After a sunny start to Sunday morning, all eyes were back on the sky with clouds ambushing the Red Bull Ring ahead of the premier class race and spots of rain started appearing on visors while riders were sat on the grid. The calm before the storm was exceedingly lengthy but chaos was eventually unleashed and Brad Binder crossed the soaking wet finish line on well-worn slick tyres to claim victory on KTM’s home playground. Pecco Bagnaia led the charge for Ducati and was 15 seconds quicker than the winner on the final lap but had to settle for second, with poleman Jorge Martin claiming the final podium spot after a remarkable red-flag-free race around the Ring.
There were plenty of other flags being waved though and quite a bit of confusion due to the conditions but the race started dry and Martin made a dream start from pole. After some quick-fire exchanges behind him, Bagnaia became his main rival and took the lead at turn four, ahead of Martin, Johann Zarco and Marc Marquez, with Fabio Quartararo demoted to fifth. Jack Miller, Joan Mir and Binder followed them closely to the end of lap one.
With Bagnaia attempting an early escape and Zarco on a charge at the front, Marquez had to pick up the pace and make good on his soft rear tyre gamble, so he demoted Martin for third on the second lap and then Zarco for second position one lap later. However, the Pramac Ducatis were in no mood to let the Honda man escape and Martin found turn 4 ahead of the Spaniard on lap 5. Despite the shenanigans behind him, Bagnaia was not given much wiggle room at the front, only a couple tenths or so keeping him ahead of the Spanish duo. Meanwhile, Quartararo was starting to recover positions and got past Zarco to pick up the chase with a half second to find on the leading trio.
Bagnaia continued to lead proceedings into lap 6 as the sharks kept each other entertained behind him and the exchanges between Marquez and Martin allowed Quartararo to join the podium party. A mistake at turn 1 from Marquez allowed the Frenchman to take two positions in one go and climb into second ahead of the Spaniards. Right behind the action, Zarco led the charge ahead of a sizeable group.
Rain flags first started waving on lap 8, just as an outstanding Quartararo picked up the lead but Bagnaia quickly reclaimed prime position, with Quartararo, Marquez, Martin and Zarco close behind and Miller eight tenths back on the leaders’ group. Despite the still threatening cloud cover, the associated flags were soon withdrawn and the rain kept away for longer that Marquez might have preferred but the leading group were setting a red hot pace. Miller was also hoping for some more moisture, as he had dropped over a second back on the leaders and was under attack from Mir and the factory KTMs.
Status quo was maintained towards the halfway point of the race, but Bagnaia put a couple more tenths on his opponents, aided by some mistakes from Quartararo and Marquez being unable to get past the Frenchman. However, the trio were dropping Martin one second back by lap 15, with Zarco a step behind his teammate and being reeled in by Mir, Miller and Binder.
Bagnaia continued untroubled at the front while Marquez kept looking for a way past the Yamaha, but the Spaniard seemed to be in no particular rush given that Bagnaia was not really edging ahead. The first significant event did not come from that battle though, and it came with 11 laps left, when Zarco tumbled out of fifth place – a costly mistake for the championship battle – allowing Mir to inherit 5th.
Back at the front, Marquez eventually got his way at turn 3, helped by a mistake from Quartararo with 9 laps to go and went in pursuit of yet another Ducati around the Ring. The Spaniard was less patient with Bagnaia and took the lead briefly at turn 3 with 7 laps remaining but the Italian retaliated immediately, while rain flags were waving in their faces once more. Marquez bided his time for another try and Quartararo kept close but the gaps were quickly closing with five laps remaining and it became a six-horse race with Mir and Binder joining in.
As the rain intensified, Miller was the first rider to enter pitlane for a swap to rain tyres with five laps to go but the leaders had a different plan. Marquez took the lead into the first corner with 4 laps left and things got hectic behind him, with Quartararo challenging Bagnaia and Mir. Things got even crazier when Marquez and most of the leading group hit the pits at the end of that lap, leaving Binder out as the new leader of the race, ahead of Aleix Espargaro. Once the bike swap lot exited pitlane led predictably by Marquez, they were 32 seconds behind Binder.
Binder’s gamble seemed to work out better than Marquez’s with two laps to go, as the Spaniard slid out of contention at turn 1, conceding 10th place and rejoining at the back of the field. Binder started the final lap with a 14-second advantage on Aleix Espargaro and with Iker Leucona, Luca Marini and Valentino Rossi in with a shout at the final podium position at that stage – all opting to brave it out on slicks. Despite Binder’s gap at the front, the conditions were a big rival to contend with, the South African sliding away all the way to the finish line. The advantage served him well, as the men on rain tyres were on a charge on the final lap and cruised past the rest of the riders on slicks.
Despite a 3-second penalty for exceeding track limits on that last lap of ice skating, Binder claimed victory for the home team, with Bagnaia and Martin joining him on the podium with their last lap charge. Mir missed out by one second and demoted Marini and Lecuona, who could not pull off the same trick on slicks. Quartararo did not look particularly happy with seventh place after a brilliant performance in the dry bit of the race, while Rossi, Alex Marquez and Aleix Espargaro rounded out the top 10 positions. It was not a happy ending for the rain specialists, with Miller down in 11th position and Marquez rejoining to take one point.
Despite missing out on the podium, Quartararo happily extended his lead in the championship to 47 points over Bagnaia and Mir, with Zarco dropping to fourth by 49 points.
|88||Miguel Oliveira||KTM||6 Laps|
|5||Johann Zarco||Ducati||10 Laps|
|23||Enea Bastianini||Ducati||22 Laps|