Fabio Quartararo will start his second-ever Grand Prix of France weekend as a MotoGP rider on pole position after producing a sensational lap time in the final moments of qualifying to deny a similarly outstanding effort from Ducati’s Jack Miller.
The hot favourite coming into qualifying after proving comfortably quicker than his rivals through FP3 and FP4 on a Le Mans circuit that favours the Yamaha M1, Quartararo was still made to work hard for the spoils with each of his new benchmarks being usurped by a different pretender to the throne.
When Miller turned the session on its head by taking almost two tenths off the Petronas SRT rider’s lap, it seemed the Australian had done more than enough to secure his second career MotoGP pole position.
However, Quartararo had just been able to start his final lap before the chequered flag was shown, meaning that almost 1m 31.315secs later – aka. the pole winning time – it was his name rising to the summit of the timesheets, the 21-year old claiming his third pole of the year, his ninth in 27 career MotoGP races and a first pole on home French soil.
It also gives his fledgling title hopes a nice boost too after his closest rival Joan Mir – eight points adrift of Quartararo overall – couldn’t break out of Q1 and will start 14th. A consequence of the Suzuki, with its low tyre degradation set-up, struggling more than usual to generate temperature in cold conditions, his only consolation will be that he has experience of this since this is the fourth time he has started beyond the front three rows in 2020.
Joining Miller on the front row will be one of the riders he is replacing in the Ducati factory next year, Danilo Petrucci, who posted easily his best qualifying performance of 2020 thus far, the Italian’s breakthrough return to form even coming qualifying via Q1.
A day for veterans of the series, Cal Crutchlow was a surprise front-runner too, the LCR Honda rider toasting his first Q2 of the year by very nearly putting it all the way up onto the front row, while Maverick Vinales and Andrea Dovizioso will feel content with their results in the context of the title fight.
Pecco Bagnaia might blame Miguel Oliveira for failing to qualify higher than seventh after a mid-session remonstration prompted by the Portuguese cruising in an awkward spot, but the Italian was also guilty of running off track twice.
Quartararo aside, Yamaha’s usual qualifying advantage appeared to go awry for the others with Franco Morbidelli and Valentino Rosi finding themselves down in tenth and 11th, while Oliveira – following an engine blow and then a crash in FP4 – would have just been happy to get on track, let alone the eventual 12th he achieved.
Though Mir’s failure to make it through into Q2 for the first time this season was the headline from Q1, it was a torrid day all round for Suzuki as Alex Rins also failed to progress in 16th position to emphasise the the GSX-RR’s slender operating window in cooler conditions.
Ahead of Mir, Takaaki Nakagami’s record as the only rider to have finished every race this season inside the top ten will be tested when he gets underway from 13th, while Aleix Espargaro sits between the Suzukis on a weekend that has seen the Aprilia well off the pace since the weather switched from wet to dry.
Brad Binder ended his Q1 session in the gravel trap after his second crash of the weekend at the same Turn 7, in so doing ruining a number of other riders’ laps in the final minute due to yellow flags. This included Alex Marquez, whose qualifying fortunes didn’t improve in 18th, ahead of Bradley Smith, Iker Lecuona, Stefan Bradl and bringing up the rear Tito Rabat.