Results and summary of qualifying for the MotoGP class in Jerez:
With the track temperatures skyrocketing throughout the final practice session, the tale of FP4 was one of riders gradually migrating towards the hard tyre. Marc Marquez had led the session from the start and showed his usual consistent pace before a minor slide through the gravel interrupted his run on lap five. While the Spaniard was dusting himself and his hard tires off, Andrea Iannone went fastest on mediums and held on to the lead until the checker flag.
Results and summary of qualifying for the Moto3 class in Jerez:
It has been a big weekend of news for KTM at Jerez. First, there was Pol Espargaro extending his contract. Then the factory KTM team announced they had signed Johann Zarco. And now, the first seat at the KTM Tech3 team has been filled, with Miguel Oliveira moving up to MotoGP for 2019.
The intermediate class did one best than their colleagues and managed to improve on their Friday times straight out of the box. The first one to do so and lead the session was Alex Marquez, with short stints at the top for Sam Lowes and Jorge Navarro, before Lorenzo Baldassarri showed off his highly impressive pace. The Italian set camp at the top of the timesheets with fifteen minutes left of the session and in even better news for him, there were no cancelled lap times this time around.
The sun in Jerez shone brighter for some than others on Saturday morning. The first run was a tentative display where Marc Marquez subtly retrieved top spot from Cal Crutchlow on the combined standings. Crutchlow fired back on new mediums on his second run but the world champion put on soft rubber shoes for the first time this weekend in the final seven minutes of the session and shot to the top of the timing screens with the fastest lap ever around the Spanish track.
The promised rain in Spain finally fell on Friday evening but there was no trace left of it as the lightweight class hit the track on Saturday morning. Another stint under the sun brought Fabio Di Giannantonio out to play and the Italian led most of the session until a slip in turn 13 in the final two minutes of the session halted his charge and let others have a go. And by others I mean the usual one, Jorge Martin going fastest to improve the Friday benchmark by four tenths of a second.
On paper, things are close at Jerez. At the end of the first day, the top eight riders are all within half a second of each other. The first fourteen are within a second. You would normally see the kind of tightly bunched times on a Moto2 result sheet, not MotoGP, as former Moto3 and Moto2 crew chief, and now Eurosport commentator Peter Bom put it. It has all the makings of a very tight race.
Or it does if you judge it only by the headline times. Dig a little deeper and a different picture appears. Scrap the riders who put in a new soft tire and chased a fast lap, and focus only on race pace on used tires, and it Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez looks like being fought out between The Hondas Repsol and LCR, Ecstar Suzuki rider Andrea Iannone, and just maybe, Johann Zarco on the Monster Tech3 Yamaha. Sure, a bunch of people did some 1'38s and low 1'39s, but Marc Márquez, Dani Pedrosa, and Cal Crutchlow were banging out that kind of pace consistently, on tires which have more than half race distance on them.
Is it going to be a Honda whitewash? "It is still too early to say," Cal Crutchlow told reporters, trying to dampen expectations after finishing the day as fastest. "A lot of the other bikes take one day and overnight they are there. If they are sliding a lot then they try to fix it for day two. If we’re sliding then that's our natural bike and we don't make the same improvement overnight. I don't think we’ll suddenly have another second but other people might find another half a second."
The intermediate class got to enjoy the best conditions of the day and they sure made the best of it. Alex Marquez picked up the lead of the session halfway through it to be only one of two riders dropping into the 1:42s early on. The other one was Lorenzo Baldassarri, the two riders disputing the top of the timesheets between themselves during most of the session and both demonstrating impressive race pace – including a plethora of track limit infringements for the Italian.
The final seven minutes saw a proper time attack and a handful of riders joined that exclusive 1:42 club.
The sun was all out by the time the premier class got action underway for the final time on Friday and it was all bright and shiny in the Honda camp at least. Marc Marquez headed out and improved on the morning’s benchmark straight away. By lap five, the world champion had dropped into the 1:38s to put over six tenths of a second into the pursuers.
The final seven minutes were reserved for a time attack, Cal Crutchlow striking first on a new soft rear tire and securing top position in the session as Marquez slid out in typical fashion.
The second practice session of the day was a much warmer affair for the Moto3 class and the Italians reigned supreme. With Tony Arbolino as the early leader of the session, followed by Lorenzo Dalla Porta and Fabio Di Giannantonio with their own stints at the top of the timesheets, lap times finally started to tumble under the morning benchmark in the final five minutes.
Another Italian, perhaps a more surprising one in Niccolo Antonelli, dropped into the 1:46s to post the fastest time of the weekend by nearly half a second. The SIC58 squad rider was the only one able to go under the 1:47 mark and will hope to build up on this achievement after a disappointing result in Austin. Despite a gaggle of riders posting red and orange sector times in the final few minutes of the session, no one was able to touch the Italian’s time.
In beautiful Spanish sunshine and with a nicely prepped surface, the intermediate class had a carefree session as several contenders presented themselves at the top of the timesheets, only three tenths off the circuit record by the end of proceedings. Some of the early leaders included Mattia Pasini and last year’s victor Alex Marquez but the first to make it stick and hold the lead for much of the session was the ever more impressive Iker Lecuona.
The Spaniard was dethroned by teammate Sam Lowes with fifteen minutes left of the session but it was Pecco Bagnaia who snatched top spot and triggered the final time attack.
A sunny breezy morning welcomed the premier class to its first practice session on home ground. Birthday boy Jorge Lorenzo was an early leader but Marc Marquez stole his thunder after only ten minutes in the limelight by going a second fastest than the competition, throwing in a classic save in turn one for good measure. Cal Crutchlow quickly cut the gap in half and then went on to equal the world champion’s benchmark in the final 15 minutes. Their joint reign came to an end when Valentino Rossi fired into the lead by six hundredths of a second but that achievement was also short lived as Pol Espargaro chased the Italian straight into the lead.
But eventually, none of those riders got to keep the metaphorical trophy as Andrea Dovizioso snuck into the lead in the final few minutes by seven thousandths of a second.
With the MotoGP circus finally coming home, the Circuit of Jerez decided to skip the forecasted rain and start us off with a chilly but sunny morning for the lightweight class. Despite the new surface, the track took its time to warm up and show its potential but the first man to call dibs on top position was Fabio Di Giannantonio in the final ten minutes of FP1.
It has been a strange and fascinating first three races of the 2018 MotoGP season, but as the paddock returns to Europe, we get the first chance to see how the series will look under conditions more usually understood as normal. The three flyaways which kick the season off all have their own peculiarities which tend to skew the results. Qatar happens at night, on a dusty track. Argentina and Austin are races on circuits which don't see enough action, which the teams have only visited a few times, making the track difficult to judge. And Marc Márquez always wins at Austin anyway.
That all changes at Jerez. The next six tracks – Jerez, Le Mans, Mugello, Barcelona, Assen, Sachsenring – have been on the calendar for a decade or more. The riders have lapped the circuits thousands of times at races and in testing, and the teams and factories have enough data from the tracks to fill a small country's worth of data centers. This is familiar ground, and so everything changes.
"Coming here and it's like the season starts again, you can breathe again," is how Pol Espargaro describes it. "I don't say that we are bad in those countries, but this is home, it's where I've been racing here for many many years." Exactly how many years? "My first race here was in the Catalan championship, when I was 13 years old, I'm 26? So 2005, 2006? Look how many years racing here! But the jet lag, the food, the timing when you eat, when you sleep, the people who come to the track, we have more fans here than in any other place in the world, and this makes you feel good. And also we have much more data here than at other tracks, so for us it's much easier to face this GP."