Maverick Vinales is full of confidence after putting his disastrous German Grand Prix showing behind him to claim pole position for Sunday's Dutch TT.

The Monster Energy Yamaha rider finished last at Sachsenring last week, but stuck with the same bike at Assen and dominated qualifying on Saturday.

Vinales topped FP1, FP1 and FP3 before setting a new lap record of 1:31.814 seconds in qualifying, the 26-year-old finishing 0.071s ahead of team-mate Fabio Quartararo.

It was the perfect response on the back of last week's calamity, but Vinales insists the dominant showing at Assen should not come as a surprise.

"Honestly this should be the norm all weekends," he said. "I think we have a good level, our confidence is high.

"I have a really high confidence in what we are able to do but just we didn't find the way to do it before.

"This weekend we didn't touch anything. I said, 'don't touch the bike, it's perfect'. And working on that, it was good, I'm quite happy and now we'll see.

"Tomorrow we have a good chance, we will push at the maximum. For me the result isn't important – for me it's important to give the maximum from one to lap 25."

Ducati's Francesco Bagnaia will join Yamaha pair Vinales and Quartararo on the front row for Sunday's race, while Takaaki Nakagami and Johann Zarco are on row two.

Quartararo tops the riders' standings and has a 22-point lead on Johann Zarco, but the Frenchman accepts he faces a tough task overhauling Vinales on Sunday.

"I think with Maverick we need to be clever, because it's true that on the paper we have really good pace," he said.

"So, I think if we need to play something in my opinion it's great to be clever on the first lap and see at the end.

"But it will depend. I feel great to fight for the victory. It's not that because my main contenders are behind me that I need to be careful.

"For me, it’s the beginning of the championship, we are not even in the middle. So, if I have one chance to fight for the victory I will go for it."

Marc Marquez came out on top in Germany last week, but he will start from 20th in Sunday's 26-lap Dutch TT after crashing in qualifying.

The Repsol Honda rider was flung from his RC213V early on in Friday's FP2 session and admits that accident affected him the following day.

"It's true that today I started the morning and the first thing was I was like, 'OK, it will be impossible to ride the bike' because after the crash from yesterday I had a lot of pain," he said.

"Then it was very difficult. This was in the morning, then in the afternoon step by step I felt better, and this makes me happy because it looks like now if it's in a better way.

"But it's true that the crash from yesterday affected me a lot today."

Provisional classification

1. Maverick Vinales (Monster Energy Yamaha) 1:31.814
2. Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha) +0.071s
3. Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati) +0.302s
4. Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda) +0.500s
5. Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) +0.580s
6. Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM) +0.636s
7. Alex Rins (Suzuki Ecstar) +0.783s
8. Jack Miller (Ducati) +0.795s
9. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia) +0.852s
10. Joan Mir (Suzuki Ecstar) +0.934s
11. Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda) +1.016s
12. Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha) +1.105

Marc Marquez did not finish a MotoGP race for the third straight time, a career first, as Miguel Oliveira triumphed at the Catalan Grand Prix.

Six-time MotoGP champion Marquez has not had the best of luck since returning from an injury that kept him out for the majority of 2020 and, after crashing in the Italian Grand Prix last week, the Spaniard suffered a similar fate on Sunday.

Marquez, aiming for a fifth consecutive podium finish in his home grand prix, spun out of control at turn 10, shortly after Danilo Petrucci and Pol Espargaro had crashed out, with Aleix Espargaro soon joining his younger sibling.

Aleix Espargaro, sixth at the time, fell foul of the same corner that did for Marquez, who desperately tried to right his bike but was swiftly ushered away by track emergency staff as he followed up retirements in France and Italy.

Turn 10 subsequently claimed another big name, Valentino Rossi, who managed his best finish of the season at the Italian Grand Prix (10th) but ended up skidding off the track here.

Yet up ahead, it was a demonstration of complete control from Oliveira (Red Bull KTM), who led for 23 laps in total after capitalising on a mistake from early front-runner Jack Miller.

The Australian had himself pounced on an error by championship leader Fabio Quartararo, who had claimed his fifth consecutive pole and was aiming for a career-first fourth win of a single season.

Yet despite fighting back to close the gap on Oliveira, Quartararo could not win in Barcelona as he did in 2020, and ultimately had to settle for fourth place, missing out on a third straight podium finish at the circuit.

