Red Bull Motorsports
It was a fast and furious afternoon of MotoGP™ action at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya and it was delight for Red Bull KTM Factory Racing and Miguel Oliveira. The Portuguese rider triumphed after an intense final lap duel with Pramac Ducati’s Johann Zarco to win a memorable victory in northeastern Spain.
Oliveira held the lead for most of the race despite a strong challenge from favourite Fabio Quartararo. Oliveira’s KTM had the measure of the Yamaha bike on the challenging 2.89 mile circuit, and entering the final laps it was the Pramac Ducati of Johann Zarco who looked to spoil the party for Oliveira, but the now triple-premier class winner held on to take a stunning victory.
Behind the front two there was further drama as Quartararo’s racing leathers seemed to split open at the front as he was being hassled for third by Ducati’s Jack Miller. As Miller looked to snatch third, the French rider was handed a time penalty that ensured Miller would take third place and seal his third visit to the MotoGP™ podium in 2021 and remains well placed in the championship hunt along with Zarco, who consolidates second place just 14 points behind Quartararo.
Quartararo started the 24-lap race from the front, his fifth consecutive pole position start of the season, but it was Miller on the works Ducati who sensationally passed the Yamaha, sweeping into the opening right-left-right sequence of turns, followed by the resurgent KTM of Oliveira.
On lap two, Oliveira snatched the lead from Miller as Quartararo found himself down in fifth, which soon became sixth at the start of lap three when Zarco made his way through the field after dropping back from his starting position of third.
As reigning champion Joan Mir battled it out for third place with the Aprilia of Aleix Espargaró, up front Oliveira looked comfortable in the lead on the KTM in the early stages with Miller in pursuit just shy of a second behind, but by lap 10 of the race, it was all change.
The pack had shuffled and the race settled down. Oliveira remained in the lead followed by a smooth Quartararo and Miller slipped back to fourth place and under pressure from the Pramac Ducati of Zarco.
Just one lap later the race came to the boil as Quartararo reeled in Oliveira and made his move at turn four on lap 12 only for Oliveira to keep pace with the new leader and retake the lead. At this point a group of five bikes looked in contention for a podium or victory.
One rider who had once again proved to combine pace, maturity and a calm head was Zarco. The Ducati rider reclaimed his starting position of third at the start of lap 16, passing Mir and Zarco and was soon followed by Miller’s Ducati.
With five laps remaining the duel between race leader Oliveira and Quartararo was the main focus, but Zarco and Miller were in the box seats to pick up the pieces should anything go wrong. Oliveira continued to look fast, smooth and consistent on the KTM as suddenly, Zarco was right with second place rider Quartararo entering the final three laps.
Zarco blasted past his compatriot at the start of lap 22 as Quartararo ran wide and instantly found himself under pressure from Miller. As the Australian looked to take second place, Quartararo’s leathers appeared to split open as his chest plate guard flew from his person, massively compromising his speed and concentration.
Up the road from the Miller–Quartararo fight and with one lap remaining, Zarco was right with the leader Oliveira, the gap to the lead reducing rapidly in what was shaping up to be one of the most thrilling climaxes of the 2021 MotoGP™ season.
Unfortunately for Zarco, the quest for his first premier class win ended up just 0.175 seconds in front of him as Oliveira hung on to resist intense pressure to take his third career MotoGP™ victory. Miller finished fourth on track, but rounded out the podium as Quartararo was slapped a time penalty.
If MotoGP™ bikes had mirrors, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing's early season struggles would be firmly in them. Following difficult races in the opening two rounds at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar, the Austrian team is entering a rich vein of form. Oliveira’s victory follows on from last weekend’s second place in Mugello and team-mate Brad Binder bagged a solid eighth, building on from a strong fifth at the previous round.
Following his long and ongoing recovery from injury, six-time premier class champion Marc Márquez showed signs of his old class and was in the thick of the action throughout the early stages – surging forward from his 12th place qualifying slot to battle for fourth. Unfortunately for the Honda rider, he suffered a crash at Turn 10, sliding out of the race as the front end gave way on lap eight, but the signs are encouraging for a return to the front for Márquez.
Another rider who showed real grit returning to the MotoGP™ pack was Ducati’s Jorge Martín. Following a stellar first podium finish at the second race of the season in Qatar, the Spanish rookie suffered several fractures after a crash in practice for the Portuguese MotoGP™ and required extensive surgery.
The 2018 Moto3™ champion also shrugged off a crash en route to the grid to come home a hugely impressive 14th place and will look to get his season back on track and move further up the field in the next race, the German MotoGP™ at the Sachsenring.