It was a tricky qualifying session this afternoon at the Grand Prix de France. With rain falling frequently, yet the Le Mans Bugatti Grand Prix race circuit drying fast, it was anybody’s guess which tyre combination would work best in Q2. Fabio Quartararo and Maverick Viñales timed their last-minute dashes for pole on slicks to perfection, securing Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP its first 1-2 start of the 2021 MotoGP season.
Quartararo did one out lap on wets, but soon realised that it would be worth the gamble to swap to his ‘dry bike’. He quickly pulled into the pits and headed back out again with over eleven minutes left on the clock.
With most riders now on slicks and the track drying on every lap, there were red sectors all over the live timing, but the home hero kept his head cool. He waited until his final lap to really push to the limit with the aim of a front-row start. He got what he wanted and more. He set a 1’32.600s, earning him his third consecutive pole position.
Viñales was the first rider to speed out of the garage at the start of the 15-minute shoot-out and settled in on his wet tyres. He posted a 1’42.763s, but it soon became clear he would need to head back to the garage for slicks.
The Spaniard quickly returned on his second bike with a dry set-up, ready to put in his bid for pole. He gradually improved his times over the first three laps to get sufficient heat into the tyres. His seventh lap was scratched due to exceeding track limits, and he didn’t improve his time on his penultimate lap. For his last chance he really put the hammer down, dropping a 1’32.681s. It earned him second place, 0.081s from first.
Today’s qualifying session was full of surprises, and I don’t mean just the weather changing every two minutes! We really didn’t expect to get a 1-2 result in Q2 today, especially when there was only one minute left to go. But Fabio and Maverick delivered a fantastic lap exactly at the right time and when it mattered most. It’s our team’s first 1-2 start of the season, which is very encouraging for tomorrow. But the race results will highly depend on the weather. We know we need to improve further in the wet. If it rains during Warm Up, we will use that time to improve the wet set-up and the feelings of the riders. But since we are competitive in fully dry conditions, that’s what we are hoping for. Then again, you never know here, so we will try to be ready for any track condition.
MONSTER ENERGY YAMAHA MOTOGP RIDER
I think this was the qualifying I was the most nervous for. Not because it’s in France, but I was supposed to go out with a soft front and medium rear wet tyre combination, and I never tried the medium. In mixed conditions we are bad, but I saw it was dry and said, ‘It’s time for slicks.’ And then on the last lap I was like, ‘Okay, now is my time to send it and do my best. I either get front row or I crash.’ There were some wet patches in the last sector. I was sideways everywhere, but we made it. The goal was front row, but pole position is even better.
MONSTER ENERGY YAMAHA MOTOGP RIDER
It went quite well today. We’ve secured a good starting position, and this is important. But I made many mistakes during the lap, and this cost us the pole position. Anyway, I have a good rhythm, which is good for tomorrow, and in FP4 I just kept running with used tyres to see how that would work for us, and it actually went quite well. So, I’m very happy, and let’s see if we can improve to be faster for the race.