Johann Zarco's daring overtake with three laps to go did the initial damage for Quartararo, who lost part of his protective leathers as he attempted to hold off Miller's challenge for third, but the Monster Energy Yamaha driver was handed a three second penalty.

It is Miller's first appearance on the Barcelona podium in seven attempts in MotoGP, while Zarco has surpassed his previous best tally of three top-three finishes in a single season.

Yet the day belonged to Oliveira, the Portuguese rider holding steady to clinch a third MotoGP race win.

TOP 10
1. Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM)
2. Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) +0.175
3. Jack Miller (Ducati) +1.990s
4. Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha) +4.815s
5. Joan Mir (Suzuki Ecstar) +5.325s
6. Maverick Vinales (Monster Energy Yamaha) +6.281s
7. Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati) +8.175s
8. Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM) +8.378s
9. Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha) +15.652s
10. Enea Bastianini (Reale Avintia Racing) +19.297s

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Riders

1. Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha) 118
2. Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) 101
3. Jack Miller (Ducati) 90
4. Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati) 88
5. Joan Mir (Suzuki Ecstar) 76

Teams
1. Monster Energy Yamaha 192
2. Ducati 178
3. Pramac Racing 124
4. Suzuki Ecstar 99
5. Red Bull KTM 97

What's next?

The MotoGP schedule takes in Germany, with Chemnitz's Sachsenring hosting the German Grand Prix in two weeks' time.

Fabio Quartararo claimed his fifth consecutive pole position on Saturday and revealed he is preferring qualifying sessions to races right now, even as he leads the MotoGP world championship.

Having won three of the first six events this season – including the Italian Grand Prix last time out – Quartararo is 24 points clear at the top of the standings. He has never won more than three races in a campaign in the top category.

But the Monster Energy Yamaha sensation is arguably reserving his best displays for Saturdays.

After another outstanding performance in qualifying at the Catalunya Grand Prix, Quartararo will again line up on the front row.

This career-best run of poles means the Frenchman becomes the 15th rider to reach 15 in the premier class and he is well placed to repeat his impressive past race performances in Barcelona.

Quartararo's first ever podium came at the event in 2019, while he won in 2020.

Yet even another victory might not be as enjoyable as the qualifying session in which he bettered Jack Miller with a time of a minute and 38.853 seconds. He had remarkably already lapped in under 1:40 seven times in FP4.

"Qualifying is the best thing to do on a race weekend," he said. "I enjoy it much more than the race because you push yourself to the limit."

Quartararo even felt he could have performed better as he took pole, although his level of performance on both medium and hard tyres means there is a decision still to make on Sunday.

Jorge Lorenzo, in 2012 and 2013, was the last man to celebrate back-to-back Catalunya GP wins.

"The pace was great, medium and hard," Quartararo said. "The qualifying was great and I did a great first run. But actually, my lap was not that perfect.

"I thought I could improve a little bit more and on my second run I prepared really well the rear tyre, but I went on the yellow flag in sector three.

"But the most important thing is we're on the front row, P1. I'm so happy to see the fans back and I think it's giving a boost for everyone."

The previous rider to have five successive poles was Marc Marquez, with seven across 2013 and 2014.

But the six-time MotoGP champion failed to even make Q2 on Saturday and explained that a circuit where he has four podiums in a row is not suited to his Repsol Honda.

"Our weak point is the traction, and at this circuit, if you don't have the traction, it's impossible to be fast," said Marquez, who is aiming to avoid three straight retirements for the first time in his top category career.

"At the other circuits, you can brake later, stop, go, pick up. But here, at Turn 2, Turn 3, Turn 4, if you don't have the grip, it's impossible.

"Even in '19, when I was in a sweet moment, I was struggling here. Okay, you can say, 'You win the race', but I won the race because there was a strike in Turn 10. If not, I wasn't able to win the race.

"But anyway, let's see if tomorrow we can finish the race and continue this calendar."


