A long and increasingly difficult 245 days have passed since the last time premier class machines have duelled in anger and Jerez promised a fine, if brief, distraction on Sunday afternoon. The first outing of the shortened calendar was two men down before the lights even went off, Alex Rins declared unfit after a shoulder injury in qualifying, while Cal Crutchlow was commanded to do some rest after a big tumble in Warm Up. Even with the missing and well missed names, Jerez provided enough drama for half a season and made it an extra memorable weekend for Fabio Quartararo, the Petronas man taking a commanding first win to become France’s first premier class victor in 20 years. Maverick Vinales performed miracles on the soft front tyre to sit on the second spot of the podium, while Andrea Dovizioso held in there to salvage a first career podium in Jerez.
Vinales had an excellent launch off the line at the start and stormed into the lead, while his fellow front row starters struggled a bit more, but Marc Marquez quickly maneuvered his way back into second position. Poleman Quartararo surrendered to Jack Miller’s fast starting Ducati, with teammates Pecco Bagnaia and Doviziozo having his back. Vinales pushed hard to evade the world champion on the first couple of laps, as evidenced by a big twitch in turn 8, but could not shake off Marquez and the Spanish duo performed a bit of an early escape act by lap three, one second ahead of the pack led by Miller. Marquez hounded his compatriot to hit the front at Pedrosa corner on the third lap of the race and the shenanigans allowed Miller and Quartararo to reduce the gap to half a second.
With riders further down the field already giving into the tricky conditions, the world champion’s time came on lap five, when the Honda magician performed his first save of the season at turn four. While an highly impressive feat, he joined his little brother at the back of the field and with a lot to do to save a decent amount of points. Once the attention of the cameras returned to Vinales, who inherited the lead, he was riding solo one second ahead of a feisty exchange between Quartararo and Miller. A handful of tenths down the road, Bagnaia, Dovizioso, Espargaro and Morbidelli were in close proximity but the group lost Brad Binder on lap seven, the rookie abandoning a solid top seven.
With his main rival out of contention, Vinales slowed down the pace, also inflicted by several mistakes, and it allowed Quartararo and Miller to tag along for the ride. The Frenchman took the invitation to get past his future teammate and grabbed the lead at the final turn on lap 9, Miller further demoting Vinales to third. There was no rest for the Spaniard, as Bagnaia, Dovizioso and Espargaro were getting ever nearer. While Quartararo was attempting to stretch a gap at the front, Marquez was on a very different mission, slicing through the field and up to 10th place by lap 10.
Quartararo entered the midway point of the race over one second ahead of Miller, while Vinales’ soft front seemed to be suffering already, losing him time on the Ducati ahead and with a couple of other Ducatis waiting to pounce, together with Espargaro and Morbidelli. Little did they know that two seconds down the road, Marquez was quickly reeling them in.
Meanwhile, the leading Petronas rider had stretched a three second gap at the front with ten laps remaining, with Miller pretty lonely in second and Vinales still holding onto a one second gap to the lively group behind. Dovizioso was the leader of that chasing pack but the Italian was soon getting warnings that Marquez was biting into rivals left right and centre to join the top five with seven laps remaining. The Ducati man saw the Repsol livery go past by the end of that same lap, just as Vinales got past a fading Miller in the battle for second.
Quartararo led the way by five comfortable seconds ahead of Vinales as the race entered its final five laps, while Marquez encountered his first real fight back from Miller in the battle for third. Once that exchange was settled, he set his sights on Vinales but that thought was only fleeting because Marquez made his second mistake of the race, this time being swung across the bike at turn three and stood no chance of saving that. While the world champion was getting medical attention for the painful looking high side, Miller inherited third place but Dovizioso, Morbidelli and Espargaro wanted a say in that.
An unperturbed Quartararo crossed the finish line with four seconds of advantage over Vinales, while Dovizioso joined the podium lineup for the last couple of laps. Miller had to make do with fourth, ahead of Morbidelli and Pol Espargaro. Bagnaia held on to a solid seventh place, with Miguel Oliveira, Danilo Petrucci and Takaaki Nakagami rounding out the top ten.
Quartararo’s much celebrated victory hands him the lead in the championship standings, obviously ahead of the men joining him on the podium.
|93||Marc MARQUEZ||Honda||4 Laps|
|27||Iker LECUONA||KTM||6 Laps|
|46||Valentino ROSSI||Yamaha||7 Laps|
|41||Aleix ESPARGARO||Aprilia||23 Laps|
|36||Joan MIR||Suzuki||24 Laps|