Going into Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix, there’s one man who looks head and shoulders above his rivals – championship leader and polesitter Fabio Quartararo. He set a blistering race pace in practice before taking the top spot in qualifying yesterday and the Yamaha rider won both races at Jerez in 2020 and he’s on track to do the same thing again this year.
Not just faster than many of his rivals but head and shoulders above them, if he can replicate his FP4 pace when the lights go out this afternoon then he should be untouchable. He lapped a second quicker than the likes of Franco Morbidelli and team-mate Maverick Viñales, who are likely to be his biggest rivals – if he can lead off the line then the race looks to be there for the taking.
“We have the pace to fight for the podium and for the victory,” he said afterwards. “The drop of the tyre is good for us and the race is very good, so we’ll have time to manage it.”
That’s worrying news for his rivals, given what we saw last year from the Frenchman at the Spanish track. Able to lead from the front and manage the whole race on both occasions, it’s going to take something special today to stop that charge.
But what would another Quartararo win mean for the championship race?
Well, right now, he enjoys a healthy 15-point lead over Ducati rider Pecco Bagnaia – and should be able to extend that further at Jerez as the Ducati rider continues to not quite find his Qatar pace again at the tighter Jerez circuit despite having a rapid one-lap pace.
That’s perhaps got an even bigger impact on Bagnaia’s teammate, though. It’s Jack Miller who lines up on the front row alongside Quartararo and Morbidelli, and it’s him who has the most pressure on his shoulders after an abysmal start to the season. Back in 12th place in the championship and with only 14 points to Quartararo’s 61, he needs to start turning around his 2021 season.
Within the Yamaha camp, it’s Vinales who has the best chance of closing down the gap to Quartararo today – but with his qualifying performance and his usual terrible starts likely to conspire against him, it might well be another damage limitation race for him before he gets his season properly on track in the coming weeks.
If Morbidelli, meanwhile, has any chance of repeating his 2020 feat of fighting for the championship, his mission is a simple one – score points. Suffering as much as Miller in the first three races, he needs to close the gap down not just to Quartararo but to the front-runners, even if that means just coming home behind his former team-mate.
And what about the world champions Suzuki? Well, they’ve had the tough start to the season that they half expected, given that both Qatar’s Losail and Portugal’s Portimao circuits aren’t ones that favour the GSX-RR’s all-round neutral characteristics.
That means that its title charge needs to start in Jerez, and both Joan Mir and Alex Rins know that. The duo has done their usual thing of concentrating on race pace not qualifying performance and are going to need a feisty few opening laps – but if Suzuki can break Quartararo’s stranglehold at Jerez, it would make a big statement of things to come…