Provisional classification

1. Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha) 1:38.853
2. Jack Miller (Ducati) +0.037s
3. Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) +0.196s
4. Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM) +0.246s
5. Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha) +0.256s
6. Maverick Vinales (Monster Energy Yamaha) +0.304s
7. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia) +0.365s
8. Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM) +0.490s
9. Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati) +0.506s
10. Joan Mir (Suzuki Ecstar) +0.578s
11. Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha) +0.752s
12. Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda) +2.938s

Marc Marquez had forecast the need to "gamble" on Sunday, but he was angry with his execution after crashing twice at a flag-to-flag French Grand Prix he briefly led.

The Repsol Honda superstar was hoping for a wet race to give him the best chance of a first victory since his injury at Le Mans.

The looming dark clouds delivered early in Sunday's race and Marquez, starting from sixth on the grid, stormed into contention.

Aiming for a fourth French GP win – only he and Valentino Rossi have three MotoGP victories – Marquez emerged from the pit lane in the lead after switching bikes.

That advantage did not last long as a dramatic fall saw the Spaniard flip through the air after flying off the slippery surface.

Yet that was not the crash that upset Marquez, who continued the grand prix and had recovered to reach 11th when he skidded off the track a second time and was ruled out.

"In the rain, I had a better chance of having a good race, but also of crashing," he told Sky Sport. "In the dry, I saw that there was a limit, but after the flag-to-flag I felt good.

"In the first crash, the bike slid a lot. Even with the medium tyre, at the beginning, I had to be a bit calmer, but it can happen.

"Then I got back on the bike and I was running very fast. The second fall is the one that angers me most.

"The first could happen because it was wet, I was warming the tyres... it happened to many riders.

"The second makes me angry because I was pushing too hard even though I was struggling to stay 100 per cent focused on the bike. At that point, I was thinking more about getting back in to put on the dry tyres than about riding.

"That's why it made me angry. There is a risk and I need to manage it better."

Although Marquez shouldered his fair share of blame, he was disenchanted with the performance of his Repsol Honda bike.

He said: "If it is a step back, what can be used to take the races more calmly? If we look at the Honda crashes, it's not just me. All our bikes have crashed.

"We're working on it. It is true that I crashed twice in Jerez, though.

"Here, due to the conditions we had, we had a good weekend, but today was not a good Sunday. Today I was not good, I didn't risk when I had to risk and I risked too much when I didn't have to."

Marquez was not the only former champion to make a costly mistake, with 2020 title-winner Joan Mir unable to finish after his own crash.

The Suzuki Ecstar rider went down approaching the pit lane and then dashed towards his second bike on foot when the damaged first would not restart.

The failure to enter the pit lane with his machine meant Mir was not allowed to continue.

"I don't know what happened honestly," he said. "For my part, I have to say sorry to the team because I made a mistake.

"I saw that the bike was not running and I started to run to the box. I knew I had to come with the bike, but the bike was a bit damaged and I started to run.

"I don't know why, the adrenaline or something. But from this experience I will learn for the future, I will not repeat it, that's for sure."

Victory instead went to Jack Miller for the second race running, his tally of MotoGP wins swelling from one through 102 grands prix to three through 104.

Miller ran off into the gravel at one stage and later had to serve a double long-lap penalty, but he has back-to-back wins for just the second time in all categories, having also achieved the feat in Moto3 in 2014.

"That was hectic, very hectic," he said, adding: "It's absolutely amazing. I can't believe it.

"Back-to-back wins like this are just fantastic and I can't thank the team enough. They're awesome."

Marc Marquez is hoping for rain at the French Grand Prix in order to challenge pole-sitter Fabio Quartararo, although he acknowledges a tough, dry race may be better for his rehabilitation.

Repsol Honda superstar Marquez broke his arm at the first event of the 2020 season and failed to return, seeing his run of four straight MotoGP titles come to an end.

The six-time champion only made his comeback at the Portuguese Grand Prix and is still getting to grips with his bike again.

Marquez has finished P7 and P9 but will start from sixth on the grid at Le Mans on Sunday after a strong Q2 in which he briefly led the way and finished only 0.437 seconds off pace-setter Quartararo.

The Spaniard won on his past two appearances at Le Mans and has a joint-high three victories in France, but he recognises the weather will have to play in his favour this time.

"It's true that to have a dry race in a good pace is impossible at the moment, because only in six laps I struggled the last laps," he said after qualifying.

"But it's true that if it's wet it's more a gamble. Now is time to take that gamble."

