Dry, warm and arguably the best conditions of the weekend yet, the qualifying session for the premier class got off to a competitive start, with Andrea Iannone and Jack Miller fighting it off for the honour to tag along to the world champion’s tail. Iannone won that battle and was rewarded with a tow that put him ahead after the first flying lap but Marc Marquez was the first to break into the 1:28s on his second lap, getting the best of his two trailers. Meanwhile, the other title contender bookended the timesheets after Andrea Dovizioso struggled to put together a great lap the first time around.
Keen to avoid Iannone on the final run, Marquez was one of the last men out the pits and waved off his first lap while avoiding giving away any helping hands. Johann Zarco did not wait for an invitation and in a repeat of last Saturday, the Frenchman promptly took over top spot. Unlike last Saturday, Maverick Viñales turned up to the party and moved to the top of the pile in the final thirty seconds of the session. But Yamahas’ time in the sun was cut short after Marquez confirmed to be an unstoppable force around the Australian circuit and snatched a fourth consecutive pole position in Phillip Island by three tenths of a second.
Viñales made the best of the improved conditions to make a resurgence to second position on the grid, the Spanish archenemies sharing the front row with Zarco. Iannone and Miller’s early laps behind Marquez proved good enough to reserve them fourth and fifth on the grid, to the joy of the Suzuki garage and mostly the home crowd. The two will share the second row of the grid with the KTM of Pol Espargaro, the Spaniard seven tenths off the pace of his leading compatriot.
Valentino Rossi was the big winner of Q1 and the Italian went on to score a third row start ahead of Aleix Espargaro and the other Q1 survivor, Bradley Smith, who brought yet another smile to his factory crew since his new contract was confirmed.
It was a case of “what could have been” for Cal Crutchlow, the LCR rider sliding out on the first lap of his second run, while running a hot pace. The Brit will have to settle for a fourth row start in top-end company, next to Andrea Dovizioso and Dani Pedrosa. While Pedrosa is not a big fan of the cooler windy conditions, it was largely a mystery why Dovizioso could not at least replicate his FP2 pace.
Alex Rins was the best of the rest in Q1, ahead of Tito Rabat and Karel Abraham on the fifth row. Another row behind will line up Jorge Lorenzo, the Spaniard perhaps struggling with his sprained ankle and bruised shoulder after FP3. He will also have the company of another deluxe Ducati, Danilo Petrucci only qualifying eighteenth after losing the front in turn ten, in a repeat of Dovizioso’s FP4 adventures.