There were a lot of stories waiting to be told throughout the 25 laps around the beautiful Algarve Circuit but perhaps the most obvious prophecy came true when Fabio Quartararo took the checkered flag almost five seconds ahead of the closest challenger. The Frenchman didn’t have it quite as easy as that gap might suggest but rode impeccably to secure a rare Yamaha hat-trick in the first races of the season. Pecco Bagnaia rode like a man with something to prove after being relegated from pole position on Saturday and recovered from 11th on the grid to climb onto the second step of the podium. Reigning world champion Joan Mir saved the day for Suzuki and scored his first podium of the year.
It was a different picture at that start of the race, when Johann Zarco was always going to reach turn 1 first, ahead of Alex Rins and a fast starting Marc Marquez. Mir also had a good launch off the line and was soon rubbing elbows with Q1 pal Marquez to claim third. Meanwhile, poleman Quartararo dropped to sixth position, behind Jack Miller, but his start was nowhere near as bad as his teammate’s, Maverick Vinales dropping like a stone to 20th place.
Zarco continued to be chased by the Suzukis over the next lap, while Marquez had a first hairy moment when he touched Mir’s rear wheel at turn three and had to concede positions to Quartararo and Miller. Aleix Espargaro soon following suit and got past the Honda man, but he had five tenths to recover on the five leaders. However, it was nowhere near as bad as Vinales’ five seconds behind the leaders and circulating at the back of pack.
Although Rins was tempted to show him a wheel, Zarco continued to lead and meanwhile Quartararo started challenging the Suzukis. Rins eventually made a move stick at turn 13 on lap 4 but Zarco inevitably flew past heading into turn 1 next time around. Quartararo and Mir waited to pounce just behind the duo, while Aleix Espargaro was pushing to keep up with the four leaders, together with a group including Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Brad Binder, Marc Marquez, Bagnaia and Luca Marini.
Rins started lap 5 in the lead once more and Quartararo soon became his main challenger, while Miller crashed out of the group of contenders at turn 3. Home hero Miguel Oliveira also left the party that same lap at turn 14, while Vinales barely turned up to the party at all, as he was almost last on track and nowhere near the pace he showed in practice. Marquez was already starting to struggle and dropped to ninth position but had a one second gap to manage ahead of Marini.
Rins enjoyed a few laps in the limelight but Quartararo did not make it easy for him and the Frenchman picked up the lead on lap 9, immediately posting his first of many 1:39s of the race. Behind that battle, Zarco was keeping Mir busy in the fight for third, while Morbidelli was best of the rest and trying to bridge the almost one second gap. Binder, Bagnaia and Aleix Espargaro were not too far back, while Marquez was steady but lonely in ninth, over two seconds ahead of his brother.
Quartararo continued to do what he does best, setting a red hot pace at the front, but Rins was not ready to give up the fight and kept within a few tenths of the leader. Mir however did not seem to cope with that pace by the halfway point of proceedings, dropping one second back and still under threat from Zarco. Morbidelli and Bagnaia also looked keen to have a say in the battle for third but had to find one second on the duo ahead.
While Quartararo and Rins swapped fastest laps at the front of the pack, Zarco predictably attacked Mir at turn 1 with 12 laps to go and the Suzuki man had no response. Morbidelli tried as much as he could to catch up with the podium battle but Bagnaia breezed past with nine laps to go and picked up the task, which proved a lot easier for the Ducati man, who quickly caught up with Mir.
Quartararo was faultless at the front and could not shake Rins off but the hot pace eventually proved too much for the Suzuki man, Rins crashing out at turn 5, leaving the Frenchman to cruise home for the final seven laps. Zarco inherited second and was over four seconds behind his compatriot but he did not get to enjoy it for long, as Bagnaia quickly dismissed both Mir and Zarco to claim second. Things quickly got even worse for Zarco, as he joined the crash list with 6 laps remaining, throwing the bike in the gravel trap at turn 10 and throwing away the championship lead with it. That allowed Mir to grab the final podium spot, with Morbidelli one second back and steadily closing the gap.
Even with Bagnaia’s late charge, he was no match for Quartararo, who casually extended his gap to over 5 seconds for the final few laps and celebrated back-to-back victories soon after. However, Bagnaia wouldn’t have it so easy to the checkered flag, as both Mir and Morbidelli were on his tail with three laps remaining. Getting past a Ducati was a difficult mission for the duo, who never got a real sniff, but Mir secured the final podium spot and Morbidelli had to make do with fourth. Binder worked wonders to join the top five, with Aleix Espargaro showing great speed late in the race to secure sixth place.
The other great story of the day was Marc Marquez starting his comeback with an impressive seventh place, after an obviously painful 25 laps, which placed six manufacturers in the top seven. Brother Alex Marquez followed him over the line ahead of top rookie Enea Bastianini. Another man gritting his teeth throughout the race was Takaaki Nakagami, who missed out on a lot of track time after a heavy crash on Friday but scored a miraculous top ten. The final big surprise, but a less impressive one, was Vinales taking the checkered flag in 11th place after his very poor start.
Quartararo’s brilliance and Zarco’s nightmare means that the Yamaha rider now leads the world championship standings, 15 points ahead of Bagnaia and 20 points on Vinales, while Zarco drops to fourth, another point down. Reigning champion Mir climbs into fifth place, 23 points behind the leader, while teammate Rins drops to seventh.
|16||88||Miguel Oliveira||KTM||1 Lap|
|5||Johann Zarco||Ducati||6 Laps|
|42||Alex Rins||Suzuki||7 Laps|
|46||Valentino Rossi||Yamaha||11 Laps|
|43||Jack Miller||Ducati||20 Laps|
|44||Pol Espargaro||Honda||21 Laps|