He added: "On one side, I'd prefer a dry race, because like this I continue with my preparation, with my rehabilitation.

"But it's true that, if it's raining, it's not a problem for me. It will be less demanding for the physical condition and will be a lot better."

There is the potential for a wet race, according to the forecast, although similar was true of Saturday, resulting in "mixed" conditions.

When it was put to Marquez that he was "the master" in such scenarios, he corrected the reporter. "I was the master in those conditions," he said, emphasising the past tense.

Quartararo is now the man to catch, having secured pole position for a third consecutive grand prix for the first time in his career despite having surgery following an arm pump issue in a collapse last time out in Spain.

The 22-year-old is already the most successful French rider in MotoGP history with five race wins, yet the most recent home victor at the French GP in the top category was Pierre Monneret in 1954 and Quartararo has never reached the podium in any category at the event.

He started from pole last year, too, but came ninth, and said at Parc Ferme on Saturday: "In the last lap, I said I crash or I make front row.

"That was real, because in the last sector I pushed myself to the limit.

"I even didn't know until I arrived here that I made pole position. I saw the three bikes and I said, 'Oh, it's a shame we are not in the front row', and then I saw my mechanics moving.

"It's pole position and I'm so happy to make it two years in a row in my home GP."

An intriguing Sunday lies ahead, with world champion Joan Mir starting from 14th and 2021 leader Fabio Bagnaia 16th.


Provisional classification

1. Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha) 1:32.600
2. Maverick Vinales (Monster Energy Yamaha) +0.081s
3. Jack Miller (Ducati) +0.104s
4. Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha) +0.166s
5. Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) +0.277s
6. Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) +0.437s
7. Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda) +0.520s
8. Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda) +0.550s
9. Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha) +0.791s
10. Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM) +1.267s
11. Lorenzo Savadori (Aprilia) +1.658s
12. Luca Marini (Esponsorama) +1.665s

Marc Marquez completed just seven laps at Monday's Jerez test as he dealt with the after-effects of his crash in practice at the Spanish Grand Prix.

The six-time MotoGP champion was involved in a significant fall on Saturday for the first time since breaking his arm at the same track in the 2020 season opener.

Marquez slid off at Turn Seven in FP3, although medical checks cleared him for the rest of the weekend. He also fell in the warm-up but finished a respectable ninth in Sunday's race.

The series has remained in Spain for testing this week, but Marquez's involvement was cut short due to stiffness in his shoulder and arm.

"Today we didn't really test, just one run because on the second run my body was already locking up," the Repsol Honda man said.

"My neck and my right shoulder were stiff; it's similar to after Portimao but I was not as locked up as I was after Portugal.

"The crash I had on Saturday didn't help with my physical condition.

"I thought that maybe today when my body had warmed up it would be better, and I could try but straight away I could tell I wasn't at a good level for riding.

"We spoke as a team and decided to stop the test. We need to understand that we're improving step by step and the next target is Le Mans where we will try to improve again."

Maverick Vinales led testing with a time of 1:36.879 from one of his 101 laps, topping his qualifying effort from two days earlier.

His team-mate Fabio Quartararo, who faded spectacularly from pole on Sunday due to an arm issue, was absent.

Spanish GP victor Jack Miller and championship-leading Ducati team-mate Francesco Bagnaia completed a combined 84 laps.

Jack Miller won the Spanish Grand Prix as the Ducati rider notched his first MotoGP victory since 2016.

The Australian made a superb start to lead and, despite being passed by Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha) in the middle stages, he held his nerve in the second half of the race to return to the front.

Miller finished ahead of Ducati team-mate Francesco Bagnaia with Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) in third spot.

Quartararo slipped down to finish 13th as he surrendered his place at the top of the world championship to Bagnaia.

The Frenchman started poorly as he slipped from pole position to fourth as Miller surged ahead, but like the Portuguese Grand Prix last time out he initially recovered.

Quartararo overtook his rivals on the final corner of successive laps to regain the lead before he pulled one-and-a-half seconds clear at the front.

With 11 laps to go, a third consecutive victory seemingly beckoned for Quartararo, but he dropped two seconds on one lap, allowing Miller to seize the advantage.

Miller was able to hold on until the end as he secured his first MotoGP win since the Dutch TT at Assen in June 2016 and his eighth overall.

