French MotoGP: Miller wins chaotic flag-to-flag race despite two penalties

Ducati’s Jack Miller won a chaotic flag-to-flag French Grand Prix despite two long-lap penalties in a crash-strewn MotoGP contest as Fabio Quartararo reclaimed the championship lead.

French MotoGP: Miller wins chaotic flag-to-flag race despite two penalties

The 27-lap race was declared dry for the start, but early rain led to MotoGP’s first flag-to-flag grand prix since Brno 2017 – with Miller prevailing despite a double long-lap penalty, while the day proved disastrous of world champions Suzuki.

Miller took the lead from third on the grid at the start ahead of Yamaha duo Maverick Vinales and Fabio Quartararo, while Marc Marquez muscled his way into fourth past Takaaki Nakagami.

Vinales took the lead from Miller into the downhill La Chapelle right-hander on the second lap, with the top three quickly opening up 1.7s to the pack behind as spots of rain began to appear.

The rain fell heavier on lap three, with Miller bravely blasting back into the lead at the start of lap four as Vinales slipped back to fifth.

Fabio Quartararo, Yamaha Factory Racing

Fabio Quartararo, Yamaha Factory Racing

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Despite the rain falling, Quartararo and Miller engaged over the lead across the fourth tour, the Yamaha rider barging past at the Garage Vert double-apex right-hander, Miller retaliated at the next corner and would drop to fourth on lap five when he ran off track at the Blue esses having ceded the lead to Quartararo again at the Dunlop chicane earlier in the tour.

A moment for Suzuki’s Alex Rins – leaping up from 15th at the start – at the Musee left-hander allowed Marquez into third on lap five, with Quartararo leading the Honda rider, Rins and Miller into pitlane at the end of lap five to switch to their wet bikes.

Drama ensued in the pitlane as both Miller and Ducati team-mate Francesco Bagnaia were hit with double long-lap penalties for speeding in pitlane, while Quartararo stopped in the wrong side of the Yamaha box – which netted him a long lap penalty.

With Quartararo losing time swapping to his other Yamaha, Marquez moved into the lead in pitlane ahead of Rins.

Rins’ podium hopes were dashed just seconds later, however, as he crashed at the Dunlop chicane, while world champion team-mate Joan Mir fell out of the grand prix moments earlier before getting to pitlane.

Aleix Espargaro, Aprilia Racing Team Gresini

Aleix Espargaro, Aprilia Racing Team Gresini

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

A master of flag-to-flag races, Marquez immediately opened up a two-second lead on Quartararo, with the Yamaha rider having nothing to respond to the Spaniard.

But Marquez crashed at the final corner on lap nine, promoting Quartararo back into the lead ahead of Miller – who served his long lap penalties on lap nine and 10.

Despite the penalty, Miller’s pace on the soft wet rear tyre relative to Quartararo on the medium wet rear was such that he was only just over a second adrift of the Yamaha rider after his second long lap.

Miller made light work of Quartararo at La Chapelle on lap 12, with Quartararo serving his long lap – situated on the outside of Garage Vert – on the same tour.

Miller got his lead out to well over four seconds for the latter stages and came under no threat through to the chequered flag to secure his second win of the 2021 season.

As the rain abated and the track dried in the latter stages of the race, Quartararo’s pace dropped well off a cliff as he overstressed his soft front wet tyre, with Pramac’s Zarco ghosting up to the Yamaha by lap 21.

Marc Marquez, Repsol Honda Team

Marc Marquez, Repsol Honda Team

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

With no drive grip out of the final corner, Zarco breezed past Quartararo to take a second he wouldn’t let go of through to the chequered flag on home soil.

Quartararo held onto third to take a one-point lead in the championship over Bagnaia, who recovered from his earlier penalties and 16th on the grid to finish fourth ahead of 2020 Le Mans winner Danilo Petrucci on the Tech3 KTM

Alex Marquez used the conditions to come from 19th on the grid to sixth on his LCR Honda ahead of Nakagami and the factory Honda of Pol Espargaro, with Iker Lecuona (Tech3) and Vinales rounding out the top 10.

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Valentino Rossi slid to 11th on his Petronas SRT Yamaha, while team-mate Franco Morbidell crashed on the opening lap at the Blue esses but remounted to finish 16th.

Avintia rookie Luca Marini was 12th on his first wet MotoGP race ahead of KTM’s Brad Binder, the other Avintia rookie Enea Bastianini and Pramac stand-in Tito Rabat.

Marc Marquez did re-join after his earlier crash but fell a second time on lap 18, with KTM’s Miguel Oliveira also crashing out – with Rins falling for a second time.

The Aprilia’s of Aleix Espargaro and Lorenzo Savadori were forced out with mechanical dramas.

Cla Rider Bike Gap Points
1 Australia Jack Miller Ducati   25
2 France Johann Zarco Ducati 3.970 20
3 France Fabio Quartararo Yamaha 14.468 16
4 Italy Francesco Bagnaia Ducati 16.172 13
5 Italy Danilo Petrucci KTM 21.430 11
6 Spain Alex Marquez Honda 23.509 10
7 Japan Takaaki Nakagami Honda 30.164 9
8 Spain Pol Espargaro Honda 35.221 8
9 Spain Iker Lecuona KTM 40.432 7
10 Spain Maverick Viñales Yamaha 40.577 6
11 Italy Valentino Rossi Yamaha 42.198 5
12 Italy Luca Marini Ducati 52.408 4
13 South Africa Brad Binder KTM 59.377 3
14 Italy Enea Bastianini Ducati 1'02.224 2
15 Spain Tito Rabat Ducati 1'09.651 1
16 Italy Franco Morbidelli Yamaha 4 Laps  
  Spain Marc Marquez Honda 10 Laps  
  Spain Aleix Espargaro Aprilia 12 Laps  
  Portugal Miguel Oliveira KTM 15 Laps  
  Spain Alex Rins Suzuki 15 Laps  
  Italy Lorenzo Savadori Aprilia 16 Laps  
  Spain Joan Mir Suzuki 23 Laps  
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