Christopher Fillocque with AFP 09:33, March 26, 2023, modified at 09:33, March 26, 2023

Forever the first: reigning world champion Francesco Bagnaia won the first sprint in MotoGP history on Saturday, far ahead of Frenchman Fabio Quartararo, only 10th and therefore out of the points on the Portimao track in Portugal.

Reigning world champion Francesco Bagnaia won the first sprint in MotoGP history on Saturday, far ahead of Frenchman Fabio Quartararo, only 10th and therefore out of the points on the Portimao track in Portugal. Thanks to his victory in this event that makes its appearance this year, the Italian provisionally takes the lead of the championship, before the traditional Grand Prix contested on Sunday, the first of a record season of 21 races.

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Marquez didn't last long

"It was fun, more intense because it was shorter than a normal race," said the 26-year-old Ducati rider, "satisfied" with the day, because (his) goal was to finish in the top three.

He won ahead of Spaniards Jorge Martin (Ducati-Pramac) and Marc Marquez (Honda). Starting from pole position to everyone's surprise, Marquez, six-time world champion in MotoGP, did not resist for long the onslaught of the two Ducati launched just behind him.

Tenth in the sprint, Quartararo (Yamaha), 2021 world champion, failed to reach the points, behind his compatriot Johann Zarco (Ducati-Pramac), who, thanks to his 8th place, took two points overall. The Niçois, who started only eleventh on the grid behind Zarco tenth, made a bad start before hooking Joan Mir's Honda. Last in the pack after these setbacks, he has however managed to raise part of the competition.

Bastianini package for the rest of the weekend

Contested every day before the Grand Prix, the sprints represent the equivalent, in distance, of half of the main race on Sunday. They also offer up to 12 additional points to the championship, in addition to the 25 points awarded the next day to the winner of the GP.

For its very first edition, the event kept its promises of spectacle with beautiful battles on track, like the one led for the first place between Bagnaia, Martin and the Australian Jack Miller (KTM), then between the Italian and the Spaniard in the last lap. Behind, Marquez was invited to the podium at the cost of a double overtaking on the Portuguese Miguel Oliveira (Aprilia-RNF) and Miller in the last laps of the wheel.

This first sprint was also marked by the violent collision between the Italians Enea Bastianini (Ducati) and Luca Marini (Ducati-VR46). The first was taken to Portimao Hospital. He suffered a fractured shoulder blade and therefore withdrew for the rest of the weekend. It's a blow for Bastianini, who will miss his first GP riding a factory Ducati - and the next one too (Argentine GP next weekend).

The day before, the Spaniard Pol Espargaro (GasGas-Tech3), victim of a violent fall during testing, also had to throw in the towel due to a pulmonary contusion and fractures. While he should be able to fly again, no return date has yet been announced.

Score for a 60th?

On Sunday, the starting grid of the GP will still be the one determined on Saturday morning during qualifying. If the French will start again far behind the leading men - despite a place won thanks to the forfeit of Bastianini, qualified 6th - Marc Marquez will start on pole for the second time of the weekend. The Spaniard will have in his sights his first victory in the premier class since autumn 2021. And the 60th of his career.

As for the sprint, he will start ahead of Bagnaia, 2nd, and Martin, 3rd. A performance that surprised the poleman, far from being convinced by the strength of his Honda. "I don't understand what happened," he said after qualifying. "Yesterday (during the tests, editor's note), we suffered a lot," he acknowledged. On Friday, the Spaniard had only set the 14th fastest time in qualifying practice and therefore had to go through the repechages on Saturday morning to win this pole.

Coming back from nowhere, Marquez, 30, even set the lap record to win this pole - the 64th of his career, marked in recent years by health problems that prevented him from competing for the title. But, he already anticipates, "the race will be very difficult against the Ducati who have a high pace". Answer tomorrow from 14:00 (15:00 Paris time) in the hills of the Algarve.