Quartararo lost further ground as Italian duo Bagnaia with Morbidelli scrapped it out for second, with the former edging it to make it a one-two for Ducati.

Six-time MotoGP champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) returned to the Jerez track where he suffered a broken arm last July –  an injury that kept him out for nine months – and came through unscathed.

Marquez, who had escaped injury in a big fall on Saturday and another accident in warm-up, started the race in 14th spot and eventually ended in ninth in his second race since returning.

Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) claimed fourth place as Joan Mir (Suzuki Ecstar) and Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia) both secured top-six finishes.

TOP 10

1. Jack Miller (Ducati) 41'05.602
2. Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati) +1.912
3. Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) +2.516
4. Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) +3.206
5. Joan Mir (Suzuki Ecstar) +4.256
6. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia) +5.164
7. Maverick Vinales (Monster Energy Yamaha) +5.651
8. Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) +7.161
9. Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) +10.494
10. Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda) +11.776

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Riders

1. Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati) 66
2. Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha) 64
3. Maverick Vinales (Monster Energy Yamaha) 50
4. Joan Mir (Suzuki Ecstar) 49
5. Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) 48

Teams

1. Monster Energy Yamaha 114
2. Ducati 105
3. Suzuki Ecstar 72
4. Pramac Racing 65
5. Repsol Honda 40

What's next?

Quartararo will hope for more luck on home turf at the French Grand Prix at Le Mans on May 16.

 

 

Fabio Quartararo overcame a poor start to win a dramatic Portuguese Grand Prix that saw Marc Marquez finish seventh on his long-awaited return.

Marquez said he was ready to "suffer" in his first race since sustaining a season-ending broken arm last July, but the six-time MotoGP champion enjoyed an encouraging comeback after making an early move from sixth to third.

However, it was Quartararo who took the victory, despite dropping down the field from pole position in a pulsating start, after Johann Zarco and Alex Rins crashed out in quick succession at the Algarve International Circuit on Sunday.

Quartararo took over from Zarco as championship leader after sealing back-to-back wins following his triumph in Doha, with Francesco Bagnaia and Joan Mir taking second and third place respectively.

Maverick Vinales could only finish back in 11th place on a great day for Quartararo.

Zarco darted up the inside in a dream start from third on the grid to take the lead from Monster Energy Yamaha rider Quartararo, with Marquez also impressing during the opening laps in Portimao.

Quartararo dropped back to sixth and Marquez caught the back of Mir's Suzuki as he slipped back following a promising beginning to the race.

Rins, who started in second, moved passed Pramac Racing's Zarco in a flash at Turn 13 to hit the front before Jack Miller and Miguel Oliveira - winner on home soil last year - crashed out.

Quartararo had ominously put a disappointing start behind him to apply the pressure, becoming the latest leader of the race with 17 laps to go.

Rins tried his best to cut the gap in second place but spun off 11 laps from the end at Turn 10 after Valentino Rossi had crashed out from 11th place.

Quartararo was in complete control when Rins spun and a second-placed Zarco hit the deck, with Ducati rider Bagnaia holding off Mir for second, having been back in 11th, as the early championship lead changed hands.

Marc Marquez will start from sixth on his MotoGP return, but there was drama and controversy at the front of the grid in Portuguese Grand Prix qualifying on Saturday.

Six-time champion Marquez will race this week for the first time since the 2020 season opener.

The Repsol Honda superstar broke the humerus in his right arm in that event in Jerez and failed in his bid to make a swift comeback, instead watching the remainder of the campaign from the sidelines as Joan Mir claimed his crown.

Marquez has taken precautions at the start of the new MotoGP year, too, missing the first two races, but he is back in action at the Algarve International Circuit.

His previous appearance in Portugal, at Estoril in Moto2, ended in victory in 2012.

Still recovering his fitness, Marquez said: "Tomorrow I'll suffer. But then next week I can recover, then Jerez be a little bit stronger."

A solid Q2 time of one minute and 39.121 seconds was sixth-fastest to ensure a competitive Sunday start, although Marquez would have only made seventh had Francesco Bagnaia's sensational time not been struck off.

Bagnaia, who claimed a first career pole at the season opener, believed he was set to start from the front of the grid again after shattering the track record. The Italian already has three fastest laps over the past two seasons.

