Home hero and MotoGP™ World Championship leader Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) claimed top spot in a hectic dry FP3 session at the SHARK Helmets Grand Prix de France. The Frenchman set a 1:32.319 on Saturday morning to finish 0.130 ahead of second place Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech3), with Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) completing the top three. Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) crashed late in the session and lost out on a top 10 slot, the man second in the title race will face Q1 this afternoon.
FP3 kicked off in beautiful French sunshine and immediately, the times tumbled from FP2’s mixed conditions. The session was vital for the riders to try and set a quick time for the top 10 to go straight into Q2, but also to get valuable race data in their back pocket. A busy Saturday morning began in good fashion for Quartararo as he went top of the combined times with a 1:33.779, but it wasn’t a promising start for Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) as the Spaniard slid into the gravel – unhurt – at Turn 3. Alex Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) then suffered the same fate, the reigning Moto2™ World Champion was down at Turn 3 after going P4 on the timesheets – rider ok.
In the early stages, it was a Yamaha 1-2-3. Quartararo led the way with a 1:33.014 to sit 0.265 ahead of teammate Morbidelli as the title chase leader was stringing together a solid run, while Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) was 0.484 off Quartararo with just under 20 minutes of the session gone. Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) then got in and amongst the Yamaha trio to go P2, cutting Quartararo’s gap to 0.169 seconds. Teammate Danilo Petrucci then penetrated the top four, pushing Viñales down to P5 as the factory Bologna bullets looked in good shape.
With 18 minutes to go, Morbidelli was at the summit. A 1:32.839 placed the Italian 0.135 ahead of Quartararo before Mir then popped up to P2, 0.036 off top spot. Every rider was lapping on the soft-soft Michelin slick tyres in FP3 and the top 10 was starting to change, Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) going P5 and Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) claiming P10. It may have been sunny at Le Mans, but it was far from warm – a big reason why the riders were on the soft combination on Saturday morning.
The goalposts were then moved. Quartararo threw down the gauntlet with 12 minutes to go, the Frenchman 0.330 faster than anyone heading into the closing stages with time attacks now the name of the game. On his next lap, El Diablo went quicker again to see his advantage climb to over half a second. Friday pacesetter Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) closed the gap to 0.357 shortly after though to go P2. Miller improved then get to within two tenths of Quartararo as a hectic final seven minutes followed, automatic Q2 places up for grabs.
Mir, Viñales and Dovizioso all improved their times to go into the top four in quick succession, with Rossi then going P3 to sit three tenths away from Quartararo. On an out-lap on fresh tyres, Miller then suffered an off-throttle highside at Turn 8 – a nasty crash for the Aussie but thankfully he was perfectly ok. Soon after, The Doctor was down. Turn 4 saw Rossi slide out unhurt after tucking the front, before Mir then bit the dust at the notorious Turn 3. The front of his GSX-RR washing away without warning and it was a crash that proved costly for the Championship contender.
Why? Well, Mir sat P8 with a minute remaining – the danger zone. Soon, Oliveira, Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) shot into the top 10 to shuffle Mir down to P11 and a Q1 place. Frenchman Johann Zarco (Esponsorama Racing) then shot into the top 10 on his final lap to push Binder out, with Dovizioso scraping through by the skin of his teeth – how vital could that be for the Ducati rider?
So at the end of play in FP3, Quartararo leads the way going into qualifying. Oliveira’s late flurry sees him as the title leader’s nearest challenger, Morbidelli and fourth place Miller are both under two tenths away from Quartararo. Crutchlow, riding injured, cements a fantastic P5 to finish ahead of Zarco, with Rossi slipping to P7 after his crash. Viñales did go P5 on his last lap but that was scrubbed off due to yellow flags being shown at the final corner for Stefan Bradl’s (Repsol Honda Team) crash, Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and Dovizioso are the final automatic Q2 qualifiers.
Mir has work to do in Q1 if he’s to try and claim a decent grid slot for the French GP, teammate Rins joins him in Q1 as the two Catalan GP podium finishers endure a tougher morning than anticipated in France. Tune in for MotoGP™ qualifying at 14:10 local time (GMT+2)!
Top 10 combined:
1. Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) – 1:32.319
2. Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech3) + 0.130
3. Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) + 0.157
4. Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) + 0.184
5. Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) + 0.239
6. Johann Zarco (Esponsorama Racing) + 0.312
7. Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) + 0.321
8. Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) + 0.329
9. Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) + 0.341
10. Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) + 0.367