Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) returned to the top step for the first time since the Andalucia GP with a perfect outing at the Gran Premi Monster Energy de Catalunya. The Frenchman reclaimed the World Championship lead, with the Team Suzuki Ecstar duo Joan Mir and Alex Rins rounding off the podium. Meanwhile, Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati) crashed out on the opening lap, and ended up not finishing.
At the start of the race, Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) was lightning off the line, grabbing the holeshot with ease as Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) propelled himself into P2 from P4, with Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha) and Quartararo dropping places before huge, Championship defining drama unfolded at Corner 2. Danilo Petrucci (Ducati) almost went down just in front of Johann Zarco (Esponsorama Racing) as the riders piled through Corners 1 and 2, Petux clipping Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing). Reacting, Zarco then tucked the front of his Ducati after grabbing too much front brake but there was no saving it and on the outside of the Frenchman, Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati) was taken out. The Championship leader and Zarco were down and out of the Catalan GP at Corner 2 – both ok, though a disastrous turn of events for Dovizioso.
Back up front, Rossi had got the better of Quartararo and was up the inside of Miller at Corner 5. Miller was then wide at Corner 10 – narrowly missing Rossi – though Quartararo made his way through for a Yamaha 1-2-3 at the end of the opening lap. Miller was P4 and Mir was holding off teammate Rins for P5 as both Suzukis had made good starts. Maverick Vinales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) got an awful start and was down in P15 on the first lap from P5 on the grid.
Further up the road, the top five then started pulling clear of the chasing pack with Pol Espargaro getting the better of Rins for P6. The gap to Mir was one second on Lap 3, rising to two seconds a couple of laps later, with the top five all equally split apart on the road. Quartararo had Rossi firmly in his sights and the 21-year-old dragged The Doctor down the straight and made a pass stick on the 41-year-old at Turn 1 – a Petronas 1-2 at the front now with Miller sticking with the three Yamahas, Mir dropping back slightly but it was hovering at around one second.
On Lap 8, Quartararo was hounding teammate and race leader Morbidelli, before snatching the baton to lead into Corner 1 at the beginning of Lap 9, setting a 1:40.142 minutes fast lap, but the Morbidelli and Rossi were still hot on his tail, while Miller was just 0.7 seconds off the podium.
With 14 laps to go, the riders were starting to get into tyre derogation territory. Everyone was on the soft rear Michelin tyres, with 0.8 seconds covering the leading three – Miller now 1.2 seconds off Rossi in P4. After showing awesome race pace in FP4, Pol Espargaro crashed at Turn 1 with 12 laps to go in his backyard; he was battling Petrucci for P7 at that time, with Rins just a little bit further up the road from the lower ends of the top 10 gaggle.
Morbidelli was then nearly down at Corner 1 a lap later. The Italian was out of shape into the braking zone and ran wide, then nearly tucked the front on the dirty asphalt on the outside. Rossi was through on his protege with Morbidelli slipping to 1.3 seconds behind Rossi and race leader Quartararo, with Miller now struggling to keep Mir behind as the riders headed into the last 10 laps. 0.7 seconds was Quartararo’s gap to the number 46, and that then went up to 0.9 seconds on the 15th lap of 24 – the tension was palpable in Barcelona.
On Lap 16, more drama at Corner 2, as Rossi, chasing a dream victory and 200th premier class podium, slid out of contention into the left-hander. This meant he was out of his 350th MotoGP race, leaving Quartararo with a three-second lead over teammate Morbidelli. After a Corner 10 mistake from Miller, Mir was up to third, though the late-race pace for the Suzuki man was coming to the fore again and with seven laps to go, was just half a second off Morbidelli.
Corner 2 then caught out another title contender – Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech3), though he came out almost completely uninjured. With five laps to go, Rins was now all over the tailpipes of Miller in P4 and P5, with Mir unable to get within striking distance of Morbidelli. Barring a disaster, Quartararo was safe in P1 – his lead up to 3.3 seconds. Rins then pounced on Miller at Corner 10 and was just 0.8 seconds behind his teammate as the podium battle in Barcelona was hitting boiling point, with the tyres now becoming a real factor.
Quartararo’s lead shaved to 2.8 seconds with four laps left and at the end of Lap 21, the gap was 2.5 seconds. Mir was seven-tenths a second quicker than the race leader, and right next to Morbidelli. Both Quartararo and Mir were into the 1:42s with three to go, Mir still in the 1:41s. Onto the penultimate lap, Mir was through and that wasn’t the last of Morbidelli’s worries – Rins was hunting a first podium of 2020. The Suzukis were swarming and Mir was immediately off into the distance, and Rins was then up the inside at Corner 10 to demote the polesitter to P4.
As the last lap came in, Quartararo’s lead was 1.8 seconds while Mir was flying and Rins was safely by Morbidelli, with Miller and Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) getting close at Corner 1 as the GP20 duo had Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) for company in the scrap for P5. Halfway round the last lap, Mir was now just 1.4 seconds behind but it was too late. Another lap and the number 36 may have bagged the win but Quartararo rounded the final lap to win for the first time since Jerez.
Below are the final results of race eight of the 2020 MotoGP season:
El Diablo’s win at Catalonia sees him return to his winning ways at the perfect time to silence some critics and, more importantly, regain his status as the championship leader once again. Additionally, his cumulative tally of 108 puts him 8 points ahead of Suzuki Ecstar’s Joan Mir, and a full 18 points ahead of Monster Energy Yamaha’s Maverick Vinales!