Assen, once more, has not disappointed. It is only qualifying day but this weekend might be the best of the season already. In Q2, just 0.376 seconds separated the top ten riders, and it seemed like almost each of those twelve had a spell in pole position.
In the end, though, it was Marc Marquez who took his 75th Grand Prix pole position, his third of 2018 and first at Assen in the premier class. The result for Marquez was somewhat expected; despite suffering with the front quite a lot this weekend, he has been fast throughout and was always going to be difficult to beat to the first grid slot. All of his lap time came in the final sector, perhaps predictably, and this is important for tomorrow, because if he is fighting for the win come lap 26 he is absolutely going to be able to launch his #93 Honda up the inside of whoever is in front of him into the final chicane. He probably will be there, too; along with Maverick Vinales, Marquez has enjoyed the best race pace of anyone this weekend, and is probably the favourite tomorrow. He is the only rider who can make the 2018 Dutch TT a dull race.
Cal Crutchlow made it a Honda 1-2 in qualifying, with a strong fastest lap at the end of Q2 to secure his spot in the middle of the front row. The critical thing for Cal tomorrow will be track temperature, and how that affects the front tyre, which is once again the limiting factor for Honda this weekend. His pace looks quite strong, too – if he can go with the front riders from the start then he can battle for the podium.
Also likely to be in that battle is Valentino Rossi, who qualified third. The Italian has seemed to have the pace to fight for a fourth consecutive podium all weekend, and maybe even a first win of 2018. However, his weekend took a negative turn when he crashed at the very high speed turn seven, Ruskenhoek, in FP4. This crash not only upset his rhythm into qualifying, but also hindered his race preparation for tomorrow, and cost him valuable minutes in FP4 where he might have wanted to try something different. Anyway, he recovered well to be third fastest in what was a very competitive Q2, and put himself in a good position to end both his and Yamaha’s year long winless run.
Andrea Dovizioso has looked strong all weekend too, enjoying pace superior to that of his Honda bound teammate; Jorge Lorenzo, and pace enough to be in the frame for a third podium of 2018. For Dovi, it was important to qualify well to allow him to use his good pace from the beginning of tomorrow’s race, and he managed to do that, qualifying fourth. Ducati have been without a win in Assen since 2008 with Casey Stoner (who else?), their only Dutch TT win, but now Dovi is in a very good position to be able add a second victory to that, and if things go his way, maybe even bring himself back into championship contention.
Alex Rins and Maverick Vinales join Dovi on the second row, in fifth and sixth respectively. For Rins, this was a great result, as he out-qualified teammate Andrea Iannone, and recovered well from what had been a difficult weekend up to qualifying. It will be interesting to see whether the steps he seemed to have made for qualifying will also translate into race pace.
For Vinales, sixth is something of a disappointment. Over the whole weekend the number 25 had looked good, constantly being amongst the top riders in all practice sessions, and having strong race pace as well as decent one-lap speed. However, being less than 0.2 seconds off the pole position time of Marquez in Q2 was not enough for Vinales to qualify any better than sixth. The most important thing for Vinales is, as ever, to make a good start and go with the leaders on the first laps. If he can do that, he has the pace to win.
The third row is headed up by a very impressive Aleix Espargaro, who is joined on row three by Johann Zarco, who has seemed to struggle this weekend, and Andrea Iannone who, with one minute to go, was running second in Q2.
Jorge Lorenzo qualified in tenth place, just 0.376 seconds off the pole time, and with one minute to go, he was on pole. Either way, Jorge has struggled more this weekend compared to the last two races, and has been generally slower than his teammate, Dovizioso. However, it is difficult to discount Lorenzo from podium contention in the race given his recent form, but he will need to find something big in morning warm up.
Lorenzo’s Ducati replacement for 2019, Danilo Petrucci, will line up between Lorenzo and the slowest rider of Q2, Alvaro Bautista. Bautista tends to race a lot better than he qualifies, so it will be interesting to see what he can do from twelfth tomorrow.
Thirteenth place went to Takaaki Nakagami, who is alongside Tito Rabat and Hafizh Syahrin on row five tomorrow; row six consists of Jack Miller, Scott Redding and a struggling Dani Pedrosa; row seven will be occupied by Karel Abraham, Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro and the two riders on row eight are Tom Luthi and Xavier Simeon.
Franco Morbidelli suffered a broken metacarpal in FP3 this morning and was ruled unfit, so only 23 bikes will start tomorrow. Hopefully Franky will be back in Sachsenring.