Tension hung in the air ahead of the 28-lap Monster Energy Grand Prix de France as riders in the MotoGP™ World Championship sat patiently on the grid. Jorge Lorenzo (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) had pole ahead of championship leader Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) and potential podium challenger Andrea Iannone (Ducati Team). Gusts of wind blew across the track as they departed for the Warm Up lap.
Lorenzo made a perfect start as Marquez wheelied off the line, the Yamaha rider leading through the first chicane with Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) behind him. Marquez was soon up to fourth as he charged past Pol Espargaro (Monster Yamaha Tech 3), Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) attempted to follow him through but found himself swamped by the likes of Aleix Espargaro (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and Bradley Smith (Monster Yamaha Tech 3).
As they crossed the finish line for the first time Lorenzo's lead stood at half a second with Dovizioso and Iannone behind. It was not the start Rossi had wanted, able to make up just a single place from seventh on the grid as the second lap began. Dovizioso, who had seemingly banished his recent bad luck, remained strong in second.
Having started last on the grid, home rider Loris Baz (Avintia Racing) was up to 17th by the fourth lap of the race. Home fans cheered him on with each pass, urging the Frenchman forever forward.
Lap four saw Rossi improve his pace, going half a second quicker than his rival Marc Marquez who was just ahead. The pair weren’t the only ones closing up, Iannone also making significant progress on his teammate. His charge would be halted on lap seven when Iannone fell at Turn 8. Iannone’s fall was followed soon after by Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda), who suffered his fourth race crash of the year. One lap later, fellow satellite Honda rider Tito Rabat (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) came off at Turn 6. Iannone would re-join the race but eventually retired.
Lap 13 saw Rossi slip past on Marc Marquez, making it a three-way battle for second as Lorenzo continued to run away at the head of the race. Just a few corners later Rossi was up into second place and matching Lorenzo’s times.
A thrilling battle for second was brewing until on lap 16 at Turn 7 both Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Marquez crashed at the same time. There was no contact between them, the pair both losing the front in synchronisation. Now Maverick Viñales (Team Suzuki Ecstar) was on course for his first MotoGP™ podium and Lorenzo on the cusp of taking the championship lead.
The falls continued and soon Marc Marquez was up in 13th place, despite missing a large section of his side fairing. Lorenzo, 7.8 seconds clear with five laps to go, was having no such issues as he calmly ran his own race. With gaps of at least three seconds splitting the top three, each eased their pace to guarantee a finish in the clearly difficult conditions.
For the second time in 2016, Jorge Lorenzo crossed the line in first place after dominating the French GP. Over ten seconds would separate him from Rossi as the race came to an end. It was a day of celebration for both Suzuki and Viñales, the Spaniard taking his first podium finish in the premier class. Viñales’ podium is the first for Suzuki since the 2008 Czech GP, making amends for his mistake in Argentina.
Victory sees Lorenzo move to the top of the championship with 90 points, Marquez forced to concede his advantage after the crash. Rossi stays third and is 12 points behind Lorenzo. Marquez, Lorenzo and Rossi now have a mistake each to their name and with only 12 points between them in the championship; the season is only just getting started. The MotoGP™ World Championship now heads to Mugello, Rossi’s home round but one where Lorenzo has been the man to beat in recent years. Once again it looks set to be a thrilling weekend in the Tuscan hills.
Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) was unable to close the gap to Viñales despite his best efforts and settled for fourth. Pol Espargaro was once again the fastest Independent Team rider as he ended Tech 3’s home round in a credible fifth ahead of his brother.
Aleix Espargaro (Team Suzuki Ecstar), Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Yakhnich), Hector Barbera (Avintia Racing), Alvaro Bautista (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) and Stefan Bradl (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) completed the top ten. Of the 21 riders on the grid, 13 finished the race.
Scott Redding (Octo Pramac Yakhnich) retired from the race early on, followed by Yonny Hernandez (Aspar Team MotoGP) who crashed from the race on lap seven.
While running inside the top ten, Jack Miller (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) suffered a fall, the French GP a war of attrition. Turn 7 claimed yet another victim as Bradley Smith crashed out of his team’s home race.
Full race results can be seen here.
The ever-tightening MotoGP™ World Championship can be viewed here.