Franco Morbidelli converted his debut MotoGP pole position into an early race lead in Sunday's Catalunya Grand Prix.

The Misano winner kept his Petronas Yamaha at the head of the field until being passed by 'factory-spec' team-mate Fabio Quartararo on lap 9 of 24.

A mistake under braking then allowed Valentino Rossi through to second place, but Morbidelli regained the position when The Doctor crashed out on lap 16.

But any hopes of a safe podium were short-lived as the tyre-saving Suzukis of Joan Mir and Alex Rins put on a late charge and mugged Morbidelli on the penultimate lap.

"I am angry for this fourth place. And this is positive, because it means we are on a great, great level," said Morbidelli, who hadn't finished higher than fifth heading into the 2020 season. "I had a wonderful start, and maybe I pushed too much and wore out the tyres a bit too much, because I wasn't ready to fight when Fabio arrived.

"When I was behind him, I was losing a little bit in the straight, and to catch up I had to risk a lot in braking but I made a mistake and I almost crashed into him. I needed to go straight and wide, and I lost two seconds, which are the ones which eventually made me lose the podium.

"I am angry for this mistake, but I need to be happy about the overall weekend because I made pole position, I was fast in one lap and I was generally fast."

With hindsight, might it have been better to save more tyre at the beginning of the race?

"Who knows?" Morbidelli replied. "I had in my mind a clear strategy, which was get a good start and do my pace and try to push from the beginning and hope that the tyres would last!

"But it didn't happen unfortunately and I started to struggle a lot. My bad. Maybe it would have been better if I had waited a little bit but I'm not sure about that. I really don't know if it would have been better."

'Vale was the fastest today'

While Morbidelli was at least able to secure 13 points and climb to fifth in the world championship, his friend, mentor and 2021 team-mate Rossi slipped to eleventh in the standings after a second DNF in a row.

"About Vale's crash, I'm sorry for him," Morbidelli said. "He didn't deserve that because he made an unbelievable weekend, super-fast in every practice, I think he was the fastest today but he made a mistake. Maybe he was a little bit too hot in that left corner."

Quartararo's third victory of the season means he now leads the world championship by eight points over Mir.

 

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