Reigning MotoGP champion Fabio Quartararo took a pivotal win in the Catalan Grand Prix at Barcelona, his title hopes boosted by dramas for all of his main championship rivals.
Ducati works rider Francesco Bagnaia was removed from the race at the first corner by a Takaaki Nakagami crash, while Gresini’s Enea Bastianini crashed out after eight laps, marking his retirement with a fit of rage in the Turn 5 gravel trap.
Most bizarrely, polesitter Aleix Espargaro slowed one lap too soon when running second, having seemingly misjudged when the race would end.
A marginally better start from Quartararo had not only allowed him to first clear Bagnaia and then take the lead from Espargaro down the inside of Turn 1, but also allowed him to get himself out of the zone where the Nakagami incident eliminated his big 2021 rival Bagnaia.
Nakagami had got an incredible start from 12th but in sweeping from the inside line to the outside tagged fellow Honda rider Pol Espargaro’s front tyre with his rear, and fell off moments later.
As he fell, his head made contact with the rear of Bagnaia’s Ducati, taking the Italian down, while on the outside line a now rider-less LCR Honda launched Alex Rins into the air off his Suzuki.
Nakagami was taken to the medical centre for a check-up after the crash, and Rins likewise headed there soon after due to hand pain.
What an ugly crash 😳
Taka Nakagami just came in too hot and sadly Rins and Bagnaia paid the price…#CatalanGP pic.twitter.com/YT1SHOngcL
— MotoGP on BT Sport (@btsportmotogp) June 5, 2022
Out front, Quartararo made an early break from Espargaro, who instead quickly came under pressure from Pramac Ducati rider Jorge Martin.
Martin was persistent enough to manage to dive down the inside of Espargaro at the first corner on the third lap, and while Espargaro retaliated at the same corner seven laps later, by that point Quartararo was already over three seconds in the clear.
And a chase was not to follow, with Espargaro failing to make any inroads on Quartararo’s lead before slipping back into the clutches of what was now a pair of Pramac bikes – with Martin joined in the podium battle by Johann Zarco.
Martin even overtook Espargaro by once again outbraking him at Turn 1 on lap 15, and yet again Espargaro turned the favour at the same spot a few laps later, seemingly ensuring second place.
Yet that second place turned into fifth as Espargaro appeared to be under the impression the race had finished a lap early, costing the Aprilia man a certain podium and forcing him to fight off VR46 Ducati’s Luca Marini on the final lap.
CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?! 🤯@AleixEspargaro has stopped one lap too early and throws away a podium! 😱#CatalanGP 🏁 pic.twitter.com/2qaYuffWTB
— MotoGP™🏁 (@MotoGP) June 5, 2022
This has meant that he trails Quartararo by 22 points coming out of Barcelona, albeit still with 31 in hand over the third rider in the championship – Bastianini.
Pramac duo Martin and Zarco completed the podium behind Quartararo, Martin ending a woeful run of four races in which he’d scored just three points. Behind them, Joan Mir secured fourth for Suzuki from 17th on the grid.
Espargaro’s team-mate Maverick Vinales was a lonely seventh behind Marini, his bet on the soft rear tyre failing to yield any meaningful advantage.
Brad Binder fought off soon-to-be-former KTM team-mate Miguel Oliveira to take eighth place, while Alex Marquez of LCR Honda was the top Honda in 10th despite having suffered an apparent concussion on Saturday.
Tech3 KTM rider Remy Gardner defeated RNF Yamaha’s Darryn Binder and the works Yamaha of Franco Morbidelli in a late-race duel to claim 11th, his best finish in MotoGP yet.
Ducati’s Jack Miller was only 14th, followed by Gardner’s Tech3 team-mate Raul Fernandez, picking up the first point of his MotoGP career, while Ducati tester Michele Pirro and a fading Pol Espargaro completed the finishers in what was, as expected, a race of heavy attrition.
It's all unravelled for @GresiniRacing! 🥺@FabioDiggia49 tumbles out of a solid 10th place! 😢#CatalanGP 🏁 pic.twitter.com/JD8lXdTTnj
— MotoGP™🏁 (@MotoGP) June 5, 2022
Aside from Nakagami, Bagnaia, Rins and Bastianini, there were early exits for Ducati rookies Fabio Di Giannantonio and Marco Bezzecchi, as well as a Turn 10 fall for Honda’s Marc Marquez stand-in Stefan Bradl.
The other rider to retire was Andrea Dovizioso, pulling his RNF-run Yamaha into the pits after 17 laps.