Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) is the new lap-record holder at the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve as the Frenchman put in a stunner to take his 11th MotoGP™ pole position. It was a dramatic qualifying at the Grande Premio 888 de Portugal with Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) emerging as the closest challenger in second, within a tenth of Quartararo, and Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) locking out the front row as the Championship leader continues his run of fast form – this time despite a crash.
The first headlines came in Q1, however. Reigning MotoGP™ Champion Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and returning, eight-time World Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) both found themselves in the session, and the fireworks didn't quite go off but a fuse was definitely lit. Marquez followed the Suzuki throughout their first runs and the two were split by just a tenth and a half in Marquez' favour, before the number 93 also shadowed the Suzuki rider back into pitlane, side by side. They were 1-2, Marquez-Mir.
On the next runs, a number of riders threatened but it remained the two Champions on top, with Mir improving but remaining just in arrears, this time by only 0.049. Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol), Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) and Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) couldn't quite break the Marc Marquez-Mir stranglehold, and the two sailed through as Alex Marquez, Pol Espargaro and Binder were left with 13th, 14th and 15th on the grid.
And so Q2 began. Home hero Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) was the leader on the road but Aleix Espargaro’s (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) first lap was a quick one – a 1:39.452 put the Spaniard P1 initially, but not for long. The benchmark was set by Quartararo, the best of the weekend so far, as he put in a 1:39.028 on his first flying lap. Meanwhile, after setting two red sectors, Zarco then crashed unhurt at Turn 11... but crucially the Frenchman was able to ride his GP21 back to pitlane.
Meanwhile, Bagnaia went P2 to cut Quartararo’s advantage down to just 0.117s, with the latter having a snap on the entry to Turn 8. That ruined his second flying lap, and then Bagnaia’s lap got cancelled, as did Maverick Viñales’ (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) because of yellow flags waving for Zarco’s crash. Mir then slotted in behind second place Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) to provisionally sit on the front row, but there was plenty of action left to play. After waiting it out, Marc Marquez – who was yet to set a time – then emerged from pitlane alongside eighth place Rins. And once again, alongside meant alongside for the Honda and Suzuki...
Quartararo, however, emerged ready to lay down another marker. El Diablo was 0.137s under his own time through Sector 3 and coming across the line, it was a new all-time lap record for the Frenchman. Oliveira then snuck into P5, Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) went P2, and Luca Marini (Sky VR46 Avintia) – after an impressive performance to go straight through to Q2 – shot up to a magical P4. The cameras panned to Rins, Marc Marquez and Quartararo next and shadowing the Suzuki, Marc Marquez climbed onto the front row. Just behind the Spaniard, Quartararo was lurking although he couldn't improve that time round. That's when Q2 started to make a few headlines of its own.
Oliveira suddenly slid out at the bottom of the hill at Turn 9, although the Portuguese rider was ok, as Zarco bounced back from his own crash to slot into second. Morbidelli knocked Marquez onto the third row as the Italian took fifth, and Bagnaia was on a serious rampage. Three tenths up heading into the final sector, the Italian slammed in a new lap record – and then the lap got cancelled. Yellow flags were to blame, although it remained understandably contentious for the Italian after the fact. That left him in P11, and there was more heartbreak as Viñales instead ran afoul of track limits by the smallest of margins, leaving him down in P12.
And so Quartararo, who said it did feel a little different to his ten previous MotoGP™ poles after the drama and pace of Bagnaia, takes the top honours on Saturday and holds the new lap record. Rins snuck in a stunner to take second though, the Suzuki rider just 0.089s behind the Yamaha but nevertheless taking his equal best MotoGP™ qualifying result. Championship leader Zarco bounced back from his crash into a great position on the outside of the front row, likely remembering fondly the Ducati holeshot heroics in Qatar.
Speaking of which, Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) will spearhead Row 2, and he’s joined by Morbidelli and Marc Marquez as the former slots back into his rightful place nearer the front and... so does the latter. What can the eight-time World Champion do over race distance? Points? Top ten? Top five? Podium...?
Aleix Espargaro qualifies seventh for the second consecutive race in a row, another great job done by the Spaniard on the Aprilia. Marini recovered from a rapid FP4 crash to claim his best MotoGP™ qualifying result in P8 and get a good reward for his much quicker weekend so far, and the rookie lines up ahead of Mir on the third row. Worth remembering, however, that the reigning World Champion has take more than half of his MotoGP™ podiums from outside the first two rows...
In tenth it’s not a repeat Portugal pole position for Oliveira after his crash, but he was perfectly ok and will be raring to go on Sunday afternoon from P10. Bagnaia slots into P11, ahead of Viñales in P12. Both will have a point to prove as the lights go out, and after the stunning starts from Oliveira and Bagnaia we've seen so far in 2021, they'll be aiming to hit quick. Viñales, meanwhile, will likley be more of a pace man based on the form book... but could very much still threaten as Yamaha seem to have made some strides at the Algarve on take two. Viñales' best lap had been quicker than pole...
Finally, there was some bad news for Pramac Racing's Jorge Martin on Saturday morning. Following a huge crash in FP3, the Spaniard was declared unfit and has a fractured foot and finger. We wish him a speedy recovery and hope to see him back on track soon.
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That's it from Saturday, with the grid for the Grande Premio 888 de Portugal promising a stunner. Points to prove, pace to unleash... and lots in the locker. Who will reign Portimão in 2021? Find out at 13:00 local time (GMT +1) as the next 25 points come into play... and Marc Marquez looks to make race distance for the first time since Valencia 2019.