Bagnaia keeps his cool in Q1, Martin loses out on the front row… and Viñales steals the Q2 show for a first pole position with Aprilia.
The grid is decided as we prepare to crown the 2023 MotoGP™ World Champion at the Gran Premio Motul de la Comunitat Valenciana, and it sets the stage for quite a showdown – or two. Despite a trip through Q1, Championship leader Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) kept cool grab the upper hand on the grid, and he’ll line up second with a clean line of sight down to Turn 1.
After some serious speed but a dash of drama, rolling out of his final attempt after a second moment of Q2, Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing) will line up in P6 on the outside of the second row.
Between the two, Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing) and Red Bull KTM Factory Racing duo Jack Miller and Brad Binder head into the race with likely very different targets… and ahead of them all, Friday’s fastest Maverick Viñales (Aprilia Racing) took a stunning first pole position since the 2021 Dutch TT.
Here’s how the final qualifying of the year unfolded!
After the first runs, Alex Marquez (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) led the way from Bagnaia, but when the field headed back out for a final crack at it, the #1 was setting red sectors to take over on top with just over four minutes remaining, beating the previous benchmark by three tenths.
Enea Bastianini (Ducati Lenovo Team), meanwhile, was sat behind Bagnaia. But the number 23 wasn’t seriously threatening the top on first time of asking. Were there team instructions? Would there be should the ‘Beast’ take over in P1? Red sectors with two minutes to go made that question relevant, but the lap went away from him just enough for Bastianini to cross the line and take fourth.
And then Bagnaia pitted. With just over a minute still left on the clock, it was a confident move. Would it pay off? Alex Marquez didn’t seem to have anything left in the locker to improve, Augusto Fernandez (GASGAS Factory Racing Tech3) slotted into third… and it all came down to Bastianini. But a red first sector went grey in the second on the timing screens, and Bagnaia headed through on top, joined in Q2 by Alex Marquez.
In Q2, Bagnaia’s first lap put him sixth over the line and then 11th by the time the field pitted. And when they did, it was Binder on provisional pole with Martin missing out by hundredths. But then the reigning Champion headed back out… and took over on top.
The next one was a fast one too, and Bagnaia shaved a tenth and a half off his own best. Next it was Martin’s turn to light up the timing screens, however, and with some company from Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team). There was an absolute heart in mouth moment not long after too: Martin headed wide and the open door was most definitely a tempting one, with Marquez setting red sectors behind the number 89. The two came very, very close to contact but there was none made as Marquez slotted back in behind the Ducati, and both finished the lap – with Marquez improving his time enough, still, to take P8.
Meanwhile, Viñales was on the move. Amongst the drama of the title contenders’ quite contrasting Saturday mornings, the Aprilia Racing rider pulled a stunner out of the hat. He was fastest on Friday and did it again to take a first pole with Aprilia and first since Assen in 2021, beating Bagnaia to it by 0.092.
Zarco slotted into third, Miller was able to leapfrog that former fastest effort from teammate Binder, and Martin now completes the second row after his one final shot at the top ended with a wobble.
Viñales heads Bagnaia as the reigning Champion stayed overwhelmingly cool despite the pressure, with Martin’s teammate Zarco an interesting presence alongside on the front row.
Miller and Binder, holeshot kings earlier in the season, are also quite a threat in fourth and fifth – adding a bit of an extra hurdle for Martin. For his part, the number 89 will want to make sure he has two very different starts to the one he suffered under the floodlights on Sunday at Lusail.
Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46) lines up in P7 ahead of Q1 graduate Alex Marquez, with Marc Marquez bumped down to P9 by the end of play – crashing out of his final effort at Turn 2, rider ok.
The stage is set for a first match point for Bagnaia, and after on Friday it seemed it was advantage Martin – on track, at least – it looks a little different heading into the Tissot Sprint. Can Martin hit back once the lights go out? He’ll need to, as Bagnaia needs to gain just four points on him to take the crown, with the #1 21 ahead on the way in. The magic number for Bagnaia to wrap it up is a gap of 25 or more…