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Arm pump surgery to home Grand Prix pole position. Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) is France’s hero on a Saturday once more after a phenomenal couple of qualifying sessions at the SHARK Grand Prix de France, a mostly dry Le Mans track saw the Frenchman set a 1:32.600 on his final flying lap to beat teammate Maverick Viñales by 0.081s. Spanish GP winner Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) is on the front row, his teammate and World Championship leader Francesco Bagnaia is forced to start 16th.
Right at the end of FP4, the clouds rolled in and the rain started to fall, meaning MotoGP™ qualifying was going to begin in the wet. Bagnaia and Team Suzuki Ecstar duo Joan Mir and Alex Rins were all expecting to get into the Q2 shootout, as was Aprilia Racing Team Gresini’s Aleix Espargaro.
Reigning World Champion Mir set the pace as he and teammate Rins occupied P1 and P2 in the early stages, as the sun then reappeared with parts of the circuit starting to dry very quickly. Aleix Espargaro then beat Mir’s 1:44.720 by 0.275s with five minutes to go, as Bagnaia sat P7. Danilo Petrucci (Tech3 KTM Factory Racing) then demoted Mir to P3 and out of the promotion places – the Suzukis and Bagnaia needed something in the final three minutes.
It was the final flying lap time in Q1 and 10 riders had red first sector splits. Mir was 0.7s faster in the third split though and returned to P1 but it was all change! Luca Marini (SKY VR46 Avintia), Lorenzo Savadori (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) – who crashed at the final corner earlier in the session – and Aleix Espargaro all went P1, with the two Aprilia’s sitting P1 and P2. However, crucially, Mir had another lap. The Spaniard improved and went into second place but a couple of Italians would see none of the pre-session favourites go through.
Marini, tucked right behind good friend Bagnaia, grabbed P1 to demote Mir as Pecco also missed out. Then, Savadori blitzed the lot of them to go top of the pile by 0.8s, a stunning lap that meant Aleix Espargaro was forced to sit out Q2. An unreal opening MotoGP™ qualifying session, huge credit to Savadori and Marini who give Aleix Espargaro, Mir, Rins and Bagnaia an almighty uphill task on Sunday afternoon.
SHARK French Grand Prix: MotoGP™ Q1
Decisions needed to be made for the Q2 runners at the beginning of the pole position fight. No more rain had fallen since the sprinkling at the start of Q1, and we witnessed Valentino Rossi and Petronas Yamaha SRT teammate Franco Morbidelli gamble on slick tyres. Had they taken inspiration from fellow VR46 Acadamy rider Andrea Migno (Rivacold Snipers Team) after his stunning Moto3™ qualifying gamble?
It looked like the Petronas Yamaha SRT squad had made the right call as Miller, Quartararo and Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) pulled straight back in to switch, Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team), Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) and Savadori were all on slicks, Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) wasn’t though and was on his way back to pitlane for a tyre change – as was Viñales.
The Frenchman was P1 in the early stages with a 1:39.715, but the riders on slick tyres were lighting up the timing screens. Rossi was out of the seat at the final corner and his lap was ruined, Morbidelli eclipsed Zarco before Miller demolished them all to go 1.2s quicker than anyone, with Pol Espargaro slotting into an early P2. Quartararo and Savadori clocked into P3 and P4 before Morbidelli climbed back up to P2. Incredibly, Miller improved by a second again with Pol Espargaro once more sitting as the Aussie’s closest challenger.
This was breathless stuff at Le Mans. As the riders got to grips with the conditions and the tyres got up to temperature, everyone was constantly improving. Zarco briefly went provisional pole, Miller beat him by nine tenths and then Pol Espargaro demoted Miller to second by 0.157s. Marc Marquez then joined his teammate on the front row with four minutes to go, Nakagami made it three Hondas in the top four for the time being.
Again, Morbidelli was back on the front row in P2. But not for long. Marc Marquez beat teammate Pol Espargaro by 0.113s before Nakagami went P2 to make it a Honda 1-2-3, as rain then started to fall at Turn 1. It looked like the three HRC men had timed their laps to perfection, conditions had seemingly worsened but this was not over. Suddenly, Viñales and Zarco set red sectors before Quartararo did too.
Viñales was the first to cross the line and grabbed pole position off Marc Marquez, Zarco placed his GP21 into second with Morbidelli also getting the better of the number 93’s time. Quartararo was the rider to watch though, and laying it all on the line in the final sector, El Diablo beat his teammate’s time by 0.081s with a shadowing Miller snatching a late front row as well. A bonkers end to the session.
As the dust settled, Saturday – for the third time in a row – belonged to Quartararo. Arm pump surgery to home GP pole is the story of his last couple of weeks, that’s two in a row for Quartararo at Le Mans. Viñales will be hoping for a dry race when starting from the middle of the front row, Miller was over the moon with his second front row start in succession, he goes well in France…
Morbidelli and Zarco’s final flying laps ensure they have solid grid positions for the French GP, Marc Marquez’s first pole position of the season went begging in dramatic fashion. It’s another good day for the eight-time World Champion though, but it’s the first time Honda aren’t in the top four in qualifying at Le Mans since 1982. It looked like it was going to be a front row lockout, but Nakagami and Pol Espargaro – who suffered a late crash at Turn 7 – will have to settle for Row 3 starts in P7 and P8. Rossi was able to better his time on the last lap too to earn P9, Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) completes the top 10 ahead of Q1 graduates Savadori and Marini.
A French GP qualifying session for the ages, with a Frenchman on pole again. What will Sunday bring? 14:00 local time (GMT+2) is when we’ll find out.
1. Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) – 1:32.600
2. Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) + 0.081
3. Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) + 0.104
4. Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) + 0.166
5. Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) + 0.277
6. Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) + 0.437
7. Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) + 0.520
8. Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) + 0.550
9. Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT) + 0.791
10. Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) + 1.276
11. Lorenzo Savadori (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) + 1.658
12. Luca Marini (SKY VR46 Avintia) + 1.665
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