The overcast skies of FP3, which were expected to disappear in the afternoon, remained for MotoGP qualifying at the fourth round of the World Championship in Jerez.
The action started early, in Q1. Both factory Yamaha riders had failed to go directly to Q2 from the combined free practice times, and so had to battle it out in Q1. As has become quite ordinary, Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) was unable to advance to Q2. Spinning the rear tyre on his final lap cost him three tenths in the second sector, and he dropped three more in sector three. This meant that Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) joined Maverick Vinales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP), who went faster in Q1 than he had been all weekend, in advancing from Q1 to Q2.
The real surprise, though, came in Q2, when Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) took pole position in just his fourth MotoGP, and the same for the team. In taking pole, Quartararo became the first rookie pole-sitter since Johann Zarco on the satellite Yamaha at Motegi 2017, and the youngest rider to set pole in MotoGP history, taking the record from Marc Marquez who took his first pole at Austin 2013. The Frenchman has had a fantastic start to his premier class career, but even still such a result was completely unexpected. He now has the chance to fight for his first MotoGP podium on Sunday. The same can be said for Quartararo’s Petronas Yamaha SRT teammate, Franco Morbidelli, who completed a quite perfect day for the new team by making it a 1-2 for them on the grid for tomorrow.
Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) was the favourite for pole coming into this session. The Spaniard did three runs, but the first one was the fastest, when he seemed to be held up by Repsol Honda teammate Jorge Lorenzo in the final corner. He was attacking his last lap in Q2 until turn seven, when he lost the front. That was the moment that gave Quartararo pole. Despite missing the front of the grid, Marquez will still be the strong favourite to take the race win.
However, Andrea Dovizioso (Mission Winnow Ducati) will have something to say about that. The Italian has shown good pace in a variety of conditions through the weekend, and has put himself in a good position to try and attack tomorrow. From fourth on the grid, his ‘holeshot device’ could be quite useful tomorrow afternoon.
Joining Dovizioso on row two tomorrow will be Maverick Vinales, who perhaps benefited from the cloud coverage but nonetheless made a better qualification than he perhaps thought possible yesterday, and 2018 Jerez pole sitter, Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda CASTROL).
Danilo Petrucci (Mission Winnow Ducati) went three tenths slower than his FP3 time – which at the time was an all-time circuit record – before crashing after the chequered flag, and will start from seventh tomorrow. Takaaki
Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU) and Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) will join the factory Ducati rider on the third row. Both Petrucci and Rins will have aspirations of the podium tomorrow, so their opening laps will be important.
Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) qualified tenth for Sunday’s race, ahead of Jerez master Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda Team) and fellow rookie Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) who was the slowest rider in Q2 and will start from twelfth tomorrow.
Valentino Rossi was the fastest rider not to make Q2, and so will have to come back from thirteenth tomorrow. If his championship contention – about which so many have spoken since Austin – is serious, the first laps tomorrow will be critical for the Italian, who starts from outside the front four rows for the second time this season. Team HRC’s wildcard, Stefan Bradl, and Pramac Racing’s Jack Miller, who crashed at the end of Q1, will join Rossi on row five.
The Espargaro brothers fill the front two thirds of the sixth row, with Aleix (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) ahead of Pol (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing), whilst the latter’s teammate will start from eighteenth.
Bradley Smith, wildcarding for Aprilia Racing Team, rode despite being hurt form a nasty crash in FP2. He will start nineteenth, ahead of the Reale Avintia Racing duo of Tito Rabat and Karel Abraham who complete the seventh row.
The Red Bull KTM Tech3 pairing of Miguel Oliveira and Hafizh Syahrin were the two slowest riders in Q1 and will start from twenty-second and twenty-third tomorrow. Andrea Iannone (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) will start from last, depending on his fitness after an FP4 crash saw him taken to hospital. The Italian had a scan which revealed no broken bones.