Maverick Viñales set the early pace on Friday morning as MotoGP returned to Europe for the opening preparation ahead of the Portuguese GP.
Completing the opening free practice with a 1’42.127, the Yamaha rider fended off a flurry of late-session activity to claim the standings from Alex Rins and an impressive, and hotly anticipated, comeback performance from Marc Marquez.
All eyes were on one person as Portimao’s FP1 kicked off, as Marquez prepared for his MotoGP return, after almost a year or rehabilitation, at the Algarve circuit. His teammate, Pol Espargaro was the first to leave the Repsol Honda garage before the eight-time World Champ headed out with 39 minutes left on the clock.
Rins set the early lead aboard his Suzuki GSX-RR, 1’52.876 the current fastest with only nine riders classified so far as they analysed the conditions after overnight rain. As the track improved, so obviously, did the times - Jack Miller and Ducati teammate Pecco Bagnaia initially taking turns at the top, alongside Rins, with times still well off home-hero Miguel Oliveira’s 1’38.8 November best.
15 minutes gone and there were still only 12 times on the board, the returning Marquez sitting sixth behind a gaggle of Ducati’s, Rins and an impressive early showing from Iker Lecuona, before the Repsol man showed his intentions as he rose to second, 0.061 behind the youngster in red.
Bagnaia remained in charge at the half-way stage from Marquez, Rins and fellow Suzuki, Joan Mir. Johann Zarco sat fifth ahead of Valentino Rossi and Oliveira with Fabio Quartararo, Lecuona and Miller completing the top-10 - the latter pair both having undergone arm pump surgery since returning from the DohaGP.
20 to go and Mir hit the top with a 1’46.277, the Spaniard paired with Suzuki stalwart Tom O’Kane for this weekend after crew chief Frankie Carchedi tested positive for Covid-19 ahead of travelling to Portugal and was forced to isolate.
The times soon began to tumble in rapid succession as the clock clicked down. Quartararo, Pol Espargaro and Mir all taking their turn to head the times before Maverick Viñales took over with a 1’44.777 on his seventh lap of the 4.6km track. The Factory Yamaha was far from done, however, as he continued to advance his pace, first by almost half a second before setting the opening 1’43 on his 10th revolution.
The closing 10 minutes saw Bagnaia back in second, this time from Franco Morbidelli, before Rossi bettered his Petronas teammate by 0.096s. Zarco and Rins were the next to join the party as they claimed third and fourth respectively only to be instantly outdone by Marquez. As track confidence improved the times fell sharply and the fight for the standings heated up. Bagnaia and Marquez advanced on Viñales, with Espargaro besting his returning teammate on the next attempt. Three minutes to go and Pecco headed the times with a 1’42.934 from Rins, Espargaro, Mir and Marquez, Zarco initially sitting sixth before he too advanced, this time to fourth.
The penultimate minute found Viñales back in charge from Pecco and the Repsol pairing with Quartararo circulating in fifth before Takaaki Nakagami moved his Honda into fourth, neatly splitting the factory duo.
As the flag waved the top spot changed hands six more times, Marquez firmly marking his return with a dominant ’42.3 before first Rins, then Viñales bettered, the Yamaha concluding FP1 with the fastest effort of the morning’s work. Espargaro ended the opening 45-minutes in fourth just 0.004s from his teammate with Zarco, Bagnaia, Quartararo and Miller rounding out the top-eight. Alex Marquez sat ninth from Tech3’s Danilo Petrucci - the Italian recovering from a recently discovered dislocated shoulder thanks to his QatarGP off. Rossi started his European adventure 11th from Nakagami, Mir and Morbidelli, with Lorenzo Savadori 15th, while Jorge Martin, Oliveira, Luca Marini, Lecuona, Enea Bastianini, Aleix Espargaro and Brad Binder completed the 22 runners.