Expectations were high for the 300th MotoGP race for the history books, particularly looking at the small gaps separating the top men throughout the weekend. However, after some early exchanges, Marc Marquez made an escape and saved his homeland’s day by winning the 400th grand prix held in Spain. Once the world champion performed his disappearing act, Alex Rins brought home another fantastic second place from ninth on the grid, with Maverick Viñales kicking Ducati off the podium by snatching third.
Holeshot device or not, Andrea Dovizioso got the best start off the line but got sent wide in turn one by a late braking Marquez, which allowed the Petronas boys to sneak back past the Ducati and regroup the front row lineup. With Marquez in the lead by the exit of turn one, Franco Morbidelli got past poleman and teammate Fabio Quartararo, while Viñales overtook Dovizioso for fourth, aided by an unusually excellent start.
By lap three, the lead trio escaped slightly, the Petronas boys having no trouble keeping up with the world champion and posting nearly identical times. Viñales was just a touch back, half a second behind and the same gap kept him ahead of Dovizioso and fast charging Rins – the three chasers the fastest men on track while attempting to merge with the leaders. By lap six, Viñales had just about joined the lead group but Rins had to contend with one second’s gap once he finally got past Dovizioso. Having started 13th, Valentino Rossi climbed to 10th position in the first few laps but progress got tougher once he encountered the Ducati rocketship of Jack Miller.
Marquez finally managed to shake off the satellite Yamahas on lap ten, when the gap went over the one second mark for the first time and in the blink of an eye it turned to two seconds. The Petronas boys avoided any shenanigans early on but once the ant got away, Quartararo profited from a mistake from Morbidelli and had a decent go at chasing Marquez. To make things even more difficult for the Italian, Rins and Viñales were on his tail straight away. Meanwhile, Dovizioso’s pace did not look as promising as 24 hours ago and he was almost stranded in sixth, with teammate Danilo Petrucci having his back.
Quartararo threw some red and orange sectors at it but the gap to Marquez was not really budging. However, the young Frenchman was gapping his teammate when disaster struck at the midpoint of the race as his Yamaha’s quickshifter decided to break. The poleman’s heart-breaking retirement left Rins with the task of reeling in the runaway Honda, although the gap was edging ever closer to four seconds. The Suzuki man gave it his best with a couple of fastest laps but it was no match for Marquez’s frightening consistency.
With ten laps left, Morbidelli conceded the final podium spot to Viñales and then almost immediately surrendered to the two Ducatis led by Dovizioso. Once the initial excitement wore off, Morbidelli faded even further to the bottom of the top ten. Rossi’s charge got kick-started once he finally disposed of a fading Miller and then quickly got the best of Morbidelli and Crutchlow to trail the Ducatis. The Italian was almost matching Marquez on pace in the final handful of laps but was betrayed once again by his qualifying position.
The final laps were a tamer affair, Marquez revelling in his 3.5 seconds gap with Rins in a relatively safe second position. On the final lap, all eyes were on the battle for the final podium spot, Dovizioso looking to attack Viñales but never getting a chance at a last corner lunge and settling for fourth.
Danilo Petrucci had an uneventful ride to fifth place, followed by Rossi and Morbidelli. The third best Honda was Takaaki Nakagami in ninth, with wildcard Stefan Bradl completing the top ten – a result Jorge Lorenzo would not have been thrilled with. The Spaniard never really got going and spent his afternoon fending off the KTM of Pol Espargaro for 12th place, also aided by a couple of crashes.
The victor took back the championship lead, although Marquez is just one point ahead of Rins heading into Le Mans. Two more points keep Dovizioso back in third, with Rossi still in contention in fourth.