The usual rollercoaster description of Portimão continued to extend to the weather conditions, with previous patches of clear sky covered up by ominous clouds by the time the premier class lined up on the grid. Thankfully, the rain kept away for the 25 laps of the Fabio Quartararo recital, the work champion in a class of his own from the start to the chequered flag, taking his first victory of the season with a five-second advantage over compatriot Johann Zarco. The poleman had a fight on his hands to claim second but mistakes from his rivals made it easier for him in the closing stages and he managed to keep Aleix Espargaro at a safe distance, the Aprilia man making a return to the podium.
However, it was Joan Mir who stole the show off the line, the Spaniard lightning quick at the start to take the lead into turn one, while Quartararo got past Jack Miller and Alex Marquez got through on poleman Zarco. Home favourite Miguel Oliveira also made a solid start to climb into sixth straight away, but the totally-made-up holeshot award went to Alex Rins, the Suzuki man making a spectacular start from the final row of the grid and challenging a more cautious Marc Marquez for 10th position by the end of the opening lap. His last row colleague, Pecco Bagnaia made little progress early on, only a couple of places recovered on the first lap, while an equally sore Enea Bastianini was not too far off the top 10.
While Mir and Quartararo started to extend a slight gap at the front, Miller was soon under attack from Zarco, the Frenchman demoting the Australian by lap three, but that battle was already taking place one second behind the leaders. Quartararo attacked Mir at the start of lap four and quickly put a one second gap between them, going on to set a phenomenally consistent pace that no one else could live with. Meanwhile, Zarco was closing in on the Suzuki man as well, leaving Miller to contend with the rest of the chasing group, including Alex Marquez, Aleix Espargaro and Oliveira, while Pol Espargaro was leading the next group of contenders, including Rins, Marc Marquez and Bastianini. Rins had progressed up to 8th by lap five, four seconds behind the leader and quickly closing in on the men ahead. Marc Marquez did not make the early progress he would have wished for and was stuck at the bottom of the top 10, chasing his teammate, but lost one of his pursuers when Jorge Martin crashed on lap six, promoting Bastianini to 11th position. The two Repsol Hondas kept each other entertained over the next couple of laps, losing them over two seconds on the men ahead and with Bastianini waiting to pounce. Meanwhile, a very sore Bagnaia had climbed into 16th place by lap seven.
Back at the front, Quartararo had extended his advantage to two seconds over Mir and Zarco by lap 10, with Miller in a lonelier fourth, while all eyes were on the busy battle for fifth between Aleix Espargaro, Rins, Alex Marquez and Oliveira. Two seconds back, Marc Marquez looked like he had settled the intra-team dispute and was pushing to bridge the gap ahead. Bastianini seemed to have also found a way past Pol Espargaro by lap 10 but the progress was short-lived, the Italian throwing the lead of the world championship in the gravel trap at turn eight. Aided by an additional crash from Takaaki Nakagami, Bagnaia was admirably up to 12th position.
The calm before the storm seemed to have set in at the halfway point of the race, with Quartararo enjoying a safe three-second advantage at the front, Mir still defending second from Zarco and not many exchanges in the rest of the top 10, given the one second gaps between most of the riders. Miller got some airtime while closing in on the battle for second, as did Marc Marquez on his slight rodeo ride while reeling in his little brother for eighth place. The quiet didn't last for long and second place was soon under dispute, with Zarco making his move on Mir with 11 laps remaining and although Mir fought back, Miller had also joined the podium party and Aleix Espargaro was closing in and putting pressure from behind. Miller decided to attack at turn one with seven laps remaining, but the Ducati man lost the front and collected Mir, both riders heading into the gravel trap at considerable speed.
With Quartararo off in the distance, Zarco was left to defend second from Aleix Espargaro, but the Spaniard could not get close enough to attack. Rins found himself only one second off the podium with a handful of laps left but the gap proved too much to overcome and he settled for fourth, four seconds ahead of Oliveira. Two seconds behind, there was some brotherly fire between the Marquezes, the elder attacking with two laps remaining, the youngster responding at the start of the final lap and although Marc got back ahead at turn 13, the two crossed the finish line separated by only two hundredths of a second. Baganaia went for an identical last lap move on Pol Espargaro and rewarded himself with a hard worked eight place after a very difficult and particularly painful weekend.
Quartararo’s untroubled victory and Rins’ phenomenal comeback from the last row of the grid leaves them tied on points in the lead of the world championship, three points ahead of Aleix Espargaro and with Bastianini dropping to fourth, eighth points behind the joint leaders.
|49||Fabio Di Giannantonio||Ducati||35:39.7010|