Though Maverick Viñales dominated the headlines at Assen – both on and off the track – there was a race to talk about too. For a deep dive into Viñales' situation, see the first part of my Assen review. But let's talk about the race, shall we?
Though Fabio Quartararo won the race comfortably, that is far from the whole story. How and why Quartararo won, how he got past Pecco Bagnaia, why Maverick Viñales couldn't catch his teammate, Johann Zarco's stealthy title campaign, Pecco Bagnaia's defensive masterclass, Joan Mir's strength and shortcoming, and Valentino Rossi's imminent and inevitable retirement decision. All this and more is worth talking about.
But let's start with the winner. Fabio Quartararo came into the race as joint favorite with his teammate, Maverick Viñales. The Monster Energy Yamaha riders had dominated practice, Viñales and Quartararo three or four tenths faster than anyone else, and Viñales holding a slight advantage in race pace.
Made for Yamaha
A new track surface combined with tires which were a known quantity and worked well in the conditions meant there was grip aplenty. Add that to a track which suits the Yamaha – long, flowing corners where carrying speed is what counts – meant that everyone was waiting for the inevitable. If a Yamaha got to the front of the race, they would be gone. With Viñales and Quartararo first and second on the grid, the only question was which one it would be.
The fact that it was Quartararo who led into the first corner should not really come as a surprise. The match up between Viñales and Quartararo illustrated neatly the difference between the two. Viñales got the better drive off the line, but ran out of steam as he struggled with his clutch. Quartararo swooped across and into Turn 1 in first place, while Viñales got swallowed up by Pecco Bagnaia, Takaaki Nakagami, and Alex Rins.
Knowing he couldn't let Quartararo escape, Bagnaia launched his first attack on the exit of the Ruskenhoek, the pair slugging it out through Stekkenwal while Nakagami harried them from behind. In his rush to defend, Quartararo was forced to run wide at De Bult, and that let Bagnaia through.
From there, Quartararo faced a dilemma: he knew he had to get past Bagnaia before the GT chicane, and the Ducati Lenovo rider had a chance to deploy his rear ride height device to his advantage. The amount Bagnaia gained out of the final corner and along the front straight, and out of Stekkenwal and on to De Bult, was staggering. Watch the footage from the helicopter camera or Quartararo's onboard camera, and the Ducati takes off like a scalded cat, turning two bike lengths into ten in a twist of the wrist. If you didn't know any better, you would be searching Bagnaia's bike for a bottle of nitrous oxide.
The way Quartararo solved this problem was masterful. He closed Bagnaia down through the Southern Loop, using the corner speed advantage against the Ducati at the point in the track where it struggled. He tried creeping up on Bagnaia at Meeuwenmeer, but couldn't get close enough to attack at the GT.
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