MotoGP world championship leader Fabio Quartararo finished Friday at the Aragon Grand Prix with a sore hip, but in a competitive second on the timesheets between fellow Yamaha riders Maverick Vinales and Franco Morbidelli.
Quartararo’s hurt his hip in a fast morning fall at the Spanish circuit, one of many to be caught out by the chilly conditions, but returned to set a high afternoon pace on both the medium and soft rear tyre.
“I don’t have [airbag] protection in the hip. So that’s why it’s a little bit red right now! But the bike is going well and my hip is okay, so I can be happy,” Quartararo said at the end of day one.
“After a crash normally you take a bit of time to pick up the pace but straight away I was quite good this afternoon.
“In FP2 we made a longer run of 11 laps and our pace was not so bad. But we will need to try the soft for tomorrow because it looks like it can be a great tyre for the race.
“So we can be happy about today, but for sure we have many things to improve for tomorrow. I saw that from my riding style I need to improve in some parts of the track, but also the bike looks like it can improve.
“This is a track that I always struggle a little bit but in this moment fighting for the championship, even if it’s a tough track we need to make our maximum.”
Yamaha riders may have finished a perfect 1-2-3 in both Friday sessions, but the absence of Valentino Rossi due to yesterday’s Covid diagnosis was a further warning to be extra vigilant.
“Honestly I am much more stressed [about Covid] at home than at the races,” Quartararo said. “[Between races] I’m not moving from my home. I train in the morning, train in the afternoon, go for a trials ride in the mountains and that’s it.
“And even like that I’m stressed, because I see nobody, but we know that we can catch it everywhere. It’s difficult and I think that only after Portimao [finale] the stress will be less. Not even for the championship, but it’s since July that I’ve not been feeling comfortable with this situation and I think the pressure will be realised in Portimao.”
Vinales, fourth in the standings, takes similar precautions: “For sure we have to pay maximum attention, at home or at the track. We have to take the less risk possible and visit the least people we can, especially when you go home. Covid makes you miss two races, this is a disaster in terms of the championship.”
Quartararo starts the final five rounds with a ten-point title lead over Suzuki’s Joan Mir, who was best-of-the-rest behind the Yamahas in fourth on Friday.
“My relationship with him is good. I’m not a friend, but let’s say there is a lot of respect with each other and I think that is the most important,” Quartararo said of the Spanish star.
“Everything we did and we are doing on track is always really clean. For sure he is fast, consistent and a good opponent for the championship.”
While the Yamahas and Mir enjoyed a strong opening day, the Ducatis were no higher than eleventh, with championship contender Andrea Dovizioso (-18 points) down in 13th place.
It’s not a situation Quartararo expects will continue.
“We know the Ducati is always struggling with the wind, but they will come back,” he said. “It looks like conditions will be a bit hotter tomorrow and Sunday, with less wind.
“We know they have a big potential here. Last year they made second and third behind Marc. So we will see and for my side I hope that they will not come back!”
And if one of the powerful Ducatis does get in front of Quartararo at the start, he’ll need to get ‘really aggressive’.
“There are not many overtaking points! In general, if we want to make an overtake at this track we need to do it really aggressively,” he said. “So I think if we have a Ducati in front we will need to manage to get a really aggressive move and if there is a Ducati or fast bike in front that would be my plan.”
Ducati’s Aragon hopes blowing in the wind
Pramac’s Jack Miller, who was 14th fastest, felt that the strong Friday wind was a bigger problem than the cool temperatures for the Ducati.
“We’re struggling in the wind, like hell,” said the Australian. “All the Ducatis seem to be struggling.
“Sector 1, Sector 2, very difficult. So hopefully the wind will come down tomorrow and the next day, we’ll cross our fingers for that
“This morning it was cold and windy. Turn 2 was a complete nightmare, because it’s blowing you out and it’s really difficult to get the bike start to turn, you almost have to wait until you can use the rear.
“Very similar at Turn 3. Then at Turn 4 the big problem I’m having is with the contact on the front so as you come to the top of the hill the wind is sort of blowing you out, so you almost have to chop the gas just to get the [weight] transfer to get the bike to take the right line and then open the gas again once you are on the correct line.
“So it’s like doing that sort of two-part thing. And very similar at Turn 7-8, halfway through the braking zone you get smashed with this sidewind so you almost have to prepare for it and roll out a little bit earlier to have a little bit more contact for when the winds about to hit.”
Miller confirmed the wings on the Ducati don’t help, but the bigger problem is that the gusts magnify the Desmosedici’s well know turning issues.
“For sure the big front fairing doesn’t help. But certainly in the wind the biggest thing you need is a bike that turns and we struggle still with the issue of turning on a perfect day, so the problem is amplified when you are trying to do it into the wind,” he explained.
Nonetheless, “I’ve got a little bit more up my sleeve and the wind should be better tomorrow morning. And we have enough tyres for a couple of goes at it tomorrow in FP3.
“If you want to be in the podium fight, you need to qualify in the front two rows. I think we have a good chance. On paper today it didn’t look ideal, the best Ducati in 11th, but if I didn’t catch Smith on my best lap I’d have been P8.
“Now it’s all up to tomorrow morning. Try to manage as best we can.”
Already due to start half-an-hour later than originally planned due to the cold temperatures, Miller hopes that FP3 will be delayed even further if necessary.
“You saw a lot of crashes this morning from guys that went out early, they were nothing crashes but the unfortunate point is that here at Aragon it’s not like Le Mans where you crash at low speed, here every corner you are going to crash on a cold tyre is high speed.
“So to try and minimise the risk as much as possible, I think it makes sense to delay the session a bit.”