How close is MotoGP right now? At the end of FP3 on Saturday morning, the top five bikes were separated by 0.062 seconds. The top three had just six thousandths of a second between them. And the difference between Marc Márquez and Maverick Viñales, first and second in FP3? Just one thousandth of a second. If they were both lapping at the same time, it would have needed the special finish line camera to separate them.
It was pretty close behind the top five as well. There were sixteen riders within nine tenths of Márquez, gaps between them counted in hundredths of seconds, rather than thousandths of seconds. Qualifying was much the same: the difference between pole and eleventh place on the grid was just half a second. If you made a mistake in two corners, costing you a tenth or so in each, you would have ended up starting from the third row, rather than the front row.
It was even worse for riders who hadn't made it straight through to Q2. If Jack Miller had been a six hundredths faster in FP3, he could have ended up tenth instead of twelfth, and not have to go to Q1. If he had been eight hundredths of a second faster in Q1, he would have been through to Q2, and not starting from sixteenth on the grid. But why pick on Miller? Taka Nakagami missed out on going to Q2 by a couple of hundredths, Tito Rabat and Hafizh Syahrin by seven hundredths. Even Scott Redding, starting from seventeenth, was just four tenths off going to Q2. That is quite literally just the blink of an eye.
Results and summary of qualifying for the Moto2 class in Assen:
Results and summary of qualifying for the MotoGP class in Assen:
The final chance to find your way in practice came and went for the premier class and it saw some out of character tyre choices, with Marc Marquez going softer than his Honda colleagues, Maverick Viñales starting on all softs and his teammate Valentino Rossi on the medium-hard combination. After the world champion showed blistering pace on the new hard-medium combination, he went on to do the same on used medium-soft rubber, on which he posted the fastest time of the session and the only 1:33.
Results and summary of qualifying for the Moto3 class in Assen:
The last practice session before the serious business starts kicked off with a real surprise from our favourite temperamental rookie Romano Fenati, who immediately posted the best time of the weekend to lead the early part of the session by over three tenths of a second. The Italian’s time stood until the final three minutes, when the championship leader snuck ahead just about. Pecco Bagnaia completed the practice hat-trick by taking another headline, seven hundredths of a second ahead of Fenati.
In the warm – but less so than Friday afternoon – Assen morning there was no hurry to improve at the top or escape the dreaded Q2 positions. The most popular look for the morning session was the used medium front-soft rear tyre combination, with the likes of Marquez or Morbidelli predictably going harder, on the medium rear. While the Italian ended up in the medical centre for a precautionary check-up, the world champion wobbled his way into the lead of the session, showing similarly impressive pace on the medium as on the hard one day ago.
Beautiful sunshine greeted the first outing of the day and the lightweight class featured the same familiar names towards the top of the timesheets. With the lower temperatures of the morning, not all riders rivalled their best effort from Friday but a couple of men led by Marco Bezzecchi managed to drop into the 1:42s once again. Also joining that exclusive club was Aron Canet, who was the fastest man on Friday and continued much on the same note, leading the best part of Saturday morning before being dethroned by the championship leader.