Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) led today’s chaotic French Grand Prix, the first time he has been at the front since returning to action last month following a nine-month layoff through injury.
The race followed the pattern of the entire weekend, with track conditions changing constantly according to the weather conditions. The 27 laps got underway on a dry track, following rainfall earlier in the day, with all riders on slick tyres. But within a few laps the rain had returned and everyone rode into pit lane to change to their spare bikes, equipped with rain tyres. In heavy rain the track became treacherous and several fell, all without injury.
Six-times MotoGP World Champion Marquez has always been a master of tricky conditions and grabbed the lead during his bike swap. By then the rain had intensified, soaking the circuit and making Marquez’s medium-compound front and rear tyre choice less than ideal. Nonetheless the 28-year-old Spaniard established himself in first place to lead for three laps, with a narrow advantage.
Sadly on lap eight as he attacked Turn 14 he lost the rear and fell. He bravely remounted in 18th position and was soon the fastest man on track. As the track dried somewhat his medium rear tyre started working better, but once again he slid off, this time at the downhill Turn Six, while contemplating a return to slick tyres as the track dried.
Although disappointed, Marquez could take some positives from the weekend, his third Grand Prix since last July. Not only did he lead the race, he was also fastest in yesterday morning’s FP3 session. Now he will continue his rehabilitation, working in the gym to further rebuild the muscles in his right arm, which are still a long way from full strength.
Honda’s top finisher was younger brother Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol Honda RC213V), who took the chequered flag in sixth place, his best result of the 2021 season so far. The 24-year-old Spaniard had a challenging time during Friday and Saturday but maintained his focus and determination for today’s race.
Fifteenth at the end of the first lap the 2019 Moto2 World Champion lost a few more places over the next laps, then started making forward progress in the rain, following his bike swap. He battled with fellow Honda rider Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu Honda RC213V) for several laps, before establishing himself in fourth place, but he lost two positions in the hectic final laps.
This was Marquez’s second consecutive great race at Le Mans. Last year here he finished second in the soaking rain, his first MotoGP podium.
Nakagami was next to cross the finish line, several seconds behind his fellow LCR rider. This was another good result, considering the treacherous conditions, to follow up his excellent fourth place at Jerez two weeks ago. The 29-year-old from Chiba held third place for several laps after the bike swap, but then struggled with rear grip, which prevented him from successfully defending his position. He will use what he learned today to help improve his RC213V for future races in the rain.
Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) qualified eighth and was looking forward to a good race, his fifth with Honda, after placing among the top riders in Friday’s and Saturday’s drier sessions. The 29-year-old Spaniard rode a strong first few laps, giving it his all and battling with the second group.
Following his bike swap Espargaro rode his first race laps in the rain with an RC213V and was able to run a good pace but wasn’t as competitive as he had been on dry asphalt. After some laps he found himself all alone in eighth place and maintained that position to the end.
After a chilly and mostly wet weekend at Le Mans the MotoGP paddock moves to southern Europe, hopefully for some better weather. Next stop in the 2021 championship is Mugello for the Italian GP on 30th May. The Catalan GP at Barcelona follows on 6th June.