A quick glimpse at the sky from the starting grid must have looked like the worst but possibly most exciting scenario for the premier class race, with dry asphalt under their tyres but 50 shades of cloud cover over their heads. The prophecy became reality shortly after the lights went out and the first flag to flag race in a considerable amount of time provided us with an unpredictable show to match the unpredictable weather. The winner was perhaps the most predictable element, Jack Miller claiming a second consecutive victory but not without a long series of obstacles thrown his way. Four seconds kept Johann Zarco from victory on home soil but it was a superb showing from the local favourites, with Fabio Quartararo making it a French double on the podium.
Given the dry start, it was to be expected that Miller would make the best launch off the line, ahead of Maverick Viñales and poleman Quartararo, followed into turn 1 by the Honda trio of Takaaki Nakagami, Marc Marquez and Pol Espargaro, with some friendly fire between them at turn 7. However, a big moment for Pol out of turn 10 pushed him to the bottom of the top 10, behind Joan Mir and allowing Alex Rins to claim sixth, after a fifth row start for the Suzuki men. The drama was not over for Espargaro as he nearly tangled with Franco Morbidelli and the Italian abandoned the race at turn 11. Meanwhile, Zarco had made a sluggish start and was out of the top 10 after the first couple of laps.
Back at the front, Viñales did not let Miller get away and took the lead at turn 6, after a mistake from the Australian, while Quartararo bided his time behind them. A similar mistake from Marc Marquez at turn 7 allowed Nakagami and Rins past in the battle for fourth, which was taking place one second behind the leaders. Before that battle could run its course however, drops of rain started to appear on their visors on lap four.
Just as the rain flags started waving, allowing riders to swap bikes, the leading trio decided to engage in battle and Quartararo took control at turn 3, with Miller striking back at turn 9, while Viñales lost some ground, allowing Rins and Marquez to join the victory battle and dropping five seconds behind them. Conditions got really sketchy on lap 5, with tarmac getting pitch black in parts and Miller was the first to make a mistake and go wide, rejoining in fourth place before everyone went into pitlane for their change. When I say everyone, I mean everyone bar Mir, who crashed before making it near pitlane.
Marc Marquez was predictably the quickest to make the swap and the Spaniard left pitlane first, showing the way to Quartararo, who in the rush of his first ever flag to flag race almost grabbed his teammate’s bike. However, the Frenchman did admirably to keep up with Marquez, while Rins made the first mistake on rain tyres and crashed out at turn 4 to complete a truly horrendous weekend for Suzuki. Quartararo was the only rider to keep up with Marquez, with Miller five seconds back but in the rush to get back on track, both him and teammate Pecco Bagnaia were handed a double long lap penalty for speeding in pitlane.
Marquez kept Quartararo one second behind, while Miller was closing in on the duo but was yet to serve his penalty. Nakagami was a massive 13 seconds down the road, while Zarco led the chasing pack another 4 seconds behind, including the likes of Alex Marquez – who had started 19th – Pol Espargaro, Valentino Rossi and Aleix Espargaro. Bagnaia was 11th and with the penalty yet to serve, it looked unlikely that he would keep the championship lead at that stage.
Marquez did well to lead the way for the next few laps but could not do anything to keep the rear in check at the final corner and crashed out of the lead at the end of lap 8, rejoining down in 18th. Quartararo was left in charge of proceedings, while Miller kept second position after serving his penalty laps and was steadily closing in on the Frenchman as rain was calming down. The Australian made his move at turn 6 on lap 12 and things got worse for Quartararo as he immediately had a long lap penalty to serve for the questionable bike swap causing havoc in pitlane. With the massive 16 seconds gap to Nakagami, the Frenchman kept second position but lost 4 seconds on the leader. Behind them, Zarco was getting up to speed and closing the gap to Nakagami to claim the final podium spot at the halfway mark of the race, while Alex Marquez, Aleix Espargaro, Danilo Petrucci and Pol Espargaro where not within striking distance of each other at that stage. At the bottom of the top 10, old teammates Rossi and Viñales were preparing to engage in battle for the final half of the race. The battle was short lived though, as the Italian was soon overtaken by both Viñales and Bagnaia. Marquez was the fastest man on track by far and was knocking at the doors of the top 10 once more after Espargaro’s Aprilia fizzled out with 11 laps to go, but the Honda man had 15 seconds to recover on Rossi. The gap was coming down but he was forced to give up on the dream comeback after another tumble at turn 6.
While Miller continued untroubled at the top, rain had stopped and teams started warming up bikes in pitlane. Five seconds behind the leader, Quartararo was soon going to have another headache, as compatriot Zarco rapidly closed the gap to a mere second with 7 laps remaining and breezed past the Yamaha rider at turn 1 one lap later. A long way behind the podium battle, Alex Marquez took control of the fight for fourth from Petrucci and Nakagami, but with Bagnaia picking up the pace at the back of that small group. The Italian made quick work of Nakagami and Petrucci and Alex Marquez could not resist the Ducati much longer either, unable to keep up with its speed along the main straight with 4 laps remaining.
Although Zarco showed some excellent late race speed, Miller maintained his gap at the front until the checkered flag to take consecutive victories, while Quartararo just about held onto third after Bagnaia’s late charge. Petrucci enjoyed the return to the scene of his last victory and got a great fifth place out of it, while Alex Marquez, Nakagami and Pol Espargaro joined the top 7 in a bittersweet day for Honda. Iker Lecuona got the best of Viñales at the final turn, with Rossi finishing ahead of brother Luca Marini in 11th position.
Quartararo holding onto third place also meant he reclaims the championship lead from Bagnaia by one point, while Zarco climbs into third, 12 points behind his compatriot and only four ahead of Miller.
|16||21||Franco Morbidelli||Yamaha||4 Laps|
|93||Marc Marquez||Honda||10 Laps|
|41||Aleix Espargaro||Aprilia||12 Laps|
|88||Miguel Oliveira||KTM||15 Laps|
|42||Alex Rins||Suzuki||15 Laps|
|32||Lorenzo Savadori||Aprilia||16 Laps|
|36||Joan Mir||Suzuki||23 Laps|