With the Circuit of Jerez having been a Yamaha playground over the last couple of days, Fabio Quartararo started the race with the enthusiasm of a thousand toddlers and although things seemed to go his way for much of the race, the fairytale turned into a nightmare in the blink of an eye and Jack Miller became the hero of the day. It was a long wait for the Australian since Assen 2016 so the tears were justified while he picked up the winner’s trophy in Jerez. To make it a perfect day for Ducati, teammate Pecco Bagnaia followed him home in second and became the fourth different championship leader in four consecutive races this season. Franco Morbidelli was definitely not the man Yamaha planned to see on the podium but third place on a two-year-old antique was not too shabby.
It was not particularly surprising to see Miller use the holeshot device to perfection to take the lead off the line from Morbidelli, Bagnaia and Quartararo, followed by Aleix Espargaro, Takaaki Nakagami and with Joan Mir making a good start up to seventh. Maverick Viñales and Alex Rins kept close, but Johann Zarco made a pretty poor start from the second row of the grid and dropped out of the top 10. Aleix Espargaro, Nakagami, Mir and Viñales managed to hold onto the leaders in the early stages, but Rins crashed out at turn six on the thrid lap, for the second consecutive race. Having started from his worst qualifying position in the premier class, Marc Marquez joined the top 10 early on but soon came under attack from the likes of Zarco and Brad Binder and immediately lost positions to colleagues Pol Espargaro and Stefan Bradl, going back to 14th position.
Back at the front, Miller held onto the lead from Morbidelli, while Quartararo found a way past Bagnaia by lap 3. The Frenchman soon encountered former teammate Morbidelli and made quick work of him, going in pursuit of Miller and quickly launching an attack into turn 13 to lead the way by lap 5. The Ducati could not reply at turn one and the Yamaha man started to extend a gap of over seven tenths of a second on that lap. Morbidelli had a harder time finding a way past Miller and was losing ground early on, dropping one second back on the Australian and holding back a group including Aleix Espargaro, Bagnaia, Nakagami, Mir, Viñales and a recovering Zarco. About half a second back, the Honda trio of Pol Espargaro, Marquez and Bradl kept themselves entertained, with the occasional interference from Enea Bastianini.
Quartararo and Miller continued to be the fastest men, eight tenths apart on track, with Morbidelli not much slower but not reducing the gap to the leaders either. Aleix Espargaro did not look like a threat in the early stages but kept around half a second behind the provisional podium men, fending off Bagnaia until lap 9, when the Italian picked up the chase into turn 6. Nakagami was biding his time to attack the Aprilia too, while Mir was in charge of the next group one second down the road, including Zarco and Viñales.
With Quartararo over a second ahead of Miller at the halfway mark of the race and that gap keeping steady, all eyes were on the battle for third, two seconds behind, where Morbidelli came under threat from Bagnaia. The Petronas man clung onto that podium admirably, with his great exit from turn 13 mitigating the Ducati’s advantage on the straight but you can do one thing right a million times and still get it wrong the next time around, so a mistake at the final turn eventually handed Bagnaia third position with 11 laps remaining.
While all that was unfolding, Quartararo suddenly lost his entire advantage over laps 14 and 15 and all of a sudden, Miller found himself ahead into turn one next time around. The Frenchman seemed to struggle to even keep close to the Australian, dropping a full second back over the course of the next lap and soon allowing Bagnaia to fly past at turn 5. The disaster continued when Morbidelli found a way past at turn 9 and Quartararo’s prospects looked bleak given the small gaps in the rest of the top ten. The likes of Nakagami, Mir and Aleix Espargaro were next to overtake him, but none of that probably hurt quite as much as seeing Viñales go past at turn 1 with 6 laps remaining. Zarco followed suit at turn 5 and Marquez as turn 6, the Honda man admirably holding onto a top ten and being one of the fastest men on track in the closing stages of the race.
While all eyes were on the shocking collapse of Quartararo, Miller had a two-second advantage to manage ahead of teammate Bagnaia for the final handful of laps, with Morbidelli steadily getting closer to try to make it a battle for second. He had no threat from behind, where Nakagami was busy fending off Mir and Aleix for fourth, with Viñales not too far back.
The final couple of laps saw Bagnaia halve the gap to his teammate, but the Australian kept calm and took the checkered flag firmly in command. Bagnaia won’t be too disappointed as he picks up the championship lead to go with the second place trophy, while Morbidelli saved the day for Yamaha with third. Nakagami was the lead Honda, while Mir settled for fifth ahead of Aleix Espargaro. Viñales had a pretty low key race in seventh position, ahead of Zarco and with the bruised Repsol Honda duo of Marquez and Espargaro rounding out the top ten positions. Miguel Oliveira and Bradl also made it past Quartararo in the final laps, the Frenchman finishing 13th.
Quartararo’s misfortune puts Bagnaia in charge of the world championship standings, albeit by a mere two points ahead of the Frenchman, while Viñales is 16 points behind and Mir 17 down on the leader.
|Not Finished 1st Lap