Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) took a stunning home turf pole position on Saturday at the Shark Helmets Grand Prix de France, the Frenchman denying Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) by two tenths after a late lunge for the top. Miller impressed in second to make it an Independent Team rider 1-2, with fellow Ducati rider Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team) completing the front row as Borgo Panigale machinery shone in qualifying.
Before the final push to decide the top 12 positions on the grid got underway, however, Q1 made some headlines as both Team Suzuki Ecstar machines failed to move through. Joan Mir was left down in P14 on the grid and teammate Alex Rins two places further back, giving the Hamamatsu factory a mountain to climb on Sunday. Can Mir do the damage limitation with Quartararo starting from the front?
Moving through from Q1 instead were Petrucci, who set the fastest lap of the weekend up to that point, followed by Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) as the Italian pipped Mir to it. Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) lost out too, with a few final laps chalked off after a late crash for Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) that brought out the Yellow Flags.
Q2 began with Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) leading fellow Yamaha riders Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) and Quartararo over the line, and it was the Italian who set the first benchmark time – a 1:32.393. Bagnaia then went up to P2 with Viñales slotting into P3, but the times were going to change immediately, with red sectors everywhere. All four Yamahas were inside the top four with Quartararo launching to P1 with a 1:31.679, but Bagnaia then improved again to slot into P2 behind the home hero; 0.073 the gap after two flying laps.
Quartararo then improved again to extend his advantage to 0.087, with Morbidelli holding P3 for the time being as the riders completed their first runs. Viñales was P4 and was seemingly – like he did at Misano – on a two-stop qualifying strategy as Petrucci and Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) joined Viñales on the provisional second row. Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) was sitting P10 with six minutes to go, meanwhile Bagnaia hadn’t pitted and after venting his frustrations at Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech3), although he was on another flyer before it went wrong at Turn 9…
Viñales was then pushing for a lap but it wasn’t happening for the Spaniard, with Dovizioso the man on the move instead as the Italian shot up to P2 to sit 0.082 off Quartararo. On the next lap, he was on it once more. Dovi was over a tenth under, but then lost some time in the last sector and didn’t improve…
It was all go in the final few seconds. Riding wounded Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) seemed to come out of nowhere to set an unbelievable 1:31.686 and take provisional P2, and just behind him on the road, Miller was also setting the world alight. The Aussie was 0.3 under at the third split and despite losing some time in the last sector, Miller demoted Quartararo to P2 and went to provisional pole position by 0.128. Alas for the Aussie, it wasn’t over yet…
There were red sector times across the board, the last push seemingly making it anyone’s game. Viñales improved but couldn’t find his way onto the front row and went to P4, and then Dovizioso was one of the riders who was going faster. Despite setting his personal best lap time, the Italian didn’t improve his position – but teammate Petrucci did. The latter shot up to P3 to beat Crutchlow’s time by just 0.012, and Miller was safe from another threat. But then a Frenchman caught everyone’s attention: Quartararo was determined to make it a home Grand Prix pole position and he was on course to absolutely smoke the competition; the number 20 two tenths under Miller’s time heading into the last sector. And the number 20 kept it pinned and tidy with no mistakes, taking the chequered flag to claim his ninth MotoGP™ pole position, ultimately by 0.222.
Nevertheless, Miller was happy to claim a front row start given his FP3 crash, and Petrucci’s wonderful Saturday afternoon sees the charismatic Italian start from the front row for the first time since the 2019 Italian GP – and we know what happened there. Crutchlow’s P4 was a true stunner given his physical condition, his right arm after surgery still giving him grief but the Brit taking his first top 10 qualifying result in 2020. He’s joined on the second row by Viñales in fifth; the Yamaha star ending Q2 0.4 seconds off Quartararo. He did, however, just edge out Dovizioso by 0.003. Still, P6 is Dovi’s best qualifying since his fourth in Austria.
After coming through Q1, Bagnaia claims P7 as both he and eighth place Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) also sit around 0.4 off pole position, again showing how tightly contested MotoGP™ really is in 2020. Frenchman Johann Zarco (Esponsorama Racing) joins Bagnaia and Espargaro on Row 3, with two Yamahas left disappointed in Q2: Rossi and Morbidelli have work to do on Sunday afternoon after qualifying P10 and P11, and Oliveira was forced to settle too, in his case for P12. The Portuguese rider encountered plenty of troubles in FP4 with a mechanical problem and a crash, but the Styrian GP winner was just 0.694 from pole despite his position.
Quartararo takes full advantage of his main title rival Mir suffering on Saturday. Is a dream home Grand Prix victory going to come his way on Sunday? If it does, he’ll be the first ever French premier class winner at Le Mans. Only time will tell, but judging from FP4, it looks likely that he’s going to take some stopping! Tune in for the French GP on Sunday to see and remember, MotoGP™ kicks off at the earlier time of 13:00 local time (GMT+2).
