Eyes on the skies as Bagnaia and Quartararo brace for San Marino MotoGP battle

Francesco Bagnaia stormed to another MotoGP pole position but Sunday’s weather could be pivotal to deciding who wins the San Marino Grand Prix.

© Getty Images Francesco Bagnaia took pole for the San Marino Grand Prix

Ducati bikes dominated qualifying, accounting for four of the top five places, with Jack Miller joining Bagnaia in a one-two for the factory team, ahead of Yamaha’s championship leader Fabio Quartararo.

The Ducati-powered Pramac Racing pair of Jorge Martin and Johann Zarco took fourth and fifth at Misano, a local track for Ducati who will be hoping for a ‘home’ race win.

Yet Bagnaia and Quartararo both indicated after Saturday’s qualifying session that should it rain, as forecasts suggest it well may, that could be a major factor in the outcome. A wet track is likely to suit the pole-sitter.

Pace-setter Bagnaia also took pole at last week’s Aragon Grand Prix and converted that into a race win, his first at MotoGP level, and he sits second in the championship.

He described his fastest lap time on Saturday as “incredible” and said: “I feel great with everything. I think we did a really good pace

“In both conditions, dry and wet, I think we are ready to fight. For sure, in the dry Fabio has better pace than in Aragon, so I think it can be a good fight with him, but let’s see, never say never.

“I prefer dry. It’s very difficult to predict a strategy for tomorrow but I’d like to start well, push from the start, and see if I can manage the gap or I will have to fight in the last laps. In any case we will try to be ready for every condition.

“It’s the second weekend in a row that all the Ducati are at the front in qualifying, and also for me to put the bike in front of Fabio for the championship. We’re working well, the bike is very competitive, and we’re doing a really great step every time.”

Quartararo crashed as he looked to jump ahead of Bagnaia on the grid, but the French rider brushed that off after the session, declaring he was “totally OK”.

Giving everything in his pursuit of pole! 

A crash at Turn 1 forced @FabioQ20 to settle for third! #SanMarinoGP  pic.twitter.com/QWJxTFRpqC

— MotoGP (@MotoGP) September 18, 2021

“I just wanted to exaggerate a little bit on the braking, but unfortunately it was not working,” Quartararo told MotoGP’s official website. “But it was good, I gave it a try – at least I felt the real limit on the bike. I feel like our pace is really good compared to Aragon, where it was not great. I’m feeling ready for tomorrow – a little bit surrounded by red [Ducati] bikes but I’m feeling good.

“They are faster than us in the wet, but my feeling on the dry is super good and I want to keep going in that direction. I don’t want to talk about rain and I don’t want to call it.”

Ducati have now been on pole four times at Misano, after Casey Stoner topped the time sheets in 2007 and 2008, followed by Jorge Lorenzo three years ago. Of those pole-sitters, only Stoner in 2007 took the chequered flag on race day.

Last season’s champion Joan Mir had a qualifying session to forget, with a dashboard message on his Suzuki Ecstar bike urging him to pit proving a red herring. There was no problem with the bike, and technical manager Ken Kawauchi later apologised for the mistake.

Mir was ushered back to the track but could only finish in 11th place, with Quartararo’s crash causing yellow-flag conditions in the closing stages.

“Qualifying was a shame; we didn’t have the potential to fight for pole and we’re honestly quite far from that,” said Mir.

“I felt that the second row was possible, but then I had some trouble with the front on my first exit, then I saw a message on my dashboard right after I exited for the second run. I thought I should stop in case there was something wrong with the bike, and in the end this impacted my qualifying as well as the yellow flag on my last flying lap.

“There’s no point being frustrated; the focus now is on the race and I know I have good pace if I can get a strong start.”

Qualifying results

1. Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati) 1:31.065

2. Jack Miller (Ducati) +0.249secs

3. Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha) +0.302

4. Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing) +0.598

5. Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) +0.771

6. Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda) +0.858

7. Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) +0.870

8. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia) +0.872

9. Alex Rins (Suzuki Ecstar) +0.952

10. Maverick Vinales (Aprilia) +1.056

11. Joan Mir (Suzuki Ecstar) +1.361

12. Enea Bastianini (Avintia) +1.396

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