The timesheets throughout practice predicted a race that was even hotter than the theatrical desert of Aragon and there was palpable tension in the air as the enthusiastic crowd cheered riders lining up on the grid. Despite the sunny skies, a storm was brewing over 20 laps, with poleman Pecco Bagnaia defending a maiden victory in the premier class from a Marquez onslaught over the final three laps. After a flawless race, the Italian became the 8th different winner of the season, while Marc Marquez put in a proper show on his first race in front of the home crowd since his return. Joan Mir’s third place almost became an afterthought in the final few laps, but the reigning world champion made put up a great fight from 7th on the grid to profit from a strange afternoon for the championship leader.
Bagnaia was unchallenged at the start, the poleman leading the way into turn 1, while Marquez made some quick moves to get ahead of Jack Miller, with Aleix Espargaro and Jorge Martin also in the mix early on. Having started from the front row, Fabio Quartararo looked under pressure straight away, down to 7th after a feisty first lap and closely stalked by Brad Binder. Alex Rins made a good start from 20th on the grid to join the top 15 early on but his progress eventually stopped once he got to 12th place.
Bagnaia pushed at the front and took Marquez with him, leaving Miller a half second behind and closely followed by Aleix Espargaro, Mir and Martin, with Quartararo trying to bridge a half second gap but coming under attack from Binder and Lecuona. Although Bagnaia and Marquez were not really running away, Miller pushed to rejoin that leading group by lap 4 but the Spanish trio of Espargaro, Mir and Martin were not too far off from making it a 6-way battle, while Quartararo’s gap had increased to almost a second.
If riders were worried about tyre wear early on, the timesheets did not really show it, Bagnaia stringing together low 1:48s, the rest of the leading group not too far off either. However, Bagnaia and Marquez seemed a bit more keen to burn some rubber, the duo once again stretching a gap of seven tenths over Miller by lap 7. Aleix Espargaro also looked like he was losing a bit of ground while fending off Mir, while also dropping Martin almost a second back. Quartararo was really not enjoying his time in Aragon at this stage, dropping behind Iker Lecuona and Binder in the fight for 7th place, four seconds off the lead and also having to contend with Enea Bastianini and Takaaki Nakagami.
While all eyes were on Quartararo’s strange regress, Marquez seemed to be biding his time for an attack on Bagnaia and the leading duo increased their gap over Miller to a second and a half by lap 10. If Miller had any intentions to bridge that gap, his mission was complicated by Espargaro and Mir breathing down his neck. The Spaniards eventually got ahead at the end of lap 11, helped by a mistake at the final turn by the Australian, leaving Miller with quite a bit of work to do to catch up with the fight for third.
Meanwhile, the two leaders extended their advantage to over four seconds and Mir hoped that tyre trouble would be kinder to him than the men ahead over the second half of the race. While that slow-burner chase was underway, only the battle for 9th place provided any entertainment, where Quartararo defended attacks right and left from Bastianini and Nakagami. The fight for 6th was also showing signs of life, with Martin under attack from Lecuona and Binder with 10 laps remaining.
Back ahead, Bagnaia and Marquez continued to be the fastest men on track but entering the predicted tyre drop zone post lap 15. The Honda man was glued to the back of the Ducati but was yet to show a wheel to Bagnaia, while Aleix Espargaro was also biding his time for a podium worthy overtake on Mir. Miller had settled for a lonely ride in fifth, while Binder demoted Martin for 6th and a big mistake at turn 8 from Lecuona dropped him into the Quartararo group, the Frenchman still having the upper hand down there.
With Mir making no impression on the gap to the leaders going into the final 5 laps, it looked like a straight fight between Bagnaia and Marquez for victory – a tense fight, with the Italian’s pit board consistently showing a nerve-wracking +0. The Spaniard looked like setting up a move at turn 3 on a few occasions but the power of the Ducati halted his progress. The battle eventually started with three laps to go and it was all out war, with Marquez attacking at turns 3 and 15 but Bagnaia cutting straight back. The same scenario was repeated on the penultimate lap, Bagnaia entering the final lap back in control of proceedings.
The final lap meant the final opportunity for Marquez to extend his excellent run in Aragon and the Honda man gave it a good go, attacking at turn 1, turn 5 and finally turn 12, but inevitably ran wide and the gap was too big to recover once the Ducati galloped down the back straight. Marquez put in a spirited fight but had to admit defeat to the stronger man, with Mir claiming the final podium spot three seconds later, after dropping Aleix Espargaro for the final couple of laps. Miller secured fifth place, with Bastianini’s impressive late charge on worn rubber bringing him a well-deserved 6th place ahead of Binder, while Quartararo took the chequered flag down in 8th place, ahead of Martin and Nakagami.
While Quartararo’s advantage in the title standings is still pretty cushy, Bagnaia recovered some ground to become the second favourite, with a 53-point deficit, while Mir drops to third on minus 57.
|Not Finished 1st Lap