Aleix Espargarò confirmed the forecast made in FP2, and on Saturday in qualifying he snatched pole from Bagnaia (Ducati), thus placing his Aprilia at the top of the grid thanks to an advantage of only 31 thousandths of a second. Quartararo's Yamaha completed the front row, with a gap of two tenths from the first two riders. According to the classification, tomorrow's race therefore promises clashes right down to the wire, on a track where the riders will have to link their destinies to tyre management, which in the final laps could prove to be the decisive watershed. With Enea down the grid, the Spaniard has a unique opportunity to overtake his French rival in the championship, which he is leading by only 8 points.
It was a hard-fought pole until the last lap.
“It has been the most difficult lap of all the season so far, the conditions were super tricky - confessed Aleix - I didn't think I'd be able to improve my time this morning, when I had used a soft tyre on the rear. I can say that I had fun, a couple of times I even risked losing the front, I think I really rode to the limit, and when at the end I finished the qualifying on the straight and I still didn't know I had done it, I was just happy not to have crashed. I'm really happy, both for the result and because this is the circuit I grew up on. "
What would it mean for you to win on this very circuit you are so attached to? Are you convinced of the decision to run with a medium on the rear, given the importance of tyre wear on this track?
“Normally, 90% of the races are won by the fastest rider but here in Barcelona it is not that easy, it is not about going fast, I can go very, very fast but you also have to manage the rear tyre. It is a bit frustrating because there is a certain moment when you cannot do anything, there is nothing you can do, just accelerate and wait for the bike to go, because the bike and the traction control is stopping you a lot. In FP4 I tried different electronic settings to see if I lost a lot of time or not by saving tyre and we are quite happy with the results. The pace I did is quite strong so tomorrow is going to be a balance to find this thin line between the speed and the consumption of the rear tyre.”
On the issue of rear tyre management, all the riders seem to agree, except for Luca Marini. According to him, the best riders will be able to adapt, so what could make the difference could be the management of the front.
"I have no problems with the front, even braking very far ahead, I hope not to have any tomorrow. It is clear that you have to be good at managing the tyres, but it is also true that the riders on the front row who are aiming for victory will have to push to obtain it, so it's a compromise. It's about finding the limit, understanding how far you have to push the tyre before destroying it, it won't be easy. "
All this attention is new in your career. Does it in some way affect the way you approach the races in terms of pressure and expectations?
"This is a special GP for me, it's the home circuit. This year with Valentino's absence the atmosphere is different from how it has been for many years, it is still very popular with the public. Marquez is an important factor, so I think it is normal to get more attention here considering that I am a Spanish rider, a Catalan fighting for the world championship. I'm tired, but I'm happy overall. I'm having a lot of fun, riding the bike here is fantastic. I'm racing against very strong riders and I'm having fun, so being Catalan and racing here doesn't really make a big difference. "
Here at Barcelona there seems to be more public than at Mugello, despite the absence of Valentino. Do you think you have influenced in some way?
"I don't know, but I was pleased to see so many fans, not just mine. At Mugello it seemed to be at a test, it was sad. I understand that it will be impossible to match Valentino, even if Pecco wins three world championships, so if I might have influenced in some way here in Catalonia it would please me ".
It's not just about the home circuit, these days you are also racing with a helmet dedicated to your daughter.
"For sure the affection of the public and all these things give me a further boost and give me even more confidence. They are things that increase one's self-esteem and inner fire and make me even happier ".
The renewal of the contract with Aprilia could also play a role in this state of mind.
"I cannot control my future, even before the renewal I always gave my best, as I did with the victory in Argentina. My fixed point in life is my family and the people close to me, now things are going very well so I'm just trying to enjoy the moment by continuing to do my best as a rider. "
Do you think we will see a rerun of Argentina tomorrow?
"In Argentina I was among the favourites and had a big advantage, here I think the situation is very different. I always race to the limit and like everyone else I struggle to manage the critical aspects of this circuit, so it won't be easy, but it's never easy to win in MotoGP ".
Does it bother you that everything is going so well this season?
"Also at Mugello, I had a good pace and I had the chance to fight for pole. Unfortunately I didn't succeed and that penalized me in the race. Here I have a really good pace, it's a circuit I know well, so the expectations are there. This pole will certainly help and I will try to make the most of it in tomorrow's race, but it won't be easy, even my rivals, both Bagnaia and Fabio, have a very fast pace. "
Is this pole on the home circuit better than your previous win?
"Difficult to answer, certainly in these last few races we have been working very well. If tomorrow I manage to make the most of this advantage, as I have a slightly better pace than the others, I think we will have more freedom to decide which strategy to use in the race."
Your best career qualifying?
"I would put it in third place. The first was the one in Barcelona on my debut with Suzuki. The pole with Forward, which was not a factory bike, was just as impressive, then this one."
What will your strategy be for tomorrow?
"Everything will depend on the first few laps. If I manage to get into the lead in the first few corners, I will push in the early laps to gain distance and then get into tyre management. It won't be easy, but if I can't do it, I'll have to decide during the race."
High temperatures could also affect the tyres, and therefore the race.
"It's another risk factor. The Aprilia has an excellent aerodynamic package but like everyone we have to be careful with the tyre pressure, in the past we have had problems if the pressure was too low, but I think that so far, we have been working well".
Who do you fear the most, Pecco or Fabio?
"Fabio has more points in the standings, so I wouldn't mind scoring more points than him tomorrow, but Pecco has also proved to be very fast."