The heat has been turned up in the title battle as a huge Saturday at the Gran Premio Motul de la Comunitat Valenciana awaits, with Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) finding himself in Q1 following mind games from Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing). The latter ended the day in a safe and sound P2, Bagnaia was a surprising P15, while Maverick Viñales (Aprilia Racing) set the pace thanks to a 1:29.142 - a new Circuit Ricardo Tormo all-time lap record.
Mind games aplenty
The soft rubber went in early with qualifying incredibly important at the tight and twisty Valencia layout - especially for the two title protagonists. The final five minutes of the Practice session is when things got interesting though, as mind games from Martin were unravelled.
Plenty of red sectors came flying in but all eyes were on the title duo who were locked together in the pitlane after being out on track together. Martin latched himself onto the back of Pecco and shadowed him around the out-lap - including running wide at Turn 8 - as Pecco tried his best to find a time to propel him into the top 10.
That didn't happen on his first flyer and with time only allowing for one final lap to be laid in the session, the pressure was on Bagnaia. However, Pol Espargaro's (GASGAS Factory Racing Tech3) Turn 3 crash brought out the yellow flags, and that was that. Bagnaia ended Practice in P15, meaning Q1 awaits. Martin's tactics seemingly worked a treat as he headed straight into Q2 as the second fastest rider on track.
The top 15 covered by 0.659s
With just over half a second covering the top 15, fine margins again made all the difference. Martin's teammate Johann Zarco enjoyed a positive day and ended Friday as one of three riders underneath the seven-year-old lap record. How crucial could Zarco's pace prove to be for the rest of the weekend for Prima Pramac Racing and Martin?
Elsewhere, Fabio Di Giannantonio (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) continued his strong form to claim P4, with compatriot Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) - despite a crash at Turn 8 - completing the top five.
Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) ended the 60-minute Practice stint in P6, while eight-time World Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) gets set for a Q2 appearance following a positive day as the #93 finished Friday in seventh. Raul Fernandez (CryptoDATA RNF MotoGP™ Team), Jack Miller (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) - another crasher in Practice - and Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) are the other riders who bagged automatic Q2 spots.
The Champion's Q1 hurdle
Bagnaia will have teammate Enea Bastianini (Ducati Lenovo Team) for company in the biggest 15 minutes of the season, while the likes of Alex Marquez (Gresini Racing MotoGP™), Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™), Franco Morbidelli (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™), and Luca Marini (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) will also fancy their chances of processing.
A mouthwatering day awaits in Valencia. The 2023 title tale has taken a twist on Friday, but what does qualifying and Tissot Sprint Saturday have in store? Qualifying kicks off at 10:50 local time (GMT+1), with the 13-lap Sprint starting at 15:00.
|Maverick Viñales (Aprilia Racing)
|Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing)
|Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing)
|Fabio Di Giannantonio (Gresini Racing MotoGP™)
|Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team)
|Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing)
|Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team)
|Raul Fernandez (CryptoDATA RNF MotoGP Team)
|Jack Miller (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing)
|Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing)