Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) has taken his maiden MotoGP™ pole position in serious style at the Barwa Grand Prix of Qatar, the Italian slamming in a 1:52.772 – the fastest-ever two-wheel lap of Losail International Circuit – to take the honour. Bagnaia beats second place Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) by 0.266s, with Quartararo's fellow Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP rider Maverick Viñales. Fourth? Top Independent Team rider Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT) as the Doctor made it a Yamaha armada just behind Bagnaia... in more ways than one.
Before the final battle though, there was Q1 to contend with. Reigning World Champion Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) found himself having to fight for his place in the pole position shootout at the season opener and it wasn’t a walk in the park as the number 36 faced some stiff competition from two rookies: Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing) and Enea Bastianini (Esponsorama Racing). Both took turns leading the session, with Mir returning to P1 by just 0.005s with his best lap of the weekend.
Martin then crashed unhurt on his last lap and was out of contention, and Bastianini was unable to improve. Out of nowhere, Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) was then the man setting the timing screens alight though and the Japanese rider snatched P1 on his final flyer to demote Bastianini out of Q2 promotion. The Beast's 0.005s deficit to Mir proved to be the difference. And so Mir edged through to Q2 by the skin of his teeth, and later received a fine and had his first but not fastest lap deleted for leaving pitlane early.
Nakagami and Mir then joined the fastest 10 riders from Free Practice for Saturday’s main course: MotoGP™ Qualifying 2. And in said session, it took Bagnaia just one lap to break the all-time lap record, a 1:53.273 coming in from the Italian to set us up for a phenomenal first pole shootout of 2021. Still, despite the P1 time being an all-time lap record, the timing screens were lit up with red sector times.
Bagnaia didn’t improve on his next lap, but teammate Jack Miller did and the Aussie took over at the top. Next was Quartararo and the Frenchman was an astonishing four tenths under at Sector 3, losing a little in the final sector but still talking over at the top, homing in on the 52s with a 1:53.038 – another all-time lap record. After the first couple of flying laps, it was a Yamaha and Ducati fest at the top, with Aleix Espargaro placing his Aprilia Racing Team Gresini machine next up in P6 ahead of Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing). Ahead of those two sat Quartararo, Miller, Viñales, Bagnaia and Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) as the grid rumbled back into pitlane and prepared for a final push.
This was it. Viñales was the leader on the road and the first to show us what he had left in his locker, the Spaniard making it a factory Yamaha 1-2. Attention then turned back to Bagnaia though, and he had Valentino Rossi in tow to boot. Pecco unleashed a mind-blowing lap to return to P1 by 0.266s, impervious and seemingly unbeatable, and Rossi’s effort put him P3 for the time being as The Doctor demoted former teammate Viñales off the front row. Top Gun then returned the favour though, taking third back and pushing Rossi down to fourth.
The front row would go unchallenged for the remaining seconds. Bagnaia said on Friday, “we will beat the record in Q2”, and he stuck to his word as the Italian to claimed his first premier class pole position in style with the fastest-ever two-wheel lap of Losail International Circuit. Quartararo and Viñales lock out the front row as The Doctor joins two of his three Yamaha counterparts inside the top four; a 1:53.114 by far the fastest Rossi has lapped Losail.
Joining the veteran Italian on the second row are Miller and Zarco. The two Bologna bullets will have been hoping for more in Q2 but the second row is a solid place from which to unleash Ducati's holeshot device. Zarco is also the new MotoGP™ top speed record holder at 362.4km/h after FP4, and his last flying lap in Q2 was his best to knock Morbidelli onto the third row.
2020 runner up Morbidelli spearheads Row 3 and he's joined by Aleix Espargaro in eighth place, an impressive feat given the top eight were all under Marc Marquez’s old lap record. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) is the final member on Row 3 in P9, with Mir being forced to settle for P10 – 0.910s back from pole position. Work to do on a Sunday for both Suzukis again, but if there’s one thing we learned in 2020, it's to never discount the GSX-RR duo in race trim. Nakagami is the leading Honda ahead of the opening race of 2021 just behind them, he and Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) will fire off the line in P11 and P12. For full results, click here.
We were expecting fireworks, but we really did get some: a new all-time lap record and top speed record within an hour. It’s safe to say MotoGP™ is off to an astonishing start in the desert, as attentions now turn to race day. Bagnaia has done the hard work up until now, but can he help Ducati keep up their formidable Qatar record under the lights in 24 hours time? There’s a whole host of riders lining up behind him who are more than capable of winning the Qatar GP, and it’s going to be simply unmissable.
Make sure to tune in for the first MotoGP™ race of 2021 at 20:00 local time (GMT+3) in Qatar!