The 30th anniversary of MotoGP putting on a show in Catalunya looked like a forgone conclusion from the end of FP3 but the hot and overcast Sunday afternoon in Montmeló had a few surprises in store. After poleman Fabio Quartararo presumably broke a mirror and helped a black cat walk under a ladder, Miguel Oliveira rose to the occasion and secured an impressive first victory of the season. Johann Zarco was a slow burn rocket that really fired for the final couple of laps but it was too late to be the bride and the Frenchman settled for the bridesmaid once more, scoring his fourth podium of the season. Jack Miller’s Sunday wasn’t quite as eventful as his Saturday but the Ducati man managed his tyres well and inherited the final podium position once Quartararo tipped a salt shaker over.
It was not the usual lightning start for Miller off the line and poleman Quartararo almost managed to hold him off into turn 1 but not quite. Oliveira made a fast start from the second row and was immediately on the tail of the Ducati man, demoting the poleman to third. Joan Mir made an excellent start from 10th on the grid to join the top 5 early on, ahead of Zarco, Aleix Espargaro, Maverick Viñales and Brad Binder. Marc Marquez was one of the few tempted by the sort rear tyre and it helped him join the top 10 on the first lap, ahead of Pecco Bagnaia.
Back at the front, Miller only held onto the lead until the second lap, when he went wide at turn 4 and allowed Oliveira to take top spot. Quartararo saw an opportunity but his failed attempt at an overtake on Miller cost him another position to Mir and Aleix Espargaro, leaving the Frenchman into the claws of compatriot Zarco and teammate Viñales. Only three tenths behind, Marquez led the pursuit from Binder and Bagnaia and the Honda man soon climbed into 7th as Viñales ran wide and lost a handful of tenths on his compatriot.
Oliveira pushed at the front and maintained a gap of half a second for the next couple of laps, with Miller, Aleix Espargaro and Mir behind. Three tenths back, Quartararo found himself under pressure from Marquez and the championship leader promptly responded and got ahead of Espargaro, leaving the Spaniards to battle for fifth. While Marquez was busy battling the elder Espargaro, the younger crashed out on lap 5.
Leader Oliveira continued to extend his advantage to a full second by lap 7, helped by a mistake by Miller which allowed Mir and Quartararo ahead. Behind them, Zarco, Aleix Espargaro and Marquez provided the entertainment but the shenanigans cost them one second on the leaders and the trio had Viñales, Binder and Bagnaia waiting to pounce.
Quartararo picked up the chase with 18 laps left and had little over one second to recover on Oliveira, hoping to replace him as the runaway leader. The gap dropped under one second just one lap later and the fight stabilised behind them, with Mir and Miller holding station and Zarco quickly catching up with them, unencumbered by Marquez who crashed out of the battle for sixth, after the most encouraging start of his season to date. The Honda man was the first victim of what would become a fairly popular turn 10, with Aleix Espargaro following his example soon after and leaving Viñales in charge of the chasing pack, two seconds behind the podium battle.
Once the crash replays stopped rolling, Oliveira had Quartararo only two tenths of a second behind and the Frenchman had 14 laps to make his move but only waited one, running a tighter line at turn 5 and sneaking ahead of the Portuguese rider to start the second half of the race in the lead. If Quartararo hoped to make his escape as the prophecy said, Oliveira had different plans and used the KTM’s extra speed to breeze past the Frenchman into turn 1 next time around. While Quartararo bided his time behind the KTM once more, Mir, Zarco and Miller were trying to bridge the gap to the two leaders. The Ducatis wearing hard rear tyres seemed to be getting quicker than the Suzuki on mediums and both got ahead of the world champion with 9 laps remaining. Speaking of world champions, Valentino Rossi was the next victim of infamous turn 10 as he crashed out of the top 13.
Back at the front, Oliveira started the final 7 laps with a half second advantage on Quartararo, while the battle for third dropped over a second back, where Zarco and Miller had a small advantage on Mir and Viñales, the Yamaha man showing good speed in the closing stages. Oliveira’s advantage grew to almost a second with 4 laps remaining and Quartararo looked unable to reduce that, partly because of his fading tyres and partly because of an odd struggle with the zipper on his leathers, which had come undone. To make matters worse, Zarco was right on his tail and the got ahead of his compatriot going into turn 1 with 3 laps remaining. Quartararo seemed to really struggle as he cut the track between turns 1 and 2 and was under attack from Miller, the Ducati man soon trading places with a nearly bare-chested Quartararo, who removed his chest protector.
While some people were looking through the rulebook to see if there were any safety matters to consider for the poleman, Zarco quickly closed in on the leading KTM on the final lap but could not find a way around and a flawless Oliveira took his first victory of the season. Zarco settled for a very familiar second, while Quartararo crossed the finish line third but got a 3-second penalty for taking the shortcut at turns 1-2 after Zarco’s overtake, which dropped him off the podium. Miller inherited third, with Mir fading to fifth in the closing laps but holding back Viñales. Bagnaia took seventh place, crossing the finish line ahead of Binder, with Franco Morbidelli and rookie Enea Bastianini completing the top 10. Alex Marquez did what his brother couldn’t and finished the race on the soft rear tyre, going from 20th on the grid to finish 11th, as the top Honda at the checkered flag.
UPDATE: Quartararo received a second post-race penalty for riding without his leather suit correctly fastened and without the required chest protector. The additional 3-second time penalty drops him to sixth place, promoting Mir and Viñales one position.
Quartararo's freaky Sunday reduces his advantage in the world championship to 14 points from compatriot Zarco, with Miller climbing into third, 25 points back and 2 points ahead of teammate Bagnaia. Mir stays fifth, 37 points behind the leader.