Fabio Quartararo of France, on a Yamaha, claimed his 11th MotoGP pole after he benefited from Francesco Bagnaia’s (Ducati Lenovo Team) misfortune in Portimao on Saturday and did it in record time. The Frenchman’s new lap record, a 1:38.862, was good enough to beat Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) by 0.089s as Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) cements a front row start in P3 despite a crash. Also, six-time world champion Marc Marquez returned to the sport after a nine-month injury layoff on the second row of Sunday’s grid.
Marquez has wasted no time getting back in the thick of things nine months after his crash in the Spanish Grand Prix which ruled him out of the entire 2020 season, and the first two races this year. Despite losing precious track time with mechanical issues on his Honda the Spaniard posted the sixth fastest time after sneaking through from Q1 reserved for riders finishing outside the top 10 in practice.
Quartararo, winner of the Doha MotoGP last time out, secured the 11th pole of his career with a new lap record time of 1min 38.862sec, at the main expense of Alex Rins (Suzuki) and early championship leader Johann Zarco (Ducati-Pramac).
Marquez shares the second row with Ducati’s Australian rider Jack Miller and Italian Franco Morbidelli for the Yamaha-SRT team.
Italian Francesco Bagnaia had set the quickest time but he had his lap wiped off the time sheets because of a yellow flag warning after a Miguel Oliveira crash, leaving Quartararo feeling that “it doesn’t feel like pole” and Bagnaia down in 11th.
“It doesn’t have the same taste as usual,” Quartararo, who dominated Saturday’s third and fourth practice, added.
“I feel good, I know the pace I can reach.”
Fellow front row occupant Rins said: “We too have decent pace but not as much as Fabio, we’ll see what we can do.”
Third-placed Zarco, aiming to go one better after two successive runner-up finishes, commented: “It wasn’t enough but it’s good to be on the front row.”
The third row is occupied by the Aprilia of Aleix Espargaro, Luca Marini, the half-brother to Valentino Rossi, and defending champion Joan Mir.
Mir is competing this weekend handicapped by a late change in his chief mechanic, absent after contracting Covid-19.
Rossi, who swapped places with Quartararo in Yamaha’s satellite SRT stable, qualified in only 17th.
Honda-LCR’s Japanese rider Takaaki Nakagami (Honda-LCR) skipped qualifying after his crash on Friday in practice and will determine if he is race fit on Sunday morning.
Saturday practice was marred by a sickening crash that saw Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing) stretchered off the track straight to hospital for further medical checks.
The Spaniard was conscious, but with contusions to his head, right hand and right ankle and misses the rest of the weekend.
All the action from the MotoGP™ World Championship 2021 Grande Prémio 888 de Portugal – Main Race will be LIVE on Eurosport and Eurosport HD from 15:30 hrs. (3:30 PM IST) onwards on Sunday, April 18, 2021. The same will be live-streamed on discovery+ app.
(With AFP inputs)