6 months ago
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Day 1 of MotoGP™ action in 2021 is in the history books and leading the way on Friday at the Barwa Grand Prix of Qatar is Ducati Lenovo Team’s Jack Miller. The Australian’s 1:53.387 was just 0.007s away from the all-time lap record as teammate Francesco Bagnaia made it a factory Bologna 1-2, 0.035s splitting the red machines. Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) was third quickest as MotoGP™ returns in scintillating fashion, with half a second covering the top 10.
After a scorching FP1 was completed earlier in the day, the Losail floodlights were switched on for FP2 and Miller, Bagnaia, Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) and Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) all immediately set lap times quicker than Franco Morbidelli’s (Petronas Yamaha SRT) FP1 pace in the opening handful of minutes. This occurred before the red flags were then waved due to track conditions, some debris had been scattered across the track on the start/finish straight. However, after a quick clean up operation, the MotoGP™ riders were back out with one thing on their mind: securing a top 10 place.
Aleix Espargaro was the first rider to venture into the 1:53s under the evening lights and briefly went seven tenths clear. Outstanding from the Spaniard and Noale factory early in 2021, as Rins then cut the deficit to just under half a second. The spearhead of the times fell quiet for a few minutes but with just under 15 minutes to go on the opening day, Quartararo got within a tenth of Aleix Espargaro to make it four manufacturers in the top four: Aprilia, Yamaha, Ducati, and Suzuki. Soft front and rear rubber was slotted into the machines of pretty much every rider, as we grabbed the popcorn and watch an almighty battle for the top 10 unfold.
On his next lap, Quartararo did then demote Aleix Espargaro to P2 as fellow Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP rider Maverick Viñales went P3. Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) and Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT) climbed the ladder into P5 and P6, with rookies Enea Bastianini (Esponsorama Racing) and then Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing) enjoying some time in the top 10 – superb action at Losail, and there was more to come.
With nine minutes left, Bagnaia then took charge by 0.275s. That lap was within half a tenth of Marc Marquez’s (Repsol Honda Team) all-time lap record, a 1:53.380. The other red bullet then went within 0.007s of that time, as Miller shot to P1. And it was soon a Ducati 1-2-3 with Zarco going 0.199s behind Miller, with the top 10 positions changing constantly.
Quartararo was then glowing the timing screens with red in the opening three sectors, but every lap saw all the Yamahas lose touch as the superior grunt of the Ducatis kicked in. Nevertheless, El Diablo was able to grab P3 to break the Ducati trio apart. Bagnaia then threatened to reclaim top spot but Pol Espargaro’s (Repsol Honda Team) second crash of the day, this time at Turn 15, meant the Italian couldn’t complete his lap due to yellow flags.
So in the end, Ducati and Miller take first blood in 2021. Bagnaia makes sure it’s a Bologna 1-2 at the top with Yamaha looking good, Quartararo the quickest YZR-M1 rider so far. Zarco is looking like a serious contender on the GP21 and finishes P4, with Rins going well on the soft tyres – something we rarely say about the Suzuki duo – to claim P5. Viñales and Morbidelli finish within three tenths of Miller as Aleix Espargaro slips to P8 at the end of play after leading in the opening exchanges – a great day for him and Aprilia though. Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT) finished inside the top 10 for the second session in a row, as Pol Espargaro grabbed a vital P10 despite his late tumble. Two crashes in one day aren’t what HRC’s new recruit would have been looking for, but the number 44 looks in good shape.
Reigning World Champion Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) misses out on what could prove to be a crucial top 10 place by a slender 0.013s. The cooler evening temperatures allowed the riders to set their best times of the day compared to when the sun was beating down in FP1, the same will be happening again in FP3 – an automatic Q2 place could be a struggle now for Mir.
MotoGP™ really has returned with a bang in 2021. 16 riders finish within a second on the opening day, a fantastic way to welcome back Grand Prix motorcycle racing. 15:15 local time (GMT+3) on Saturday afternoon is when the premier class will be back on track for FP3, will we see any improvements? You know what to do – tune in and see who will be sailing into the first Q2 of the season, and who will be contesting in Q1.
Top 10 combined Day 1:
1. Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) – 1:53.387
2. Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) + 0.035
3. Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) + 0.188
4. Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) + 0.199
5. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) + 0.236
6. Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) + 0.252
7. Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) + 0.289
8. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) + 0.340
9. Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT) + 0.487
10. Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) + 0.514