The track was hotting up, mostly literally, for the afternoon play session of the premier class and it was freshly renewed Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso who wrote another headline after his earlier announcement. The metaphorical fight for the lead was, as ever, between him and Marc Marquez, the Honda rider promptly taking over the lead as the light turned green at the end of pitlane.
The final runs saw Marquez having a look at the hard rear tyre while Dovizioso kept to his softs. The status quo was maintained at the top until the final time attack but the world champion made sure to keep us entertained by piling up the saves. Johann Zarco chased some home glory as he took over the lead in the final three minutes but he was soon denied by Dovizioso, who became the only rider to drop into the 1:31s on the French circuit.
While still circulating on a used rear tyre, Marquez made the jump into second position on his final lap and was quickly followed by the revival of the two factory Yamahas. Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales achieved of those rare feats of finishing ahead of their satellite rider. Rossi put in a couple of long runs on the hard rear on his way to third position, while his teammate on mediums was practically glued to him on the timesheets, only seven hundredths of a second separating the two. Despite the close result, Rossi was consistently in the top six throughout the session, while Viñales waited until the final ten minutes to crack the top ten.
Zarco had to settle for fifth after briefly animating the stands and was followed by Jack Miller on the timesheets. Pol Espargaro might have started the session in the gravel trap but it’s the end result that matters, which happened to be seventh position. The same could be said for Dani Pedrosa, who luckily avoided any more off track adventures but managed to sneak into the top eight after struggling at the bottom end of the timesheets for much of the session – aided by some new aero bits.
Aleix Espargaro added an Aprilia to the top nine mix, while Jorge Lorenzo lost a bit of ground in tenth place but still managed to show reasonable pace in the high 1:32s on his second run. Despite challenging for the lead early on, Cal Crutchlow was another to join the sizeable crash list in the final few minutes and failed to improve, dropping out of the top ten by a mere thousandth of a second.
Lower down the order, Danilo Petrucci had to fight back after an early crash to finish 13th, behind Tito Rabat, who had briefly flirted with the top ten. An unpleasant surprise awaited the Suzukis, with Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins 14th and 15th respectively, although still within a second of the leader.
Scott Redding, Franco Morbidelli and Takaaki Nakagami were all caught out by the conditions throughout the session but they were able to rejoin the action soon after.