a 1: 39.028 on his first lap. After Zarco had set two red sectors, he crashed unharmed at turn 11. The decisive factor, however, was that the Frenchman was able to drive back into the pit lane with his GP21.
Meanwhile, Bagnaia moved into second place to cut Quartararo’s lead to just 0.117 seconds. The latter had a jump onto the entry point at Turn 8. That ruined his second lap of flight, and then Bagnaia’s lap was canceled, as was Maverick Viñales’ (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) due to yellow flags waving for Zarco’s crash. I then sat down behind runner-up Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) to sit in the front row for the time being, but there was still a lot to do. After Marc Marquez had waited, who had not yet set a time, he came out of the pit lane next to Rins in eighth place. And again, meant on the side for Honda and Suzuki …
Quartararo showed up, however, ready to set another marker. El Diablo was 0.137 seconds in his own time through sector 3 and when he got over the line it was an all-time lap record for the French. Oliveira then crept into P5, Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) finished P2 and Luca Marini (Sky VR46 Avintia) – after an impressive performance to get straight into the second quarter – shot to a magical P4. The cameras panned to Rins, Marc Marquez, and Quartararo next, shading the Suzuki. Marc Marquez climbed into the front row. Quartararo was lurking right behind the Spaniard, although he couldn’t improve this time. At this point, the second quarter made some headlines of its own.
Oliveira suddenly slipped at the bottom of the hill at Turn 9, although the Portuguese rider was okay when Zarco bounced back from his own crash and ended up in second place. Morbidelli threw Marquez into the third row as the Italian finished fifth, and Bagnaia was raging. The Italian hit a new lap record three tenths up in the last sector – and then the lap was canceled. Yellow flags were to blame, although it was understandably controversial for the Italian afterwards. That left him in 11th place, and there was more heartache when Viñales instead broke the track limits by a narrow margin, leaving him in 12th place.
And so Quartararo, who said that after the drama and pace of Bagnaia, it felt a little different than his ten previous MotoGP ™ poles, received the highest accolade on Saturday and held the new lap record. Rins snuck into a stunner to finish second. The Suzuki rider was just 0.089 seconds behind the Yamaha, but still achieved his same best MotoGP ™ qualifying result. Championship leader Zarco recovered from falling to a great position outside the front row and was likely fondly remembering Ducati’s exploits in Qatar.
Speaking of which, Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) will lead the second row and Morbidelli and Marc Marquez will join him as the former returns to his rightful place near the front and … the latter too. What can the eight-time world champion do on the racetrack? Points? Top ten? Top five? Podium …?
Aleix Espargaro qualified seventh for the second year in a row, another great job the Spaniard did at Aprilia. Marini recovered from a quick FP4 crash and took his best MotoGP ™ qualifying result in P8 and received a good reward for his much faster weekend so far. The rookie is in the third row in front of me. It should be remembered, however, that the reigning world champion took more than half of his MotoGP ™ podiums from outside the first two rows …
In tenth place it is not a repeated pole position for Oliveira after his crash in Portugal, but he was perfectly fine and will hardly be able to drive from P10 on Sunday afternoon. Bagnaia ends up in 11th ahead of Viñales in 12th. Both have a point to prove when the lights go out and after the stunning starts from Oliveira and Bagnaia we’ve seen so far in 2021, they’ll try to score quickly. Viñales will in the meantime be more of a pacemaker based on the form book … but could still be very threatening as Yamaha seems to have made some progress with two steps in the Algarve. Viñales’ best lap was faster than the pole …
Finally, there was some bad news for Jorge Martin from Pramac Racing on Saturday morning. After a serious fall in RP3, the Spaniard was declared unfit and has a broken foot and finger. We wish him a speedy recovery and hope to see him on the right track again soon.
That’s it from Saturday, when the grid for the Grande Premio 888 de Portugal promised to be insane. Points to prove, speed to unleash … and many in the locker. Who will rule Portimão in 2021? Find out at 1:00 p.m. local time (GMT +1) when the next 25 points come into play … and Marc Marquez is trying to create a distance for the first time since Valencia 2019.
Fabio Quartararo: “First of all, it’s the pole, but it doesn’t feel like usual. We saw that Bagnaia was extremely fast in one lap! I’m more excited about FP3 and FP4. The main goal was the front row and we got there and of course pole position. It feels really good but it’s a shame because on the last lap I had a big shock on the last corner and we could have improved the lap time but I’m happy, I know how fast I can be and that is for my team. ”