MotoGP: Zarco and Morbidelli split by just 0.021 in Barcelona

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By the end of play on Friday at the Catalunya Grand Prix, it's Johann Zarco leading the way on the combined timesheets with a 1:39.235, but the Frenchman has some close company from Franco Morbidelli as the Italian end the day just 0.021 in arrears.

 Last year's winner and Championship leader Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) completes the top three, a tenth and a half down.

Another key headline from the day was the return of fans to the grandstands. The event will be held with a maximum of 24,000 fans per day allowed in - 20% capacity - and the riders made sure to slow down and greet the crowd on the way back into pitlane.

The morning began with Morbidelli enjoying a similar gap to the top, the Italian opening the weekend only 0.024 in arrears, but it was to Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) in FP1. The Aprilia man hit back late to take over, with Morbidelli having otherwise led the majority of the session.

0.373 was the gap back to Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) in third as he pipped Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP), new crew chief alongside him, by just 0.002. Zarco, to begin the weekend, completed the top five - again by mere hundredths.

Franco Morbidelli was fast in FP1 and FP2 and greeted the fans at the end of the day

Quartararo, Mugello podium finisher Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing), reigning Champion Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar), Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) and Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) completed the top ten as action began, with no crashes in the session.


The afternoon saw Morbidelli rise to the top early too, the Italian leading the way for half an hour mid-session before Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) took over. Next Zarco struck, Morbidelli hit back and finally, the French Pramac Racing rider nipped back into P1 by thousandths to end the session - and day - fastest.

Quartararo took third from Binder, and Bagnaia moved up from P10 in FP1 to P5 in the afternoon. Viñales and Miller were next up, with rookie Enea Bastianini (Avintia Esponsorama) putting in an impressive day at the office to take eighth. Aleix Espargaro was just six thousandths further back, and the gap to Pol Espargaro in P10? Zero. The two brothers from Granollers, which is right next to the track, set identical best laps.

Combined timesheets

All but one improved in the afternoon, so it's Zarco, Morbidelli, Quartararo in the top three. Binder puts KTM in fourth as the Austrian factory continue their recent resurgence, with Bagnaia completing the top five. Viñales, Miller, Bastianini, Aleix and Pol Espargaro complete the top ten.

That leaves Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) as the first looking to move forward in FP3 as the Japanese rider ends Friday in 11th, ahead of Danilo Petrucci (Red Bull KTM Tech3) as the Italian put in a solid performance ahead of Tech3 expecting to receive the new KTM chassis - possibly and/or probably - for the post-race test on Monday.

Luca Marini (Sky VR46 Avintia) had a solid day in P13 despite a run off at Turn 4, able to rejoin with no big drama, with Oliveira shuffled down to P14. The Portuguese rider seems a likely threat for a move up the timesheets in FP3...

Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) was fifteenth, ahead of Mir as the reigning Champion plummeted down the order in the afternoon. Still, there's plenty of time left to attack for Q2 on Saturday morning after he suffered a problem that denied him a full time attack on Friday.

The only rider who didn't improve was Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing) as the Spaniard returns from injury.

FP3 begins at 9:55 (GMT +2) as the grid push for an automatic place in Q2. Qualifying will then decide the grid from 14:10, with the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya sure to deliver another show.

Can Morbidelli do it again? We'll find out on Saturday!

MotoGP Friday top five:

Johann Zarco* Pramac Racing - Ducati - 1:39.235
Franco Morbidelli* Petronas Yamaha SRT - Yamaha - +0.021
Fabio Quartararo Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP - Yamaha - +0.166
Brad Binder Red Bull KTM Factory Racing - KTM - +0.427
Francesco Bagnaia Ducati Lenovo Team - Ducati - +0.525
*Independent Team rider

Fabio Quartararo starts the weekend in third and as top factory rider