Saturday in Japan was full of surprises, some more enjoyable than others, but the extended red flag delay in Moto2 due to weather conditions was the first sign of trouble, followed by the cancellation of the final practice session and a delayed start for the premier class. At the end of two wet qualifying sessions, there were more grumpy faces than happy ones around but the first pleasant surprise was Marc Marquez’s return to parc fermé, three years after his last pole position at the same venue. The Honda man resisted pressure from Johann Zarco to claim top honours by two tenths of a second and still refuse to backtrack on his stated lack of podium aspirations. Zarco had to settle for second after being the star of Q1, while Brad Binder’s late charge secured him his first front row start in the premier class.
Also in a celebratory mood was Maverick Viñales, who went from ninth to third on his final flying lap, before being pushed back a place by Binder and opening the second row of the grid. The Aprilia man will be in familiar company, from Q1 graduate Jorge Martin and teammate Aleix Espargaro, who also made late progress from the lower half of the timing screens to be first amongst the title contenders in sixth place. In a particularly tricky afternoon for the factory Ducati squad, Jack Miller couldn’t work his usual rain dance and had to make do with seventh on the grid, while Miguel Oliveira was predictably fast in the tricky conditions but a crash in the final three minutes dropped him down to eight.
A rather annoyed Fabio Quartararo lost ground throughout the session and will be completing the third row of the grid, but on a positive note for the Frenchman, his closest title contender sits even further back. Pecco Bagnaia seemed to struggle to put a fast lap together, ending Q2 last, two seconds off pole and at the back of fourth row, behind Luca Marini and Pol Espargaro.
Up until that point, it looked like a much worse day for Enea Bastianini, whose late crash in Q1 left him stranded in 15th position on the grid, behind compatriots Marco Bezzecchi and Franco Morbidelli, but the Beast eventually found himself only one row behind his future teammate. Much like the Gresini man, Alex Rins will also have to pull off a trademark comeback through the field, after an underwhelming Q1 left him 18th on the grid. The convalescent home favourite, Takaaki Nakagami, gets the unlucky task of closing the back of the grid, after an early tumble in Q1.
|16||49||Fabio Di Giannantonio||Ducati||1:56.432||1.132||0.302|