But the factory Ducati rider passed through a yellow flag zone following Miguel Oliveira's crash in completing a 1:38.494 lap.

Fabio Quartararo was the beneficiary when that effort was cancelled, promoted to pole as Bagnaia fumed.

"For sure [the flag position is a problem], because you are coming from the downhill and the yellow flag was on the right side," said Bagnaia, whose strong start to the season has included 26 points from two races. He had 47 from 11 in 2020.

"I was already leaning for the corner and preparing for the corner, so it was impossible to see my side.

"[Luca] Marini, who was behind me, said to me the same. He also didn't see the yellow flags, so it was impossible."

Quartararo will be looking to protect his new position, having only finished on the podium in four of his past 16 races but won on all four occasions.


Provisional classification

1. Fabio Quartararo (Monster Yamaha) 1:38.862
2. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) +0.089s
3. Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) +0.129s
4. Jack Miller (Ducati) +0.199s
5. Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha) +0.241s
6. Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) +0.259s
7. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia) +0.307s
8. Luca Marini (Esponsorama) +0.524s
9. Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) +0.536s
10. Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM) +0.583s
11. Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati) +0.620s
12. Maverick Viñales (Monster Yamaha) +0.945s

Marc Marquez is set to end his MotoGP injury nightmare with a long-awaited return to action in next week's Portuguese Grand Prix.

The six-time champion could not mount a defence to his title in 2020 after breaking the humerus bone in his right arm following a fall during the first race, staged at Jerez.

Marquez underwent three operations, the last of which was carried out in December following the discovery of an infection in the fracture.

He has been able to build up his training regime and is now poised to compete again after getting the go-ahead from medical experts.

Marquez's Repsol Honda team said in a statement on Saturday: "In the review carried out on Marc Marquez by the Hospital Ruber Internacional medical team, four months after surgery, led by doctors Samuel Antuna and Ignacio Roger de Ona, and made up of doctors De Miguel, Ibarzabal and García Villanueva, for an infected pseudoarthrosis of the right humerus, a very satisfactory clinical condition was found, with evident progress in the bone consolidation process.

"In the current situation, Marquez can return to competition, assuming the reasonable risk implicit in his sporting activity."

Marquez wrote on Twitter: "I'M VERY HAPPY! Yesterday I visited the doctors and they gave me the green light to return to competition. They have been 9 difficult months, with moments of uncertainties and ups and downs, and now, I will be able to enjoy my passion again! See you next week in Portimao!!"

He must still pass a further medical test before racing in Portugal, but Marquez and his team appear confident he is healthy enough to compete.

There is ground to make up for Marquez in the championship after he missed the opening two rounds of the season, both staged in Qatar.

Pramac Racing's Johann Zarco has made the early running in the riders' standings, with a pair of second-place finishes putting the Frenchman on 40 points.

For the first time in a long time, the new MotoGP season promises a wide-open title race.

Marc Marquez's standing at the top of the sport has long been undisputed, but injury robbed him of his 2020 campaign and allowed Joan Mir to profit.

A response from Marquez this year has to be expected, but he will not be fit in time for the Qatar double-header that begins the season.

The first of the two Losail International Circuit races comes on Sunday, when Marquez's rivals will be looking to send a message to the absent superstar ahead of another intriguing title tussle.
 

MIR A THREAT TO MARQUEZ?

The 2020 championship would typically make Mir the man to beat in 2021, but Marquez is the bookmakers' favourite, even as he prepares to sit out the start of the season.

Prior to last season, when he appeared in only the first grand prix, Marquez had six titles in seven years.

The Repsol Honda rider will be confident, too, that his delayed recovery will not negatively impact his challenge. This will be the 14th time the campaign has started in Qatar but only four of the previous 13 race winners – most recently Marquez in 2013 – have gone on to top the standings at the end of the year.

Indeed, it is not an event Marquez will mind missing too much, with just one win in seven appearances at the Qatar Grand Prix.

If he can return swiftly afterwards, however, his rivals will have reason to fear. Excluding four abandonments, Marquez has finished first (16 times) or second (eight) in his past 24 races.

Mir's sole previous appearance at Qatar does not suggest he will be able to forge an early lead either, having finished eighth in 2018.

