The premier class youngsters lined up on the front row of the grid with warm but not as warm as predicted conditions and a touch of wind, just enough to add to the nerves in your belly. And two out of the three men took the checkered flag with a smile on their face – the smile particularly wide for Maverick Viñales (with a side of relief), as he took his and Yamaha’s first victory of the season after a strong display around the infamous cathedral of speed. Marc Marquez made sure to be the fly in his soup for most of the race but had to admit defeat and take the boost in the championship that comes with a second place. Fabio Quartararo made it back to back podiums, the poleman enjoying some fresh air up front for a good part of the race.
The story started slightly different, front row starter Alex Rins getting the holeshot, while teammate Joan Mir blasted through from eighth grid spot to play wingman and make it a one-two for Suzuki. The Yamahas of Quartararo and Viñales also played the team game just behind, with Marquez ahead of the factory Ducatis. Andrea Dovizioso had another of his lightning starts to join the party straight away, going from 11th on the grid to 6th on the first lap and was pushing to catch up with the leaders while Marquez and Viñales already started swapping paint.
Rins did not get to enjoy the limelight for long, the Spaniard throwing it all away at De Bult and Mir was left alone and vulnerable to the vultures behind. Quartararo immediately picked up the lead, ahead of Viñales, Marquez and eventually Dovizioso, Mir dropping to fifth in the space of a couple of turns. Once Marquez robbed Viñales, the world champion joined the poleman in the select 1:33 club. On lap five, the spotlight briefly moved to Valentino Rossi kneeled in the gravel trap, more in defeat than injury, following a crash with Takaaki Nakagami.
Once attention returned to the top of the charts, Marquez was in an air-tight Yamaha sandwich, with Dovizioso cautiously clinging on but Mir and Danilo Petrucci dropping a tenth here and a tenth there. While Marquez was subtly hunting Petronas prey, there was nothing subtle about Viñales’ intentions, the factory Yamaha looking at every tiny gap afforded by his compatriot. The desperation punished Viñales at the start of lap ten, when a mistake in the first turn dropped him into Dovizioso’s claws and cost him a second to the leaders.
The world champion made his move on lap 11, encouraged by Quartararo’s machine shaking wildly on the back straight and it’s not like the Honda needs an invitation to accelerate. The Frenchman didn’t take that sitting though, taking advantage from a mistake on the Spaniards’ side this time around, Marquez entering turn two overenthusiastically. The shenanigans helped Viñales catch up but Dovizioso couldn’t quite follow, one second behind the lead trio.
With status quo resumed up front, the halfway point of the race saw Quartararo, Marquez and Viñales embracing like peas in a pod. Viñales finally made his move on Marquez into the final chicane, making it a Yamaha one two, both blue bikes on harder rear rubber than their slightly older rival. Bike buddies they may be but Viñales had no sympathy for Quartararo, sweeping past him with 11 laps left. By the end of that lap, the Frenchman was the victim of Marquez as well as the Spaniard tried to stop his compatriot from making an escape. Meanwhile, the factory Ducatis were having heart-racing fun in the battle for fourth, Petrucci leading his teammate as the race entered the final ten laps.
Not that Marquez needs any help but Viñales gave him a helping hand by running wide at turn one and the Honda man found himself the prey rather than the hunter. And Viñales did hunt, back into the lead by the end of that same lap. Quartararo started fading but had a safe three second gap to the battle behind, where Mir was the surprise package that had the beating of the Ducatis for the time being. But there was little time to watch the young Spaniard’s adventures as his more experienced compatriots were glued to each other at the front. Viñales seemed to be getting faster as the race went on, lighting up the timesheets with red and orange sectors for the final seven laps and steadily stretching a gap.
Once Marquez admitted defeat and settled for a decent bag of points safely ahead of Quartararo, all eyes were on the Ducatis, which got their revenge on Mir but had another headache courtesy of Franco Morbidelli. With Dovizioso finishing a sensible fourth place after a tricky qualifying, the satellite Yamaha of Morbidelli got the best of Petrucci in the final turn to equal his best result in premier class in fifth place. Mir conceded seventh place to Crutchlow when he ran wide with three laps remaining but still brought his Suzuki home in a fine eighth place. Jack Miller and Andrea Iannone followed through on their speed in practice to complete the top ten.
Marquez missed out on the win but a look at the championship standings should ease the pain, the Spaniard extending his lead to 44 points ahead of Dovizioso. Petrucci jumps ahead of Rins, 52 and 59 points down respectively.
|17||17||Karel ABRAHAM||Ducati||1 Lap|
|5||Johann ZARCO||KTM||10 Laps|
|30||Takaaki NAKAGAMI||Honda||22 Laps|
|46||Valentino ROSSI||Yamaha||22 Laps|
|42||Alex RINS||Suzuki||24 Laps|