A full house of MotoGP™ manufacturers, a pitlane start for Viñales and Independent Team riders locking out the top four made for an intriguing Day 1.
Fastest in the morning and fastest in the afternoon: Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) is the master of Day 1 at the Gran Premio de Europa. A wet morning followed by a drying Circuit Ricardo Tormo saw the Australian set a best time of a 1:32.528 to take to the top, 0.092 ahead of second fastest Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini). Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) was two tenths off Miller in FP2 to take third, fastest of the top six in the title fight. Friday also saw all six manufacturers represented in the top six, and the top four all hailed from Independent Teams.
Some drama hit for title challenger Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) though. The Spaniard will have to start the race from pitlane on Sunday, five seconds after the green light at pit exit, for an engine allocation infringement.
Miller was the fastest man in a rain-soaked start to the GP, heading Morbidelli by half a second by the end of FP1. Stefan Bradl (Repsol Honda Team) was third quickest, ahead of Johann Zarco (Esponsorama Racing) and Alex Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), who completed the top five despite a crash.
Of the other top six title challengers, Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) ended FP1 in P9 just ahead of Viñales in P10. Team Suzuki Ecstar’s Alex Rins was in P13, whereas Championship leader and his teammate Joan Mir. The man second in the standings, Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT), was last on the timesheets after a tougher morning.
Throughout the session, many eyes were on Garrett Gerloff (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) as the American headed out on track for the first time subbing for Valentino Rossi on Day 1. The performance was exemplary, the WorldSBK podium finisher ending the session in P16 – right ahead of Championship leader Mir and only a second and a half off the top.
Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) crashed unhurt at Turn 2.
With the rain halting for the time being in Valencia, a few of the riders headed straight out on slicks. A dry line had appeared by the end of the Moto3™ session but there were still plenty of ominous-looking clouds hovering over the Circuit Ricardo Tormo, despite track temperatures holding at a steady 20 degrees Celsius.
On his first flying lap, Championship leader Mir set the fastest lap of the weekend – a 1:41.581, four tenths faster than Miller’s FP1 time in the wet. But the number 36 then had a moment on his second flying lap and that proved good warning that the track was still very treacherous, and the stakes high. The riders were pushing though and the red sector times were everywhere, vital track time on slick tyres ahead of what could be a wet FP3 – so crucial for an automatic place in Q2.
Despite the slight scare though, Mir was still setting the pace early doors – before Miller set a 1:37.029 to go top. From there the Championship leader was bumped down and further down to find himself in P16 with 28 minutes to go, such were the improving conditions. Meanwhile Bagnaia was feeling no ill effects from his Turn 2 crash this morning to slot into P2 midway through FP2, making it a Pramac Racing 1-2, before Gerloff stole a little more limelight.
The American enjoyed an incredible FP1 and it only continued in the afternoon. In the mixed conditions, he shot up to P5 with just under 20 minutes to go – continuing the impressive display at a track he’s never raced before. With the news that Rossi will be able to compete in the rest of the weekend confirmed on Friday, Gerloff most certainly made the most of the two sessions he was on the bike.
Meanwhile, Alex Rins had taken over at the top from Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech3) and Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) as the rain held off. Mir then shot up to P3 as the riders headed out on soft tyres in a pretty important final 12 minutes, with rain potentially disrupting FP3 on Saturday morning. The times were being made to count and Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) took over in P1 with a 1:33.229 as Miller moved back into P2, but then Pol Espargaro upped the ante even further with a 1:32.952. That was the benchmark with eight minutes to go.
Morbidelli and Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) then took turns as nearest challenger, and drama hit for Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team) as he crashed at the final corner – completing the lap at a brisk jog, back into pitlane on foot. Unfortunately, the effort to get back was in vain as his second bike wasn’t ready to head out for the final couple of minutes.
In those final couple of minutes, rather crucially, Championship leader Mir was P12. His teammate Rins popped up into P8, before Mir then went P6 just before the chequered flag came out to get back into that all-important top ten. Quartararo was still lingering in P17, but that changed on his final lap as the Frenchman shot up to P6 – and Morbidelli took over at the top. It wasn’t over yet, however, as Miller then produced a late time attack masterpiece to claim P1 for the second time on Friday. Finally, Aleix Espargaro demoted Morbidelli and slotted his Aprilia into second – which also dropped Mir down to 11th. For the moment…
Behind the top three, Nakagami holds P4 overall as the Japanese rider finishes less than a tenth ahead of Pol Espargaro, with Rins’ P6 that final glorious piece to make it six manufacturers inside the top six on the combined timesheets. Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) landed a last lap good enough to put the South African P7 too, the rookie finishing just ahead of Dovizioso and Quartararo. The two title contenders are joined by Championship leader Mir in the top 10 after all, however, with a lap cancelled for Crutchlow due to a yellow flag infringement and that dropping the British rider to P12. Viñales splits Mir and the Brit, P11 overall, but the number 12 knows he has to start from pitlane.
Gerloff eventually finished P19 at the end of his only day’s work this weekend, but the American was just 1.5 seconds off Miller to add quite an accomplishment to his CV. Valentino Rossi returns to his YZR-M1 for Saturday and Sunday in Valencia, having now returned the required two negative test results for Covid-19.
That’s it from Friday! Will the weather change again? Is Q2 set? How will Rossi go as he returns? Tune in for FP3 at 10:55 local time (GMT+2), before qualifying will then decide the grid from 14:50!
MotoGP™: the five fastest on Friday
1 Jack Miller* – Pramac Racing – Ducati – 1:32.528
2 Aleix Espargaro* – Aprilia Racing Team Gresini – Aprilia – +0.092
3 Franco Morbidelli* – Petronas Yamaha SRT – Yamaha – +0.276
4 Takaaki Nakagami* – LCR Honda Idemitsu – Honda – +0.338
5 Pol Espargaro – Red Bull KTM Factory Racing – KTM – +0.424
*Independent Team rider
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