Another MotoGP round, another unknown Sunday of action ahead of us.
Despite two days of practice and qualifying at Portimao, we’re going into today’s Portuguese Grand Prix really none the wiser about who’s going to emerge on top.
But with a look at race pace and a few hints from last time out, it might be possible to make something of a stab at working it all out.
The usual names will be in the mix when the lights go out – and there’s every possibility that we could see something similar to the last race in Qatar.
But with more than a handful of ‘wildcards’ who could easily insert themselves into the action, it’s not as easy as saying we’re going to get a repeat performance.
On paper after looking at consistency throughout practice – and especially in the all-important FP4 session – the clear favourite to win tomorrow’s race is poleman Fabio Quartararo.
The Yamaha rider was not just the fastest man in FP4, he was head and shoulders clear of the rest.
In a session where the second-best laptime was a 1m40.056s set by Miguel Oliveira, Quartararo managed to set eight laps in the 1m39s bracket – drawing more than one Jorge Lorenzo comparison with his metronomic consistency on the Yamaha M1.
Quartararo also has the single most important advantage that a Yamaha rider can ever hope for: clear track in front of him.
With Quartararo inheriting pole position when Pecco Bagnaia’s record-shattering lap was stripped from him for ignoring a yellow flag, there’s one less pesky Ducati to get in Quartararo’s way as he makes a break for the first corner.
The main fly in his ointment is that the only man who has a consistent pace similar to him is both starting next to him and is on a Ducati.
Johann Zarco has been rapid across all sessions, and with the Pramac Ducatis showing off the potential of their holeshot devices at Losail last time out, it’s a pretty good bet that Quartararo’s fellow Frenchman will lead into Turn 1.
But, as he also showed last time out in Qatar, Zarco doesn’t quite have the skill of Ducati tyre management nailed yet. He was able to remain strong until the closing laps in Qatar but not quite strong enough to resist Quartararo there.
The most likely scenario right now seems to be a similar performance at Portimao, with the Yamaha man biding his time until the final stages of the race before mugging the more aggressive Ducati close to the line as Zarco’s tyres fade.
That’s assuming a relatively clean fight between the pair of them, though – and there are plenty of riderswho look more than happy to get in their way.
Chief among them is the Suzuki duo of front row qualifier Alex Rins and world champion Joan Mir.
Rins may have been third in the 2020 world championship, but he only took two front row starts all last season. He should be at least able to match the Yamahas off the line and get stuck in at the beginning.
Strong on used tyres thanks to the nature of the GSX-RR, Rins needs to keep his cool early on to capitalise when the time is right. That’s not something that always comes naturally to Rins, but he’s made an improvement on that front so far in 2021 that he needs to maintain.
His team-mate has a harder job coming from ninth – but if we know one thing about Mir, it’s that he’s exceptional in the opening laps.
If he can carve his way through the pack in time, then there’s a solid prize there for the taking. That would be a welcome boost to him after both a slow start to the season and allowing returning champion Marc Marquez to rattle him yesterday.
Quartararo isn’t the only Yamaha rider with a shot at Portuguese Grand Prix victory. His factory team-mate Maverick Vinales looks all but out of the mix after being docked his fastest lap for exceeding track limits in qualifying and ending up 12th on the grid.
But satellite racer Franco Morbidelli has quietly being getting on with business for Petronas SRT all weekend and fifth on the grid is a strong launching point for him. We’ve seen Yamahas achieve good things from further back in recent weeks and he could well be fancying his chances too.
And then of course there’s home favourite Miguel Oliveira. Absolutely dominant last year but struggling so far this time out thanks to a changed Michelin tyre allocation, he seemed to have found something in FP4, finishing second behind Quartararo.
Starting from 10th won’t make it easy, but Oliveira is just as aggressive as Mir so is an outside bet to double up with another Portimao win.