But the defending champion made the podium in seven of his final 11 races in 2020 to clinch the title, Suzuki Ecstar's first riders' championship since 2000.
 

CHALLENGERS TO THE CHAMPIONS

Mir was the man who went away with the title as Marquez missed out, but he was not alone in pursuit of the six-time champion's crown.

Petronas Yamaha's Franco Morbidelli was second last year, just 13 points back, and finished the campaign with two wins in four races, as well as consecutive podiums to end the season.

Jack Miller, now of the factory Ducati team, joined Morbidelli on the podium on both occasions and is being counted among the contenders despite never finishing higher than seventh over the course of a season in this category.

Morbidelli's team-mate last year Fabio Quartararo has moved to the Yamaha factory team after a disappointing 2020, but he has shown just what a threat he can be early in the year, starting with back-to-back victories last time out.

And while Marquez and Mir at least do not have to worry about Andrea Dovizioso, taking a one-year sabbatical, the Honda man might find competition a little closer to home.

New team-mate Pol Espargaro earned his move with five podiums in his past 10 races after only one in the previous 109.
 

THE OLD AND THE NEW

Marquez could join Valentino Rossi on seven titles, behind only Giacomo Agostini (eight) in the 500cc class, with another championship – and the Italian is highly unlikely to play any part in stopping him.

With Marquez out of the picture, veteran Rossi slumped to a career-worst 15th place in the standings last season, with only a single podium – his lowest return since 2011.

That disappointing campaign brought an end to the 42-year-old's second stint with the Yamaha factory team.

Rossi will instead ride for Petronas Yamaha, where he needs just one more podium to become the first 500cc/MotoGP rider to the 500 mark.

At the other end of the spectrum, Luca Marini, Enea Bastianini and Jorge Martin are debutants.

There were three new men in 2020, too, although with Esponsorama Racing pair Marini and Bastianini, this is the first year since 2013 (Andrea Ianone and Claudio Corti) there will be two Italians making their bow in the same year.

Marc Marquez will miss the start of the new MotoGP season in Qatar as he continues his recovery from a serious arm injury.

The six-time world champion was unable to defend his title in 2020 after he broke the humerus bone in his right arm following a fall during the first race, staged at Jerez.  

Marquez underwent three operations - the last of which was carried out in December following the discovery of an infection in the fracture - but was cleared to intensify his training regime last month. 

However, the Spaniard has confirmed he will not be involved for the opening two rounds of the campaign, with Repsol Honda announcing a further examination will take place on April 12. 

"After the last check-up with the medical team, they have advised me not to participate in the two Qatar races so we will continue with the recovery to return to compete as soon as possible!" Marquez tweeted. 

The 2021 MotoGP schedule kicks off this weekend with the Qatar Grand Prix, while the Losail International Circuit is also the venue for the Doha Grand Prix, which takes place on April 4. 

Joan Mir is the defending champion, the Spaniard having sealed Suzuki Ecstar's first riders' championship since 2000 - and first ever team title - with a race to spare last year.

Marquez has only triumphed once in seven previous appearances in Qatar, albeit he has finished on the podium there five times, including taking second place on his previous two visits.

Marc Marquez has been cleared to step up his rehabilitation from arm surgery with the 2021 MotoGP season approaching.

Six-time MotoGP champion Marquez fractured his humerus in the opening race in Jerez last year and had to withdraw from the next grand prix after attempting to return.

He underwent three operations, the latest of which was carried out in December after it was discovered he had sustained an infection in the fracture.

Following a course of antibiotic treatment at home, Marquez has been given the green light to move on with his recovery.

A statement from Repsol Honda read: "A further review of Marc Marquez at the Hospital Ruber Internacional, 10 weeks after surgery for an infected pseudoarthrosis of the right humerus, has confirmed a favourable clinical situation.

"The medical team led by doctors Samuel Antuna and Ignacio Roger de Ona, and including doctors Juan de Miguel, Aitor Ibarzabal and Andrea Garcia Villanueva, assessed the radiographic signs of bone consolidation and were satisfied with the progress.

"From now on, and during the next few weeks, Marquez will be able to progress steadily in the process of functional recovery of the operated arm."

The 2021 MotoGP season is scheduled to get under way with a pair of races in Qatar, the first of which will take place on March 28.

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