French MotoGP: Miller wins chaotic flag-to-flag race

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.

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. 

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 teammate 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 teammate Joan Mir fell out of the grand prix moments earlier before getting to pitlane. 

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.

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 Tech 3 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 (Tech 3) and Vinales rounding out the top 10.

Valentino Rossi slid to 11th on his Petronas SRT Yamaha, while teammate 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 Aprilias of Aleix Espargaro and Lorenzo Savadori were forced out with mechanical dramas.

Race results:

Cla # Rider Bike Time
1 43 Australia Jack Miller
Ducati 47'25.473
2 5 France Johann Zarco
Ducati 47'29.443
3 20 France Fabio Quartararo
Yamaha 47'39.941
4 63 Italy Francesco Bagnaia
Ducati 47'41.645
5 9 Italy Danilo Petrucci
KTM 47'46.903
6 73 Spain Alex Marquez
Honda 47'48.982
7 30 Japan Takaaki Nakagami
Honda 47'55.637
8 44 Spain Pol Espargaro
Honda 48'00.694
9 27 Spain Iker Lecuona
KTM 48'05.905
10 12 Spain Maverick Viñales
Yamaha 48'06.050
11 46 Italy Valentino Rossi
Yamaha 48'07.671
12 10 Italy Luca Marini
Ducati 48'17.881
13 33 South Africa Brad Binder
KTM 48'24.850
14 23 Italy Enea Bastianini
Ducati 48'27.697
15 53 Spain Tito Rabat
Ducati 48'35.124
16 21 Italy Franco Morbidelli
Yamaha 48'45.192
93 Spain Marc Marquez
Honda 31'00.890
41 Spain Aleix Espargaro
Aprilia 27'09.299
88 Portugal Miguel Oliveira
KTM 21'53.005
42 Spain Alex Rins
Suzuki 23'25.291
32 Italy Lorenzo Savadori
Aprilia 20'08.785
36 Spain Joan Mir
Suzuki 6'28.071
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