MotoGP Catalan GP: Espargaro on top as Marquez crashes in FP1
The 11th round of the 2023 season marks the beginning of a frantic run in to the end of the year over the next 10 events, with the Catalan GP the first of a back-to-back with Misano.
Espargaro – who last year lost a podium after miscounting how many laps he had remaining, and who is now wearing a special helmet referencing this – kicked off proceedings fastest of all with a 1m39.809s set on fresh soft rubber at the end of FP1.
This put him 0.264s clear of long-time session leader Maverick Vinales on the other side of the factory Aprilia garage, with Pramac’s Jorge Martin third.
Predicting a difficult weekend, Honda’s Marc Marquez was 1.6s off the pace down in second-to-last after suffering a crash at Turn 5 in the final five minutes of running.
The 45-minute session got under way with Martin setting the initial pace at a 1m41.873s on the low-grip Barcelona track, before Vinales took over with a 1m41.336s.
Vinales then improved to a 1m40.878s just over five minutes in, before Espargaro shot to the top of the order for the first time on the sister RS-GP 23 with a 1m40.497s.
Team-mate Vinales would depose him upon switching to a fresh medium rear tyre with just over 20 minutes to go, the Spaniard producing a 1m40.073s.
This would stand as the benchmark until the closing three minutes, when Espargaro – fitted with a fresh soft front and rear set of Michelins – fired in a 1m39.809s to see out FP1 on top.
Marco Bezzecchi, VR46 Racing Team
Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images
Martin was a further 0.2s adrift of the Aprilia pair, with Brad Binder the leading KTM in fourth ahead of reigning world champion Francesco Bagnaia on the factory Ducati.
Pol Espargaro made a late surge to sixth on the Tech3 GasGas after fitting a fresh medium rear to clock a 1m40.917s, edging ahead of RNF Aprilia’s Miguel Oliveira.
Franco Morbidelli had a small off-track excursion at Turn 4 early in FP1, but ended the session as the leading Yamaha rider in eighth ahead of 2022 Catalan GP winner Fabio Quartararo.
Johann Zarco rounded out the top 10 on his Pramac Ducati ahead of Jack Miller on the factory KTM and Gresini Ducati’s Alex Marquez, with Enea Bastianini trailing him on his factory GP23.
Marco Bezzecchi, who announced earlier this week that he will remain with VR46 for 2024, was a low-key 16th ahead of the leading Honda of Joan Mir.
A crash at Turn 5 marked Marquez’s 17th tumble of the 2023 campaign and left him sandwiched between the LCR duo of Takaaki Nakagami in 20th and Iker Lecuona in last.
MotoGP Catalan GP – FP1 results