MotoGP™ front row
1 Fabio Quartararo* – Petronas Yamaha SRT – Yamaha – 1:31.315
2 Jack Miller* – Pramac Racing – Ducati – +0.222
3 Danilo Petrucci – Ducati Team – Ducati – +0.359
*Independent Team riders
Fabio Quartararo: “It feels special because the conditions were really tricky and cold, time to warm up the front tyre but it’s been quite a long time since I was on pole, so I’m so happy because we worked in a real good way. Yesterday I was so confident, I was a bit far yesterday but I knew where we needed to improve, I took no risks and we took the risk when we needed to: today. So happy to exit from the front row we have two Ducatis on the front row so we might struggle a bit off the line, but I’m feeling confident and we have the pace to fight for the win tomorrow!”
MotoGP™ front row L-R: Miller, Quartararo and Petrucci
Roberts becomes first American to take three poles in a season since 2005
The number 16 hits a milestone, with Lowes second and Gardner third on the grid in France
Not since 2005 has an American taken three poles in a single Grand Prix season, and back then it was the late, great Nicky Hayden doing the business in MotoGP™. Now it’s Joe Roberts in Moto2™, with the Tennor American Racing rider putting in a stunner at the Shark Helmets Grand Prix de France to take his third pole of the year, ahead of Sam Lowes (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) and Remy Gardner (ONEXOX TKKR SAG Team).
In Q1 there was plenty at stake with some big names looking to move through, and the man second in the Championship, Enea Bastianini (Italtrans Racing Team), got the job done to top the session ahead of Tom Lüthi (Liqui Moly Intact GP) – despite a crash for the Swiss veteran – Aron Canet (Inde Aspar Team) and Fabio Di Giannantonio (Termozeta Speed Up). Then it was time to decide the sharp end…
Jorge Martin (Red Bull KTM Ajo) was the early pacesetter and went P1, but disaster struck for the Spaniard at Turn 3 as he crashed out, rider ok but then left to watch from the sidelines. Would anyone overhaul his lap? There was still half the session left and more drama came swiftly as Jorge Navarro (Termozeta Speed Up) followed his compatriot into the gravel at the same corner, out of contention.
Back at the top, Martin’s lap was a solid one and it took a few minutes for anyone to depose him. When they did, it was Sam Lowes. The Brit shaved a tenth and a half off it and it was all going down to the final push – but Roberts was lighting up the timing screens on his final lap…
Over the line it was less than a tenth but the number 16 did it by 0.087, making a little history and setting himself up well for a crack at the win on Sunday. If Roberts does take victory, he’ll be the first American winner in the intermediate class since 1990! Lowes is forced to settle for second but was consistently quick once again, with Gardner putting in a late lunge to complete the front row – the Australian delighted with that as he continues to recover from injury and had a more turbulent weekend at Barcelona.
Martin was shuffled down to fourth, with Marco Bezzecchi (Sky Racing Team VR46) in fifth and only half a tenth off his old Moto3™ sparring partner. Incredibly, despite his monster highside on Friday, Championship leader Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46) starts sixth as he races on, looking at least to not lose too much ground at Le Mans.
Xavi Vierge (Petronas Sprinta Racing) just got the better of teammate Jake Dixon as they launch from seventh and eighth respectively, with Bastianini’s tougher weekend so far seeing him ultimately line up ninth. With Marini not so far ahead on the grid, however, we can guess the ‘Beast”s Sunday target…
Stefano Manzi (MV Agusta Forward Racing) took his best grid position of the year as he completed the top ten, ahead of Di Giannantonio and Canet, with Simone Corsi (MV Agusta Forward Racing) in P13. Lüthi will start P14, ahead of Augusto Fernandez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS).
It’s set to be an intriguing French GP on Sunday – so don’t miss it. The lights go out for Moto2™ at the later time of 14:30 (GMT +2).
Moto2™ front row
1 Joe Roberts – Tennor American Racing – Kalex 1:36.256
2 Sam Lowes – EG 0,0 Marc VDS – Kalex +0.087
3 Remy Gardner – ONEXOX TKKR SAG Team – Kalex +0.193
Joe Roberts: “We had a plan, because of the new rule with the yellow flag, let’s just go right away but I thought we jumped the gun, but then everyone was there, it was a little bit messy and there was a change I didn’t like, so… I do better alone, so I just came in and changed the tyre and went back out. Honestly I didn’t know if I could do that. That session I was struggling a lot with the bike and that last lap I just, put it down, I did the best I could, something feels different this weekend, something could change tomorrow, and we could go for the win.”