Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) has taken the first MotoGP™ pole position of the 2019 season at the VisitQatar Grand Prix, a 1:53.546 enough to give him a little breathing space ahead of Andrea Dovizioso (Mission Winnow Ducati) and Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), who join him on the front row of the grid. Viñales was two tenths clear, but the gap between Dovizioso and Marquez was an infinitesimal and mouth-watering 0.001. Three previous winners and three different manufacturers on the front row, the first qualifying session of the season sets a stunning scene for Sunday.
Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) impressed early as the rookie initially shot to the top of the times, only to be beaten almost immediately by Q1 graduate Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu). That’s when Viñales struck, storming to the summit with a lap that was 0.741 quicker than anyone else. Quartararo and Nakagami exchanged second fastest laps to leave the Japanese rider 0.395 off as the field headed in for a change of tyres, but it was soon about to change.
Viñales led the troops back out for their second runs and the goalposts were moved once more. Three more tenths were shaved off his best time, with Miller then slotting into P2 and just 0.2 off. The Australian crashed at Turn 2 soon after though, ending his hopes of pole and leaving his time under threat. Dovizioso needed no second invitation, making a move into second place soon after. The Italian looked set to challenge Viñales again as he went over a tenth under after the first split, but the lap was gone by the second sector; his qualifying effort over.
Attention then turned to Marquez, who was on the tail of Danilo Petrucci (Mission Winnow Ducati Team) as neither sat on the provisional front row with little time left. Tactics on point, the reigning World Champion was able to snatch P3 from Miller. Encouraged by the front row at a difficult track, the number 93 is ready to fight it out on Sunday.
Miller therefore heads up the second row as top Independent, but it was a pretty close challenge from Quartararo by the end of the session. The French rookie retained his stunning pace so far and lines up fifth, just a tenth and a half off the Aussie. Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) completes an all-Independent second row, with plenty of honour – and points – up for grabs for each.
Petrucci starts seventh and, after outpacing teammate Dovizioso for much of testing, will be gunning to move forward on race day and battle for his first victory. Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) is P8, with Nakagami eventually knocked down to ninth. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) completes the top ten and was a crasher on Saturday – another who’ll be looking for much more once the lights go out. Rookie teammate Joan Mir is right behind him.
Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) is P12, ahead of rookie Francesco Bagnaia (Alma Pramac Racing). Then come two big surprises: Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) in P14 after a tough day and Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda Team) in P15. Lorenzo suffered two crashes, but is fit to race.
Can Rossi and Lorenzo fight through the pack? Will the front row starters become the battle for the win? Can the likes of Petrucci and Rins push forward? And which of the rookies will win the battle for top honours once we’re racing?
Find out from 20:00 (GMT +3) on Sunday for the first Grand Prix of the season.
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