Francesco Bagnaia Holds Off Fabio Quartararo In Jerez Thriller
It’s the showdown that has built all weekend long: Ducati Lenovo’s Francesco Bagnaia vs Monster Energy Yamaha’s Fabio Quartararo. The pair were in a class of their own at the Red Bull Spanish Grand Prix with victory, despite incredible late pressure, going the way of Bagnaia as he officially announced himself as part of the title race. Quartararo was forced to settle for second but did take an outright lead in the World Championship. Meanwhile, in the fight for third, Aleix Espargaro broke clear in the final laps to end Aprilia’s MotoGP™ concessions after six long years.
ELBOWS OUT FROM THE START
As the lights went out in Jerez, the roars went up as the thousands of fans trackside celebrated their return to the grandstands after three years away. It was the poleman Bagnaia who launched himself into the lead, with Quartararo settling into second behind. Espargaro and Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) were literally elbow-to-elbow off the line, with the Aprilia man diving under the eight-time World Champion into the opening corner only to run wide and allow the Honda man through to fifth. Ducati Lenovo Team’s Jack Miller was third on the opening lap, ahead of LCR Honda Idemitsu’s Takaaki Nakagami.
Marquez was aggressive again on the opening lap as he fired up the inside, and sat up, Nakagami to claim fourth. The Japanese rider, forced wide by Marquez, also saw Espargaro squeeze through. Seconds later Pramac Racing’s Jorge Martin crashed out for the fourth time in six races and, on his 200th Grand Prix appearance, HRC’s Stefan Bradl also hit the deck at the final corner.
Only a handful of laps had been completed but the leading duo were already flexing their muscles, edging further and further clear of Miller. By Lap 5 it was 1.5 seconds and that gap just continued to grow. Meanwhile, the Australian was more concerned about hanging onto the final podium places with both Marquez and Espargaro applying increasing amounts of pressure on the factory Ducati man.
Darryn Binder (WithU RNF Yamaha) crashed out at Turn 2, before a big moment in the World Championship fight took place. After a sluggish start, Alex Rins’ day got worse when the Team Suzuki Ecstar man was forced to straight-line his GSX-RR through the Turn 11 gravel trap after a big moment on the front end. Pramac Racing’s disaster day continued when Johann Zarco crashed out at Turn 5.
Half-race distance had been completed with Bagnaia having eeked out an eight-tenth advantage. The Italian would maintain that gap up until the final three laps of the race. Quartararo sliced his lead in half and was starting to close in on the factory Ducati man. Could Quartararo steal Jerez victory away from Bagnaia late on? The pair were pushing to the absolute limit, now a mind-boggling 11 seconds clear of the rest.
They started the final lap with Bagnaia holding an advantage of just half a second. It would require something special from the World Champion on the final lap. As they came through the fourth and final sector Quartararo was closing and closing, now just a quarter of a second away from the former Moto2™ World Champion. But Bagnaia stood firm, withstanding the almighty pressure, to take a vital victory in Jerez. A first for Bagnaia since the season-closing race in Valencia last year and a second for the Bologna factory in Andalucia in as many years. Quartararo’s third podium visit of the season saw him stretch out his Championship leader from nothing to eight points, however.
PODIUM FIGHT IGNITES
Much like the duel for victory, the scrap over third took its time to come to life but when it did, it was pulsating. There were five laps left when Marquez made an inch-perfect move up the inside of Miller at Turn 5. Espargaro behind knew he had to respond or risked seeing the Respol Honda clear off into the distance. And the Aprilia man had an answer on the same lap as he braked hard and late into the final corner. Through went the Spaniard but it would quickly get even better for him.
Marquez was wide into the final corner and the front-end of his RC213V folded, before he somehow, in true Marc Marquez style, picked it up off of his elbow to continue on. Espargaro and Miller both swooped through to demote the eight-time World Champion to fifth. Espargaro checked out, quickly putting half a second into Miller but Marquez wasn’t done. The factory Honda man risked it all on the final lap to take fourth, diving up the inside of Miller at Turn 8 in spectacular style.
Ahead of them, though, Espargaro was coming across the line to take a pivotal podium for the Noale factory. Not only does the Spaniard sit second in the standings, eight points adrift of Quartararo, but Aprilia officially lost their MotoGP™ concession status after six long, hard years. Behind Marquez and Miller in fourth and fifth was Team Suzuki Ecstar’s Joan, who drifted into late contention but couldn’t find a move on the men in front of them.
Nakagami eventually came across the line in seventh, four seconds clear of Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing) who claimed eighth. The erstwhile Championship leader picked off rookie Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing), who matched his best MotoGP™ result despite that in ninth. The final place inside the top ten went the way of Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Brad Binder.
“I am moved. The first victory last year at Aragon was certainly very important, but today’s was even more beautiful and much more difficult. We come from a tough period in which, for various reasons, we have never been able to show our real potential, but here I knew that we were in the right conditions to do well. We have been working hard since Qatar, and finally, today, we arrived ready for the race. I pushed really hard and lapped consistently throughout the 25 laps. I’m proud of the work that has been done, not only with my team, which I thank but also at home with the Academy and my family!”
MotoGP Top 10
1. Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) – 25 laps
2. Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) + 0.285
3. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) + 10.977
4. Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) + 12.676
5. Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) + 12.957
6. Joan Mir (Team SUZUKI ECSTAR) + 13.934
7. Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU) + 14.929
8. Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) + 18.436
9. Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) + 18.830
10. Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) + 20.056