With grip at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya virtually non-existent, qualifying for MotoGP was always going to be interesting.
The morning started with a swap back to the F1 chicane in the final section on safety grounds, which meant Friday’s times were wiped from the record, leaving passage to Q2 down to FP3 alone (something Andrea Dovizioso has expressed an interest in before, as he doesn’t like the “shootouts” that occur towards the end of free practice 1 & 2).
The first MotoGP session of the day saw crashes for Marc Marquez, Alvaro Bautista and Johann Zarco, although it was still Marquez on top at the end of the 45 minutes with his team-mate Dani Pedrosa in second. Unfortunately for Yamaha, the issues they’d seen on Friday were still very much present, leaving both Rossi and Vinales, along with Tech 3’s Zarco and Folger, out of the top 10 and into Q1, the first time all 4 have failed to reach Q2. While Ducati put in a great performance with 6 bikes in the top 10.
Free Practice 4 was a crucial session for setup and tyre work, but especially important for the Yamahas to try and make a breakthrough. Marc Marquez hit the floor again, along with Bradley Smith, Andrea Iannone, Alvaro Bautista and Dani Pedrosa, with Dani showing his skill once again in low grip, high tyre wear and high-temperature conditions to head the time-sheets.
Onto qualifying, all eyes were on the 15 minutes of Q1 to see which of the Yamahas would make it through to fight for the front 4 rows of the grid, while both Sylvain Guintoli and Bradley Smith sat out due to their physical condition. Jonas Folger dominated the session to take the top spot, with Maverick Vinales joining him in Q2 after Valentino Rossi just fell short, finishing third in Q1 after running off track.
Q2 promised excitement as riders continued to battle with the tyres and the track. Marc Marquez crashed, returned to pits, went back out, then crashed again, taking his total for the day to 4. But it was Dani Pedrosa who showed the rest how it should be done, taking his second pole of 2017 ahead of Jorge Lorenzo, who gets his first Ducati front row and Danilo Petrucci who qualifies in the top 3 for the first time in MotoGP.
Marquez heads the second row in 4th despite his time spent in the gravel, joined by Aleix Espargaro who put in a great performance on the Aprilia and Hector Barbera on his satellite Ducati. Championship leader Maverick Vinales was still visibly unhappy and qualified in 9th place behind Andrea Dovizioso in 7th and Jonas Folger (who finished as top Yamaha) in 8th. While Alvaro Bautista, Scott Redding and Andrea Iannone complete the fourth row of the grid for tomorrow’s race.
The change in track configuration went reasonably smoothly, but the track surface continues to cause problems. There is no grip but the surface causes high tyre wear and in the high temperatures it becomes very slippery.
With tomorrow’s weather expected to be roughly the same as today, the MotoGP race will be decided on who manages their tyres the best and judging by the number of crashes, who manages to stay on the longest. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Dani Pedrosa on the top step tomorrow, but he should have some decent opposition, although unless they find something remarkable it’s unlikely to come from the Yamahas.