The 2020 MotoGP season will finally get underway with the Spanish Grand Prix on Sunday and the race looks set to be a thriller.
The coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc with the MotoGP campaign, which had initially been scheduled to begin in Qatar in March.
However, Saturday's qualifying session at the Circuito de Jerez – where the first two races of the delayed and truncated campaign will take place – provided a mouth-watering front row for the main event.
Reigning champion Marc Marquez will be part of the trio to lead the rest of the riders away, but he looks sure to face a significant battle for the win as he begins his quest for a fifth straight title.
WHAT HAPPENED IN QUALIFYING
Petronas Yamaha's Fabio Quartararo, who is riding a factory-spec bike this season, produced an all-time lap record of one minute, 36.705 seconds to take pole position
Marquez had provisional pole with two minutes of Q2 remaining but was quickly displaced by Maverick Vinales, who in turn was pipped by his future team-mate Quartararo at the death.
Repsol Honda rider Marquez lost valuable time in the final sector of his last lap and failed to go quicker than Vinales, while Pramac Racing duo Francesco Bagnaia and Jack Miller claimed fourth and fifth to outshine the Ducati works riders.
THE STARTING GRID
1. Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha) 2. Maverick Vinales (Monster Energy Yamaha) 3. Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda)
4. Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) 5. Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) 6. Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda)
7. Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM) 8. Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati) 9. Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha)
10. Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha) 11. Joan Mir (Suzui Ecstar) 12. Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM)
13. Danilo Petrucci (Ducati) 14. Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda) 15. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia)
16. Miguel Oliveira (Tech 3 KTM)17. Bradley Smith (Aprilia) 18. Tito Rabat (Reale Avintia Racing)
19. Johann Zarco (Reale Avintia Racing) 20. Alex Marquez (Repsol Honda) 21. Iker Lecuona (Tech 3 KTM)
SPANISH GRAND PRIX TALKING POINTS
Quartararo started last year's race in Jerez on pole position too, but a gearbox issue forced him to retire after 13 laps. The 21-year-old was named 2019 Rookie of the Year after getting seven podiums – five of which were on the second step – and will be desperate to improve and claim a first win in the premier class.
It was an eventful day for Alex Rins. The Suzuki Ecstar rider was involved in an on-track confrontation with Marquez in FP3, for which the champion avoided any punishment, and, after getting out of Q1, crashed at turn 11 in the Q2. He qualified ninth but hobbled away from the scene holding his arm and was transferred to hospital after it was confirmed he had sustained a fracture and dislocation to his right shoulder, ruling him out of the race.
Ducati were left with plenty to ponder after Andrea Dovizioso crashed during his final lap in qualifying. Miller, who will race for the factory team next year, also slid out.
Miller's future team-mate is not yet known, and Dovizioso will be keen to impress with three-time MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo this weekend expressing an interest in re-joining the team, a seat also of interest to Cal Crutchlow, who starts sixth.
WHAT THE RIDERS SAID
Marc Marquez (3rd): "On the last lap I gave up, because the season has just started and many races are coming in a row. You have to understand where the limit is, and I felt I already did a good lap. It was quite difficult to improve, and the main target of the front row was there. This was the most important for me, for the reason I gave up. The job was done. The Yamaha riders for some reason with the new tyre are able to use a lot of grip and they are very fast in qualifying and practice."
Fabio Quartararo (pole): "Looking at [Marquez's] pace I think he can also use it [the new rear tyre] also really well. When you saw his FP4, he's running three tenths faster than us in every lap, so I think he's playing a little bit. We know Marc is so fast in every condition. It's difficult to fight with him but we will make our best."
Maverick Vinales (2nd): "I think we were good in the last sector on every lap, but we still need to improve the bike a little bit – we are not at the maximum, I think. But day by day I'm getting more confident, I felt better on the bike. I think Sunday's going to be a good day, because we have rhythm and I have strong pace and I felt the bike is working good with the tyres. I think we are ready."
Andrea Dovizioso (8th): "We have a good race pace, but at the moment I am still not fully satisfied with my feeling with the bike. We are working on it and hope to be able to improve it in time for Sunday. It will be important to stay at the front immediately, and I am sure we have the potential to do a good race."
Valentino Rossi (11th, starting 10th after Rins' withdrawal): "We improved a lot compared to Friday, but we need more. We'll keep working to try to make another step, but now the top three guys are very strong and in Yamaha's case, Maverick and Fabio are riding very fast."
Alex Marquez (21st, starting 20th): "Unfortunately, I am struggling more in the hot conditions than I was expecting but in the morning we were fast. Everything is so close in MotoGP. Every day I am on the bike I want to improve and learn new things; Sunday will be a good opportunity to do this. The goal is to finish the race but still to push as hard as possible."