Rain, shine, or something in between? Saturday at the Grand Prix de France presented quite a challenge for the MotoGP grid, but the final few minutes of Q2 eventually delivered a stunning shootout for pole on a dry track.
And who came out on top? Home hero Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP), the Frenchman taking back-to-back poles at Le Mans to pip teammate Maverick Viñales to the top and make it a factory Yamaha team 1-2 on the grid for the first time since 2017. Third went to Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team), the Jerez winner just a tenth off pole.
In Q1, a drying track made it anyone’s game and there were a few spills, some thrills and definitely a couple of surprises. Crashing early on despite his impressive pace in a damp FP3, Lorenzo Savadori (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) was jogging back to the pits as the rest got down to really testing out the conditions… but there was a real phoenix moment on the way.
As the track improved more and more, so did the laptimes at the top. But none more than Savadori. The Italian was back out and flexing his wet weather prowess once again as the clock ticked down, and crossing the line the Italian topped the session by a whopping eight tenths of a second. From whom?
Fellow rookie Luca Marini (Sky VR46 Avintia). Tagged on to the back of Championship leader and compatriot Francesco Bagnaia, Marini improved and then improved again on his final push to top the session, just before Savadori’s final wonder.
The two rookies moved through then, leaving Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) just knocked out by his teammate, as well as reigning Champion Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) next up and his teamma Alex Rins. Championship leader Bagnaia? He’ll be 16th on the grid…
And so Q2 began, with no more rain having come down. Decisions needed to be made for the Q2 runners at the beginning of the pole position fight, and we witnessed Valentino Rossi and Petronas Yamaha SRT teammate Franco Morbidelli gamble on slick tyres.
Had they taken inspiration from fellow VR46 Acadamy rider Andrea Migno (Rivacold Snipers Team) after his stunning Moto3 qualifying gamble?
It looked like the Petronas Yamaha SRT squad had made the right call as Miller, Quartararo and Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) pulled straight back in to switch. Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team), Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) and Savadori were also all on slicks, but Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) wasn’t and was soon on his way back to pitlane for a tyre change – as was Viñales.
By then, the riders on slick tyres were lighting up the timing screens. Rossi was out of the seat at the final corner; his lap was ruined and Morbidelli eclipsed Zarco’s best wet tyre lap, but then Miller demolished them all to go 1.2s quicker than anyone.
Pol Espargaro slotted into an early P2 as Quartararo and Savadori clocked into P3 and P4, Morbidelli next to improve to move back up to second. Incredibly though, Miller then cut his best by a second again, and Pol Espargaro once more came through as the Aussie’s closest challenger.
It was far from over. Everyone was constantly improving, and Zarco briefly went provisional pole, Miller beat him by nine tenths and then Pol Espargaro finally demoted Miller to second by 0.157s. Marc Marquez then joined his teammate on the front row with four minutes to go, and Nakagami made it three Hondas in the top four for the time being.
Morbidelli hit back next for second, but not for long. Marc Marquez beat teammate Pol Espargaro by 0.113s, before Nakagami split the two to make it a Honda 1-2-3… and rain then started to fall at Turn 1. It looked like the three HRC men had timed their laps to perfection, but no. Suddenly, Viñales and Zarco set red sectors, before Quartararo did too.
Viñales was the first to cross the line and break Repsol Honda hearts to grab provisional pole position off Marc Marquez, Zarco then took second and Morbidelli also got the better of the number 93’s time.
Quartararo was the rider to watch though and, laying it all on the line in the final sector, it was going down to Yamaha vs Yamaha for pole. Could he hold on? he could. El Diablo beat his teammate’s time by 0.081s, and a shadowing Miller came through to snatched a late front row as well.
The first factory Yamaha 1-2 since 2017, when a certain Viñales went on to win, joined by the most recent race winner? Another stellar Saturday that – for the third time in a row – belonged to Quartararo. Arm pump surgery to home GP pole is the story of his last couple of weeks, that’s two in a row for Quartararo at Le Mans to boot.
Morbidelli and Zarco’s final flying laps ensure they have solid grid positions for the French GP, in fourth and fifth, with Marc Marquez left down on the outside of the second row by the end of the shuffle. Nakagami and Pol Espargaro – who suffered a late crash at Turn 7 – will also have to settle for les than it seemed had been promised, taking P7 and P8 respectively.
Rossi was able to better his time on the last lap to earn P9 and his best grid position since the season opener with Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) completing the top 10, despite a crash, ahead of Q1 graduates Savadori and Marini.
With Bagnaia and the Suzukis looking for quick progress too… Sunday promises plenty.
A French GP qualifying session for the ages, with a Frenchman on pole again. What will Sunday bring? 14:00 local time (GMT+2) is when we’ll find out, with Ducati primed with their holeshot devices, the skies uncertain… and history at stake once again.