It was show time in Assen and the rain was no longer the favourite topic of discussion, with blue skies covering the grid. After Maverick Viñales outshone the competition in qualifying and kept the media awake with whispers of a premature departure from Yamaha, he was always going to be the centre of attention, so it’s understandable that Fabio Quartararo wanted the spotlight back on him and made an early escape to score his fourth victory of the season. While the Frenchman was showcasing some truly questionable golf skills in celebration, his grumpy teammate made his way to parc fermé to take second place. A far happier Joan Mir claimed the final podium position, tasting the cava for only the third time this season.
Viñales seemed like he had made a good start from pole but Quartararo promptly cut in front of him to lead into turn 1 and the unsettled poleman drooped to fifth, behind Pecco Bagnaia, Takaaki Nakagami and Alex Rins, which ultimately squashed his hopes for victory. Bagnaia became Quartararo’s main rival and attacked into turn 9 to lead the way by the start of the second lap. A very notable mention goes to Marc Marquez, who was quick to put his worst qualifying position behind him and used the soft rear tyre to go from 20th on the grid to attacking his teammate for 11th position in one lap. He was soon promoted into the top ten by a turn 10 clash between Zarco and Rins, which dropped the Suzuki rider to the back of the field.
Bagnaia continued to lead the way from a pretty feisty Quartararo for the next few laps, while Nakagami and Viñales kept close to the leaders. Zarco and Miller were also in contention but had Mir and Miguel Oliveira to deal with, while Aleix Espargaro and Marc Marquez held onto the leading group, leaving Pol Espargaro one second behind. Back at the front of the group, Quartararo continued to attack Bagnaia for the first handful of laps but the Ducati had an answer for anything thrown its way. The Frenchman seemed to finally make a move stick at turn 11 on the sixth lap and the speed of the Ducati on the start-finish straight could not save Bagnaia this time around, allowing the Yamaha to attempt and escape.
Quartararo used his impeccable pace to quickly extend a one second gap in the space of one lap and a bit, dropping Bagnaia while Viñales still couldn’t find a way past Nakagami. Just behind the poleman, Zarco was fending off Mir and Oliveira, while Miller, Aleix Espargaro and Marquez were steadily losing touch with the chasing group.
Quartararo continued to extend his advantage over the next few laps, up to two seconds and a half by lap 10 and all eyes moved to the podium battle behind him. Just as Bagnaia got a track limits warning, Nakagami decided to have a go or two at the Italian but it as only brief, as Bagnaia powered back through on the straight. It was status quo behind them, where Viñales, Zarco, Mir and Oliveira could not yet find a way around each other to threaten the podium. Miller had dropped 8 tenths behind the group by the halfway stage of the race and was pushing to rejoin the battle, just like Aleix Espargaro and Marquez.
If the Honda could not defeat the Ducati on track, a long lap penalty did it, Bagnaia getting sanctioned with 13 laps remaining and dropping to ninth once he served the punishment. However, he was soon promoted one position when teammate Miller crashed out and was also helped by a fading Nakagami, who went from second to ninth in the blink of an eye, being given a helping hand at turn 5 from an attacking Mir.
Meanwhile, Viñales was left to chase his teammate but the eventful few laps amongst the pursuing group left them over four seconds behind Quartararo with 10 laps remaining. Viñales had more to worry about from behind, where Zarco and Mir were threatening a move. Oliveira wasn’t too far back but not within striking distance, while Bagnaia recovered to sixth but had a second and a half to find to the KTM man, while bringing Aleix Espargaro and Marquez with him.
Quartararo seemed to drop the pace a little bit at the front with 8 laps remaining but Viñales’ mission was made only slightly easier, the gap down to three seconds, while Mir became his main challenger after overtaking Zarco at turn 5. After the small blip, Quartararo managed the three-second gap for the next few laps and although his teammate started finding a couple tenths every lap, there were only five laps left by the time the gap dropped under 3 seconds. Viñales’ hot pursuit left the battle for third over three seconds behind, where Mir could not relax with Zarco and Oliveira on his tail. Bagnaia’s recovery stopped in sixth place, where he had some keen company from Marquez, Espargaro and Nakagami but the Italian was helped by a couple of tight exchanges between the Spaniards.
Quartararo started the final lap over two seconds ahead of his teammate and ended it with the same gap to make it a Yamaha 1-2 for the first time this season. Zarco pushed hard to challenge Mir with some personal best sector times but the Suzuki rider kept the final podium position to the finish line. Zarco missed the podium by three tenths of a second, while Oliveira settled for fifth. Bagnaia held onto sixth, while Marquez made a move stick on Espargaro at the final chicane to claim seventh place and do what Viñales couldn’t last time out. The Aprilia man kept eighth ahead of Nakagami, with Pol Espargaro completing the top 10 six seconds later.
Quartararo will have plenty of time to practice his victory celebrations over the long summer break, with a sweet 34-point advantage over Zarco and 47 to Bagnaia. Reigning world champion Mir climbs into fourth, 55 points down on the leader and one ahead of Miller. Viñales recovering a 61-point deficit after the break seems like a big ask given today’s outcome but stranger things have happened, to the Spaniard in particular.
|27||Iker Lecuona||KTM||8 Laps|
|43||Jack Miller||Ducati||8 Laps|
|89||Jorge Martin||Ducati||12 Laps|
|46||Valentino Rossi||Yamaha||19 Laps|