The formidable Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) showed no signs of letting up his Gran Premio Michelin de Aragon stranglehold after taking pole position on Saturday afternoon. Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) claimed P2, 0.327 off Marquez, with Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) closing out the front row.
The previously forecasted rain was nowhere to be seen as the premier class riders glistened in the Spanish sun for qualifying, and it was Q1 graduate Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) who set the initial benchmark time of a 1:48.495. It wouldn’t take long for that to be beaten though as Pramac Racing’s Jack Miller shaved 0.3 off Morbidelli’s time. Marquez’ first lap would be 0.1 shy of the Australian’s effort, while Viñales went provisional pole by 0.034.
However, Marquez’ second lap was a blinder. 0.6 under Viñales’ lap after the third split, the Repsol Honda rider was about to go P1. Quartararo, just a few meters up the road from Marquez, took over at the top but Marquez immediately demoted the Frenchman down to P2 with a 1:47.050. Meanwhile, Aprilia Racing Team Gresini’s Aleix Espargaro had set a lap time good enough for P5 at the end of the first runs, with the Spaniard being joined by teammate Andrea Iannone in Q2 as Aprilia had two of their bikes in the second part of qualifying for the first time.
The riders emerged for their second runs and nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) managed to launch himself to P5 from P10, a solid lap from ‘The Doctor’. Viñales then stuck his YZR-M1 into second place, but he remained 0.4 adrift of Marquez. The latter was right behind Viñales and managed to slightly improve his time down to a 1:47.009 as the goalposts were moved further away. The top duo’s work was done as the clocked ticked down to under a minute, but a rookie sensation wasn’t.
Quartararo started his final flying lap and was over a tenth in the red after the first split. Were we about to witness one of the upsets of the season? After the second split, the 20-year-old’s advantage was hovering around a tenth and at the third, there was nothing to choose between Quartararo and Marquez. A long straight and a fast sweeping left-hander was to come - a sector that hasn’t suited the Yamaha this weekend – and as Quartararo took the chequered flag, three tenths went astray as Aragon GP pole position went to Marquez. Nonetheless, Quartararo’s time was enough to put him P2 ahead of Yamaha counterpart Viñales. Is it Marquez vs Yamaha once more on Sunday?
Miller did sit on a provisional front row before Quartararo’s last lap, the Aussie by far the leading Ducati rider on Saturday – as he was on Friday – at MotorLand Aragon. Espargaro’s 1:47.733 initially placed him on the front row, before Miller and Quartararo manoeuvred the Spaniard down to P5. A middle of the front row start is his and Aprilia’s best Q2 result of the season though, with Rossi’s second-run lap good enough to see him place sixth ahead of Sunday’s race.
Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) spearheads Row 3 in Q2, the British rider leading Q1 pacesetter Morbidelli and Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar), with Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) completing the top 10. Iannone lines up P11 on his RS-GP machine, while there was terrible luck for Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Pol Espargaro. The Spaniard crashed in FP4 and, subsequently, suffered a fractured left wrist – the number 44 will miss the rest of his home Grand Prix.
Unable to progress through Q1, Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) has a tough job on his hands if he’s to challenge for a podium on Sunday. A P13 will turn into a P12 because of Espargaro’s absence, what can the Suzuki man do from outside the top 10?
Marquez has marked his territory in northern Spain this weekend by claiming pole number nine of the season, but the Yamahas of Quartararo and Viñales are hot on his tail. Can the duo – or maybe a fast starting Miller – get the better of Marquez in the early stages? We’ll find out at 13:00 local time (GMT+2) on Sunday.