Monday, 19 April 2021 18:33

Fabio Quartararo conquers Portimão

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Bagnaia vs Mir decides the podium

The Frenchman's roll rolls on at the rollercoaster as Bagnaia carves his way through - and Mir takes his first podium of the season

As weekends go, they don’t get much better than that for Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP). The Frenchman converted pole position into victory at the Grande Prémio 888 de Portugal as the MotoGP™ race saw some big names crash out, but the Frenchman remained cool and calm at the front despite intense pressure from Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar). It wasn't to be for the number 42 though as he crashed out, with Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) then carving his way through to second and just holding off third placed Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar). The returning Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) battled through the pain to finish P7 after a few feisty exchanges.

The initial getaway from polesitter Quartararo was about as good as it gets, but in the second phase of the start, Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) and Rins got the better of the Yamaha man and it was the Suzuki who actually grabbed the holeshot. Zarco hit back to take over as the early race leader though, and Marc Marquez made a searing start to move up and battle Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) for P3. Mir made a typically great start and was up into the top five, and it was Mir vs Marquez again on the opening lap. Before long, the reigning World Champion shoved his GSX-RR up the inside of the Repsol Honda at Turn 11 for P3.

Zarco led the opening lap and at Turn 3, Marc Marquez and Mir came close again – too close. The eight-time World Champion tagged the back of Mir, who luckily stayed on, but it allowed Quartararo to squirm back through to fourth past Marquez. Miller and then Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) also passed Marquez as the number 93 to P7, with Rins showing a wheel to Zarco at Turn 13 nearer the front.

Lap 3 saw Quartararo make a clean move up the inside of Mir at Turn 1 for P3, the Frenchman making swift progress after getting a bit beaten up at the start. A Turn 13 move on Zarco stuck at the third time of asking a lap later. By Lap 5, Rins was now the race leader, but Zarco blasted back through on the straight. Then, suddenly, the sound of a bike hitting the deck was heard and as the cameras panned out, we saw Miller down at Turn 3 at the beginning of Lap 6. The Australian’s Portuguese GP was over after just over four laps, a disaster for the factory Ducati man. On the same lap, Miguel Oliveira’s (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) hopes of another dream home round rostrum were also over as the Portuguese star was down at Turn 14. He remounted but it was game over for Oliveira.

Meanwhile, Quartararo had followed Rins through on Zarco and the Yamaha man now had his radar firmly set on P1. Just like he had on the other Suzuki of Mir, Quartararo dived up the inside down the hill into Turn 1 and El Diablo was now at the head of the race. This was now where Quartararo and Rins started to display some superiority and a handful of laps later, third place Mir was one and a half seconds down on the leading duo, with Lap 14 seeing Quartararo set a 1:39.680 – the fastest lap. However, Rins was matching the Yamaha every step of the way for now, and the duo exchanged fastest laps on numerous occasions. Some colossal drama was about to unfold, however,

First, we saw Rins crash at Turn 5 on Lap 19 of 25. The downhill, tricky left-hander caught out the Spaniard who was right behind Quartararo, and it was race over for the number 42. That gave Quartararo a 4.2 second lead over Zarco, with Bagnaia grabbing P3 off Mir at Turn 5. Then, a lap later at Turn 11, the former World Championship leader was down. Zarco’s front washed away the top of the hill and the Frenchman slid out of contention, just after Bagnaia had picked him off at Turn 5.

And so, barring a disaster, victory was Quartararo’s. The podium battle, however, was still well on. Bagnaia was holding P2 and looking good, with Mir having Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) in his mirrors heading into the final exchanges. With two to go, the trio were locked together but Pecco wasn’t buckling, and fifth place Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) was less than a second away from Morbidelli’s rear wheel to boot. Mir was pressuring Bagnaia but the Italian was holding firm, and on the last lap, the Suzuki rider looked tempted...

Five seconds down the road, Quartararo cruised over the line to pick up his second win of 2021. A commanding victory for factory Yamaha’s new recruit, and one that sees him take a 15-point lead into Jerez – a circuit he was quite successful at last season. That makes it three from three for Yamaha for the first time since 2010, too. Behind that, Bagnaia was just able to keep it pinned to the line to complete an awesome recovery from P11 to P2 after some qualifying heartbreak, and he's up to P2 in the standings with his first podium of the year. Mir couldn't get past the Ducati but he held off the Yamaha of Morbidelli by 0.179s to earn his first podium of 2021, an important result from the World Champion and another rostrum after starting from outside the top two rows. More of his podiums come from further down the grid than not, somehow.

It was a return to form for fourth place Morbidelli as the Italian got back in the podium hunt throughout to hopefully banish his Losail woes. Binder’s P5 proves once again the South African is a Sunday rider through and through, and that’s a morale-boosting result for KTM and Binder ahead of Jerez - where the then-rookie had some serious speed last year. Aleix Espargaro earns Aprilia an equal-best MotoGP™ result in P6, yet another great ride from the Spaniard, who was 4.3 seconds ahead of the next man on track...

That man is Marc Marquez. The eight-time World Champion completed his first race since the 2019 Valencia GP finale, and emotions were shown by the Spaniard when he arrived back in his box. And in his debrief.

Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol) bagged his first top 10 of the year in P8, with reigning Moto2™ World Champion Enea Bastianini (Avintia Esponsorama) picking up his second top 10 MotoGP™ result in P9. It was another brilliant ride from ‘The Beast’, and what an absolutely superb effort from 10th place Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) too. The battered and bruised Japanese rider has been in considerable pain all weekend since his huge Friday Turn 1 crash, but a P10 sums up just how tough – physically and mentally – MotoGP™ riders are.

Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) didn’t recover from a horror start, and in the end benefited from a few crashes to pick up P11.Luca Marini (Sky VR46 Avintia) slipped to P12 from a P8 start but it was nevertheless a very promising weekend for the Italian, and a job well done after some awesome speed in practice. Injured Danilo Petrucci (Tech3 KTM Factory Racing), Lorenzo Savadori (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) and Iker Lecuona (Tech3 KTM Factory Racing) completed the points, and Oliveira was the final finisher in P16 after his crash.

Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT) crashed at Turn 11, rider ok, with Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) pulling into pitlane in the early stages with a technical issue.

And on we go. Quartararo marches on in the 2021 title race and two wins from three is the Frenchman’s tally heading to Jerez. A weekend off is followed by the Spanish GP at the end of April/start of May, and already the title race is twisting and turning. After all, this is MotoGP™... so make sure to come back for more!

Fabio Quartararo: "Good to feel back! I feel full of confidence. Bringing that confidence from Qatar. Now we know what we need work to go fast. I only need to feel the front and I go fast and just focus on my riding. Woah, what a pace, I didn’t expect it, I was less than half a second from my qualifying lap on the pace. It was amazing, also the pressure of Rins in the back, I wanted to make a gap. He made a mistake and then... I was riding well; I was riding easy and still making a gap to Pecco.

"We did an amazing job, we were P1 all day yesterday, P1 today, thanks to the team. Important points, and now we go to one of my favourite tracks in Jerez. I can’t wait to be there, thanks to my family for watching. It will be a great celebration for my birthday in two days. "

MotoGP™ podium
1 Fabio Quartararo - Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP - Yamaha - 41:46.412
2 Francesco Bagnaia - Ducati Lenovo Team - Ducati - +4.809
3 Joan Mir - Team Suzuki Ecstar - Suzuki - +4.948
4 Franco Morbidelli - Petronas Yamaha SRT - Yamaha - +5.127 (Top Independent Team rider) ...

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