The dry race announcement board looked quite comforting while shown at the front of the MotoGP grid, as long as you didn’t glance at the scarily unreliable forecast, but it turned out that the reason for yet another red flag in Austria wasn’t the weather. It was the exit of turn three, the scene of many overtakes on Sunday afternoon, but on this unfortunate occasion, Lorenzo Savadori hit Dani Pedrosa’s fallen machine on lap 3 and while both riders walked away somewhat gingerly, the KTM-Aprilia fireball led to a lengthy clean-up operation and a new 27-lap race from original grid positions. That gave Jorge Martin another shot to defend the lead from pole after Pecco Bagnaia robbed him the first time around, but the likes of Joan Mir, Marc Marquez, Maverick Viñales and Alex Rins would have been less thrilled to have to replicate their fast starts for a second time.
With rain now a distant memory, the new race got underway over half an hour later and Martin made a perfect start to keep the lead from Jack Miller and Mir, closely followed by Bagnaia, Fabio Quartararo and Johann Zarco. Alex Marquez and Alex Rins also made rapid starts to join the top 8 positions, ahead of Takaaki Nakagami. After a bruising tangle in the first start, Marc Marquez and Aleix Espargaro met once again in turn 1, this time because they were running out of room on the outside of Quartararo, and both Spaniards lost significant ground, Marquez to the bottom of the top 10 and Espargaro another handful of places back. The Honda man continued his drop down the timesheets after going wide at turn 1 on lap 2 and had to mount a comeback from 14th position, in between his current teammate and former teammate. Still, Marquez had less to be worried about than compatriot Viñales, who stalled his bike on the grid and had to start from pitlane.
Back on track, Miller was soon challenging Martin to lead the way by the end of the second lap and carried on for the next couple of laps, with only Martin, Mir, Quartararo and Zarco able to keep up with him, while Alex Marquez dropped one second back and was fending off teammate Nakagami. Bagnaia mysteriously dropped to 8th and was in the lead of a sizeable group including Rins, the factory KTMs, factory Hondas and bunch of other riders.
Martin resumed control of proceedings on lap 4 and Mir also took advantage to demote Miller to third, the exchange allowing the LCR boys to join the lead group and briefly make it a 7-man battle. One second behind, Bagnaia was fading and a fast-starting Brad Binder took control of the chasers ahead of Rins and Miguel Oliveira. Bagnaia soon dropped outside the top 10 and ahead of an unlikely battle between Marc Marquez and Iker Lecuona, the Tech 3 rider making life difficult for his compatriot. Meanwhile, Viñales had caught up with the back of the field by lap 7 but his recovery didn’t take him very far.
11 seconds ahead of the Yamaha rider and the 13 black cats that crossed his path, Martin and Mir were extending a gap on the rest of the group and it forced Quartararo’s hand to get past the Ducatis of Miller and Zarco to try to reduce the one second advantage of the leaders. Behind the top five, the LCR friendly fire was dropping both Marquez and Nakagami out of contention and within reach of the next group down the road. Rins was pushing hard to catch up with the Hondas and bringing the factory KTMs with him, while Marc Marquez finally managed to ditch Lecuona but was struggling to find a way past Bagnaia to claim 11th position.
By lap 10, it seemed like Martin and Mir had a little extra on the chasing group led by Quartararo and slightly increased their gap to almost two seconds. In the rush to defend his position, Martin was taking some liberties with track limits, but then again, it was a track limits warning bonanza out there. In the battle for third, Miller kept close to Quartararo but did not show him a wheel just yet, the duo dropping Zarco one second behind. The Frenchman had no immediate reason to worry as the LCR riders were another two seconds back and under threat from Rins and Binder. After the initial stumble, Marc Marquez managed to keep it within the lines and joined the top 10 with 15 laps to go, but two seconds behind Binder.
Leader Martin joined the lengthy list of track limit warnings with 11 laps remaining, adding to the pressure already exerted by Mir right behind him. If he could feel that pressure, he did not show it, as the Pramac rider soon extended the gap to Mir to the biggest it had been, eight tenths of a second. The pressure of the podium battle did catch out Miller at turn 7 and the Ducati man abandoned the race from fourth with 10 laps to go, leaving Quartararo in a rather lonely third. Zarco and Nakagami also did not face an immediate threat in the top 5, although Rins and Binder were still hoping to catch up with them. Three seconds down the road, Marc Marquez got ahead of his brother, with Bagnaia closing the top 10 as the sole factory Ducati left in battle.
With nearly identical lap times posted by the two leaders, Mir was the first to blink with six laps remaining, when a mistake at turn 3 dropped him one second back on the leader and with little time to recover. Despite getting a bit of a breather, Martin continued to post red sector times and Mir looked like he threw in the towel for the final couple of laps.
Martin started the final lap one second and a half ahead of Mir and managed the gap expertly to secure his maiden MotoGP victory. The rookie did so in fine fashion, awarding Pramac Racing their maiden victory in the premier class with a faultless display from pole and resisting serious pressure from the reigning world champion, all after a lengthy recovery from injury. Mir seemed happy enough with second position, turning his best qualifying of the season into a fourth podium of the year. Quartararo took the flag eight seconds later to secure the final podium position and extended his championship lead by finishing well ahead of his main rivals.
Was it not for Martin’s masterful display, Binder was a strong contender for rider of the day, the KTM man having started 16th on the grid and finishing fourth after last lap overtakes on both Nakagami and Zarco. It proved particularly costly for the Frenchman, whose sixth-place finish cost him a few more points in the championship battle. Rins got distanced from the top 6 in the closing stages, but it was still a solid race from 13 on the grid, while Marc Marquez might be a little disappointed with eighth position after looking like a threat for victory before the red flag. A post-race 3-second penalty for Bagnaia for exceeding track limits handed the final top 10 positions to Alex Marquez and Dani Pedrosa, the KTM test rider turning things around after a tough start to his Sunday. Meanwhile, Viñales spent most of the race at the back of the field and retreated to the pits on the very last lap.
The second biggest winner of Sunday afternoon was Quartararo, the Yamaha man ending the first outing in Austria 40 points ahead of compatriot Zarco and with Mir climbing into third, 51 points behind. Bagnaia’s rollercoaster day dropped him to fourth, 58 points back, ahead of teammate Miller, with a 72 point deficit.
|43||Jack Miller||Ducati||9 Laps|
|88||Miguel Oliveira||KTM||13 Laps|
|41||Aleix Espargaro||Aprilia||23 Laps|
|32||Lorenzo Savadori||Aprilia||0 Lap|