Despite several expectations of rain on Sunday, the weather proved fair for the fifth round of the MotoGP World Championship in Le Mans.
The drama started before the race, as both Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and Karel Abraham (Reale Avintia Racing) crashed at turn three on the warm up lap. Mir got back into the race, but Abraham was black flagged for leaving pit lane after the leader had completed the first lap.
That leader was Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), who made the holeshot from pole position, despite some challenge from Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team). The Italian had another shot at the lead at the beginning of lap two, when he slid up the inside of Marquez at turn three. However, Petrucci ran wide and Marquez was able to reclaim the lead around the outside of turn four. The Spaniard then began to pull away, and Petrucci became more concerned with events behind him.
Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) was starting to put pressure on Petrucci’s second place, and eventually got past his Ducati stablemate. The Australian pushed hard after that to catch Marquez, a task in which he was successful, as he was in passing Marquez for the lead. Miller held the lead for only two laps, though, after which point Marquez had decided he had had enough, repassed the #43 and was not challenged again for the remainder of the race.
In the middle of the race, the three Ducatis of Miller, Petrucci and Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) distanced themselves from those behind, and set about a three-way fight for second place. Petrucci had re-joined Dovizioso and Miller after having previously dropped to sixth place behind Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP), who he re-passed when the Yamaha rider’s pace started to slow in the middle of the race. When he got back to his two Ducati stablemates, Miller had been passed by Dovizioso when the Italian took advantage of a mistake at Museum by the Australian.
By the end of the race, Petrucci too had passed Miller, and Rossi was closing in from behind on the trio. Miller didn’t have the grip to challenge his factory rivals, having used the edge grip earlier in the race to catch and pass Marquez, so that left Petrucci to try to make a pass stick on Dovizioso which, as he demonstrated, is not easy. In fact, Petrucci found this impossible at Le Mans and, despite several attempts from the #9 to pass in Museum, Dovizioso came out on top.
It was a positive result for Dovizioso, and a return to the podium after missing it in the last two races, but he still lost out to Marquez by almost two seconds. The next three races will be important for Dovizioso to take points from Marquez, who dominated not only Sunday’s French Grand Prix, but also the majority of the season up to this point. For there to be a real title challenge, Dovizioso must have his eight-point deficit overturned by German Grand Prix.
To do that will not be easy, mostly because of Marquez. The Spaniard has been fantastic this year, and has been the only rider to get the maximum out of the 2019 Honda on each weekend. In fact, in the last two races, Marquez has not only far out-performed the adapting Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda Team) but also Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda CASTROL). Next up is Mugello, which is typically good for Dovizioso and Ducati but bad for Marquez and Honda. However, whereas in the past the Ducati would make its time in the corners but lose in the straights to everything else, in 2019 the Honda has an answer for the Desmosedici in the straight line, and can out-perform it in the corners.
Danilo Petrucci came home in third place for his first podium with the factory Ducati team after his move from Pramac over the winter. It was an important result for Petrucci, who started the season with three sixths and a fifth, and was starting to look under threat for the 2020 Ducati seat alongside Dovizioso from Jack Miller, who finished fourth in Le Mans as top ‘independent’, and became the first person to overtake Marc Marquez in a race since the final corner at Qatar.
Valentino Rossi did not have an answer for the Ducatis, despite coming on strong in the end of the race once again, proving Yamaha’s gains when it comes to tyre wear. Mostly, Rossi’s problem was horsepower, as he simply lacked the motor put himself in a position to fight the Desmosedici GP19s in front of him. Unfortunately for Rossi, and his fellow Yamaha riders, there will of course be no new Yamaha powerplant until 2020, such are the regulations.
Pol Espargaro and the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team enjoyed their best-ever dry race finish, as Espargaro crossed the line 5.9 seconds from Marquez in sixth place. There is the possibility to argue that part of this result was down to the Austrian marque testing a couple of weeks before the GP, combined with the wet weather on Saturday which limited the setup time of their opposition. However, Espargaro was fast all weekend, showing good speed in both the dry and the wet, so it was important for KTM that he translated that into the race. Now they have to do it again.
Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) started the race well, and was in the top positions. However, the Italian soon started to fall back, and ended the race in seventh. In fact, Morbidelli was just 1.3 seconds ahead of Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) over the line, after the Frenchman made an average start from his average qualifying position of twelfth, and had an average first ten laps as he was stuck in traffic. The Yamaha being the Yamaha, it was not easy for the Frenchman to make passes, but once he had clear track he was showing pace good enough to at least have him in the fight with Marquez, potentially. If you can’t qualify well, it is difficult to expect to win, but that is an acceptable lesson for a rookie to be learning in just his fifth MotoGP.
Cal Crutchlow, as previously mentioned, was unable to match the pace of his Honda stablemate Marquez in France. Instead, he finished ninth, nearly ten seconds behind the Spaniard – a contrast to the form the Brit showed in the first three races of the season.
Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) completed the top ten in France, after a disappointing race which did not turn out to be the comeback he had hoped for.
Jorge Lorenzo had probably his best race with the Repsol Honda Team to date, despite finishing eleventh and extending his run without a top ten finish which stretches back to Austria last year. The result is not everything, though, in the case of Lorenzo, who was able to start the race strongly and fight inside the top ten.
There were fourteen seconds behind Lorenzo to Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) which perhaps shows the amount of ground Aprilia still need to make up with their RSGP, and it is not made any easier to take by the good result of KTM. Espargaro, though, was in front of the other three KTMs of Johann Zarco (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) in thirteenth, Hafizh Syahrin (Red Bull KTM Tech3) in fourteenth for his first points of the season and Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech3) in fifteenth for the final point.
Joan Mir was the final classified finisher in sixteenth, although a lap down after his warm up lap crash.
Along with Karel Abraham, there were several riders whose races ended early, Tito Rabat (Reale Avintia Racing) who retired early on, before Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) fetched both himself and Maverick Vinales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) off in turn twelve; Andrea Iannone (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) retired and Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda MotoGP) crashed out with nine laps to go.
Featured image courtesy of Box Repsol