More, from a press release issued by Dorna:
Bagnaia & Martin head Row 2 as Marini slams in stunning record pole
Marini, Di Giannantonio and Alex Marquez push the title contenders down to the second row on Saturday
Saturday, 18 November 2023
A stunning qualifying session at the Qatar Airways Grand Prix of Qatar bubbled up to an incredible crescendo on Saturday, with Luca Marini (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) striking late with a near-perfect lap to take pole position with a new lap record. He pipped Fabio Di Giannantonio (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) by just 0.067s, with Sepang Tissot Sprint winner Alex Marquez (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) completing the front row.
The two title contenders both got bumped off that front row, but they aren’t far away by any means: Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) takes P4 and has Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing) right alongside in P5, with the duo split by just 0.022s. On Friday it was 0.007s, with incredible parity so far in the desert to set up two fascinating showdowns under the floodlights.
After the first runs in a star-studded Q1, it was Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing) leading the way ahead of Franco Morbidelli (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™), with Jack Miller (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing), after just losing out on making the cut in Practice, next up. Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™), meanwhile, was dead last despite topping FP2, having seen his hot lap interrupted by a front end save.
As soon as Quartararo headed back out though, the red sectors started coming in. Two tenths up in the first sector, nearly half a second in the second, and with company from Alex Marquez tucked in behind setting similar sectors too. As both crossed the line, the number 73 took 0.087 out of El Diablo as it became an AM73-FQ20 1-2 in Q1, and under the lap record. Could anyone beat it? Zarco could indeed, pipping Alex Marquez by just 0.055 as the two moved through, leaving Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) and Quartararo just missing out.
The first benchmark came from Diggia as two pairings made their way around: Bagnaia followed by Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), slotting into fourth and fifth, and Martin behind Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing). That nearly saw some drama as Martin tried to pass but couldn’t find a way through, but next time round with some more space, the number 89 put in a fast one and shot up to third behind Marini and Diggia at the top.
Then, Martin pulled back intp pitlane just as Bagnaia pulled back out of the garage, with… you guessed it, Marc Marquez for company once again. And the two were setting red sectors, but so was Diggia. The number 49 completed his second shot at it by cutting a stunning three and a half tenths off his own provisional pole time, setting the first ever 1:51 of Lusail.
Bagnaia was next and took over in second, two tenths off, with Marc Marquez not quite able to pip him to it but taking a provisional front row. The next assault was from Alex Marquez and it was CLOSE, with the number 73 making it a Gresini 1-2 to push Bagnaia down to third. Next up there were red sectors from Martin but the lap went away, and then it looked like Maverick Viñales (Aprilia Racing)) could challenge at the top before the Aprilia lost time in the final part of the lap.
But then came Marini. The Italian kept it absolutely pinned, just able to deny compatriot Diggia by 0.067s, and that was that after an awesome flurry of activity on the timesheets late on. Marini heads Diggia and Alex Marquez, with all three setting 1:51s and a second quicker than the 2021 lap record. The Independent Team riders shine under the floodlights, pushing the two contenders down to Row 2 as the penultimate 37 points of the year go up for grabs.
Behind Marini, Di Giannantonio and Alex Marquez, the two contenders will be looking to make big gains from the off from Row 2, Bagnaia just 0.020 ahead of Martin. Zarco in sixth will be an interesting one to watch too.
Then comes Marc Marquez, Viñales and Friday’s fastest Raul Fernandez (CryptoDATA RNF MotoGP™ Team) on Row 3. Aleix Espargaro is down in P10 ahead of a Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) looking to make a classic Binder charge when the lights go out, the South African in P11. Augusto Fernandez (GASGAS Factory Racing Tech3) locks out the Q2 crowd in P12.
After losing out in Q1, Bezzecchi starts P13 just ahead of Quartararo. Sepang winner Enea Bastianini (Ducati Lenovo Team) is next up in P15, and after coming across Iker Lecuona (LCR Honda Castrol) on a hot lap in Q1. Lecuona has a three-place grid penalty for that. Miller heads Miguel Oliveira (CryptoDATA RNF MotoGP™ Team) in P16 and P17 after the Australian also thought the Portugese rider held him up in a tight, tight Q1.