After looking strong throughout free practice, it was Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) who was the favourite to take pole position in Argentina ahead of the second round of the MotoGP World Championship, and so it was.
The reigning World Champion and the nine others who advanced directly to Q2 from free practice were joined in the pole position shootout by Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU) and Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing).
Marquez led the field after the opening runs of Q2, and had Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) and Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda CASTROL) directly behind him. But it was in the second runs that the pace of Marquez’ competitors really ramped up.
Whilst everyone was in pit lane, preparing their second and final runs, Marquez went out to make a second, middle, run. It didn’t go to plan. He ran too hot into turn one, lost the front on the bumps and had to abort the lap. Fortunately, his plan was to make three runs anyway, so he had time to come back to the pits for another tyre.
He got back to pit lane just as everyone else was leaving for their second runs.
The first laps of all Marquez’ competitors on their second runs were electric, everyone setting red sectors throughout the lap, lighting up the time screen. After the barrage was complete, Maverick Vinales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) surprisingly emerged as the provisional pole sitter from Andrea Dovizioso (Mission Winnow Ducati) and Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP).
However, on the first lap of his third run, Marquez reclaimed pole position by just over a tenth, ensuring he maintains his 100% pole position record at Termas in dry qualifying sessions. It is unlikely to end there for Marquez, though. His race pace seems a cut above everyone else, seemingly able to lap in the low to mid-1’39s with relative ease, whilst everyone else seems stranded in the mid to high-39s at best.
This is with the possible exception of Cal Crutchlow, but with the Briton blowing his final qualifying lap and having to start now from eighth on the grid, the odds are stacked even higher against the LCR Honda rider.
Maverick Vinales has been almost completely under the radar this weekend, finishing FP1 in eighteenth, and never really doing anything particularly spectacular – that is, until his lap to go provisional pole. He was unable to convert pole position to a good result in Qatar, so it will be interesting to see what he can do from the middle of the front row tomorrow, and whether he can fight for the podium.
With Marquez seemingly out of reach for the rest of the field, it could be a battle for second, and Andrea Dovizioso will be all too keen to win that battle in his quest to limit the damage Marquez can do to him in the championship at this track. From third on the grid, Dovizioso has a good opportunity to make use of his Ducati’s ‘holeshot device’, and try to hold Marquez up as much as he can. Failing that, the Italian must try everything to maintain second place, and the front row is almost the best place to start that defence.
After fourteenth place in qualifying for the season opener in Qatar, Valentino Rossi will probably be quite content with fourth on the grid. The Italian’s pace looks quite strong and could be in that podium fight, but the question – as always – will be about whether he can hold onto that rear tyre until the end.
The middle of row two will be occupied by Jack Miller, who might be a little disappointed to miss the front row. However, he has been fast all weekend, and to start in the front two rows is certainly not a bad thing. Another potential podium contender, and another potential missile on the run to turn one with the GP19’s ‘holeshot device’.
Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) ensures Miller sits in the middle of an Italian sandwich tomorrow. Tyre wear was the issue for the 2017 Moto2 World Champion in Qatar, so the second half of the race will be particularly interesting from Morbidelli’s point of view, as well as his tyre choice.
Morbidelli’s Petronas Yamaha SRT teammate, Fabio Quartararo, will start seventh tomorrow for his second ever MotoGP. As in Qatar the Frenchman has been fast all weekend, and is another who might interfere in that podium scrap in the first half of the race, although the youngster has himself acknowledged that it will take a little longer until he has understood completely how to make a strong race pace for the full distance. Joining the #20 on the third row are the LCR pairing of Crutchlow and Nakagami.
Danilo Petrucci (Mission Winnow Ducati) has had a nightmare weekend in Argentina. A dreadful Friday was followed up by an improved performance in FP3 which saw him advance directly to Q2, but his frustration was visible in qualifying when he qualified only tenth on the factory Ducati. Alongside Petrucci are Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda Team), the #99 still trying to work out how to get the RC213V to work well for him.
The fastest rider to not make Q2 was Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) who qualified thirteenth, and will be joined on row five by the impressive rookie Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech3) and Karel Abraham (Reale Avintia Racing).
Qualifying was a disaster for both Suzuki Ecstar riders, with Alex Rins qualifying only sixteenth and Joan Mir only nineteenth. Team manager Davide Brivio is confident in their race pace, but it is going to be a big task for the two Spanish riders to fight back from their lowly grid slots tomorrow.
Between Rins and Mir are Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) and Johann Zarco (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing), the Frenchman in particular having looked much more comfortable on the KTM this weekend, although missing the ultimate lap time over one lap still, it seems.
The two riders joining Mir on row seven are Tito Rabat (Reale Avintia Racing) and Hafizh Syahrin (Red Bull KTM Tech3), and alone at the back on row eight is Andrea Iannone (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) who qualified twenty-second and last.
Featured Image courtesy of Box Repsol