The sun might not have shined over the premier class field as riders were lining up on the grid – or at any point throughout the 24 laps – but Fabio Quartararo provided a brilliant display of superiority at the front of the pack. The Frenchman proved to be the strongest Yamaha and maintained the factory’s fine record in Catalunya with a long overdue but impeccable victory. However, Yamaha had to surrender the remaining podium positions to two impressive performances from Suzuki. Joan Mir was a touch faster than Alex Rins but the Spaniards brought their factory the first double podium in over a decade.
It was the other Yamahas hogging the limelight early into the race, with Franco Morbidelli making a great start for a first time poleman, even holding off holeshot master Jack Miller. Valentino Rossi did not get off particularly well but the Italian found his way past Miller by the end of lap one, the Ducati soon falling victim to Quartararo at turn 10 as well, making it an all-Yamaha provisional podium. Nonetheless, Miller, Mir and Pol Espargaro were hot on their trail, with Rins also making a fine start to go from 13th on the grid to 7th. On the other hand, Maverick Vinales made a dreadful start and dropped outside of the top 15, battling Alex Marquez early on. Regardless, the big innocent victim of lap one was Andrea Dovizioso, the Italian taken out in a chain reaction following a hairy moment for Danilo Petrucci at turn 2, which also put Johann Zarco out of the action.
With anticipated tyre wear woes, there wasn’t much action for the first handful of laps, other than Quartararo finding the inside of Rossi at turn 1 as lap 6 started, in the battle for second. Only Miller managed to hold on to the leaders in the early stages, Mir almost a second behind and teammate Rins over two seconds back, fending off a strong group including Pol Epargaro, Petrucci, Pecco Bagnaia and Brad Binder. Vinales was still 15th, nearly eight seconds behind the lead Yamahas and seeing that gap increase with every lap.
By lap nine, only Quartararo seemed up for a fight, going into the lead at turn 1 by demoting his teammate. The Frenchman pushed to stretch a gap but his chasing colleagues had none of it and kept closely behind. However, gaps started to form behind the podium battle, Miller a second behind, Mir another second back and Rins getting separated from a group led by Petrucci. Pol Espargaro abandoned his home GP at the halfway point of the race, while dicing with the Italian for seventh place.
The leading Yamahas started the second half of the race in control of the podium positions, but Morbidelli’s mistake at turn 1 demoted him to third and lost him time on his colleagues. Meanwhile, Mir had caught up with Miller and was keeping him busy, as well as keeping us mildly entertained while not much else was going on. It felt like the calm before the storm and the storm came with 9 laps remaining, when Rossi’s landmark 350th premier class start ended at infamous turn 2. Before the replays could even run, Mir found a way past Miller to claim the final podium spot that just became available. Aided by the crashes, including Miguel Oliveira swiftly following Rossi’s example at turn 2, Vinales joined the top 10 but still 13 seconds behind the leader.
Quartararo might have been left comfortably in the lead, three seconds ahead of his teammate, but it was always going to be a tense final 8 laps. Even more tense for Morbidelli, who soon came under threat from Mir, the Spaniard attempting another of his soon-to-be trademark late race resurgences. Once the gap got to six tenths, Mir struggled to break that barrier for a couple of laps, but then a change of mapping seemed to work in his favour.
Quartararo slowed his pace a bit for the final handful of laps but although the gap came down to two and a half seconds, Morbidelli couldn’t focus on that once Mir finally bridged the gap with three laps remaining. The Suzuki man attacked in turn 1 on the penultimate lap and things got even worse for Morbidelli as Rins also found a way past by the end of that same lap and removed another Yamaha from the podium positions.
Quartararo crossed the finish line less than a second ahead of Mir and Rins, with Morbidelli making do with fourth, while Miller won the battle for fifth against teammate Bagnaia. Takaaki Nakagami found some speed late in the race to climb into seventh, with Petrucci, Vinales and Crutchlow completing the top ten positions.
Quartararo put his name firmly (by this season’s standards) at the top of the championship standings, 8 points ahead of new main challenger Mir. Vinales drops 18 points behind Quartararo, with Dovizioso demoted to fourth and 24 points behind.
|88||Miguel Oliveira||KTM||6 Laps|
|46||Valentino Rossi||Yamaha||9 Laps|
|44||Pol Espargaro||KTM||12 Laps|
|Not Finished 1st Lap|
|5||Johann Zarco||Ducati||0 Lap|
|4||Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati||0 Lap|