With the Grand-Prix paddock now back for the long European leg of the season, one question has been on everybody’s lips: Can anyone stop Franco Morbidelli?
Judging from Friday’s practice and Saturday’s qualifying sessions, the answer is yes.
Alex Marquez (Estrella-Galicia MarcVDS team) has been in irresistible form so far this weekend, finishing as the fastest rider in all three free practice sessions. The Spaniard claimed pole position in a frenetic qualifying session ahead of his team-mate, Franco Morbidelli, by 0.043 of a second. With riders tripping over each other, Marquez was very nearly undone by Tech3’s Remy Gardner, when their bikes made contact in the latter stages of the session. Having squandered the chance to claim victory in Argentina, Marquez will be desperate to take the spoils in front of the Spanish crowd. Additionally, a win here will not only silence the doubters, but also get his championship challenge firmly back on track.
Whilst the MarcVDS team have been fighting almost exclusively so far for victory, the KTM outfit continue to push as best of the rest. All the more impressive when one considers that this is the Austrian team’s maiden season in the class. Miguel Oliveira, will start Sunday’s race heading up the second row of the grid in P4. Having moved across from the Leopard outfit at the end of last season to join KTM, the Portuguese rider continues to go from strength to strength in Moto2 and is quietly confident of a podium finish in the race.
It was an equally impressive qualifying display from the Sky-VR|46 team, as rookie Francesco Bagnaia secured a place on the second row in P6. The Italian has won almost universal praise from supporters and onlookers alike this season. Having been promoted from Moto3 the 20-year old from Turin has not just settled into the category, but is already a regular points scorer so far this season. Having surpassed his previous best qualifying performance (P9 in Qatar), a podium finish would not be impossible on Sunday by any stretch of the imagination.
It was a difficult day for the likes of Luca Marini (Forward-Racing) and Thomas Luthi (CarXpert-Interwetten). The latter has struggled all weekend, citing a general lack of grip from the rear tyre and ‘chatter’ from the front suspension. Having to start the race in P12, on the fourth row of the grid, the veteran Swiss will need to produce a strong performance to prevent his championship hopes from derailing.
Of course, with three wins out of three already to his name, nobody is going to rule out the chance of four in a row for Morbidelli. The Italian has once again been at the sharp end of the timesheets throughout all the track sessions – both in practice and qualifying. True, he has not topped the timesheets yet this weekend, but with a miniscule gap to his team-mate and a 26-lap race distance on Sunday, the Italian is still the bookies’ favourite.
Can anyone stop Franco Morbidelli? Yes.
Will they stop him?
Eddie Hocknull @EddieHocknull