The qualifying session for the MotoGP race at the Circuit of Jerez was a thrilling display of skill and courage, as riders battled not only against each other but also against the unpredictable rain that added a new level of challenge to the track. In the end, it was Aleix Espargaro who claimed the pole position, beating KTM rider Jack Miller by a slim margin.
Miguel Oliveira of the CryptoDATA RNF MotoGP™ Team took Free Practice honors by edging out Fabio Quartararo of the Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™ team. Aleix Espargaro of the Aprilia Racing team made it two Aprilias in the top 3, but unfortunately crashed out of the session later on. The session was also notable for having both the factory Yamaha riders ahead of the Ducati army for the first time in 2023.
Q1 was a star-studded affair as the top three in the World Championship, Argentina Sprint winner Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) found themselves battling for two crucial spots in the pole position fight. Title leader Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) set the early pace, with Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) and Alex Rins (LCR Honda Castrol) P5 and P6 with five minutes to go.
It was all about to change as the second set of fresh rear soft tyres were slotted in. Bezzecchi improved his time at the top but Pecco moved the goalposts, before Binder then went P1. Bezzecchi was suddenly shoved to P3, but crucially he got one more bite at the cherry. Bezzecchi was 0.076s shy off Pecco’s time through the third split, and he couldn’t claw back any time in the final sector – Bezzecchi missed out on a Q2 place by 0.037s, as Pecco and Binder sailed into Q2. Elsewhere, Quartararo could only manage P6 in Q1, P16 on the grid, for his worst MotoGP™ qualifying in Jerez. A nightmare for the Frenchman and Yamaha.
As if we didn’t have enough drama already, the heavens opened as the chequered flag waved to signal the end of Q1. It was only light rain, but how much would it affect track conditions? We were about to find out. Binder was one of the riders who ventured out on wet tyres, Alex Marquez (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) another, while the others were lapping on slicks.
Interestingly, Marquez came straight into pitlane to change for slicks, while Binder chose to plough on. A 1:43.003 was Miller’s benchmark time and Bagnaia was an early second, 0.7s off, with Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing) in P3. Binder on the wet tyres slotted into P7, 3.7s away from teammate Miller.
Then, out on slick tyres, Alex Marquez suddenly shot to P1 to beat Miller’s effort by 0.328s. And on his next lap, Marquez went 0.9s faster as the times now started to tumble. The riders were getting more comfortable and finding where the grip was, and heading into the final six minutes, red sector times were everywhere.
Marini briefly went P1 before Aleix Espargaro was top. The latter’s time at the top didn’t last though as Marquez returned to P1 by 1.1s – a 1:39.944 was the new pole time to beat. Espargaro and Marquez exchanged P1 again, with the Ducati star now 0.2s clear.
It was all happening. Miller, lighting up the rear end on the damp patch on the exit of Turn 13, climbed back to the summit before Zarco then went provisional pole. Miller and Zarco improved again a minute and a half later, as Binder popped up to P3 after finally heading out on slick tyres.