When the chequered flag was waved at the end of MotoGP qualifying in Portimao, Francesco Bagnaia thought he had sealed his second pole position of the season, with a new lap record.

But the celebrations were cut short when Bagnaia returned to pit lane and his Ducati Team broke the news that his fastest lap had been cancelled for passing a waved yellow flag.

To make matters worse, the Italian had already lost the best lap from his first qualifying run and so found himself demoted from first to 11th on the grid.

Digital light panels are being taken to all venues from Portimao onwards to try and make flag warnings clearer for riders to see. But Bagnaia's problem was that the marshal post was on his right, while he was leaning to the left.

"You come from a downhill, the yellow flag is on the right side and I was already leaning to prepare for the corner on the left side. So it was impossible to see," Bagnaia said. "Marini, who was behind me, said to me the same. He also didn't see the yellow flag. But this is the rule and we have to follow it.

"The problem was that in 15 minutes I had two laps cancelled, so it was better to remain in the box today and watch the others!

"But the good thing is that I made pole position with an incredible lap and that my pace is really strong. In FP4 I was with used tyres and very close to Quartararo who had new tyres and I will try to recover all these positions tomorrow.

"I hope it's a group at the front because it will be easier to recover, but I think three or four riders are stronger than the others. It will be very difficult, but I will try everything to stay with them."

While the Italian would have lost the pole lap regardless of whether he saw the yellow flags, by missing them he passed through the scene of Oliveira's accident at full speed and was also aware that he needed to push for another fast lap.

Many other riders agreed that Bagnaia could not have seen the flag from that angle and were therefore sympathetic at losing pole position under such circumstances, but also felt not much could be done.

"I trust him if he says he couldn't see," said Aleix Espargaro. "But we have rules for safety. Yesterday I crashed, in turn 11 I think, a lot of riders closed the throttle. Pecco was one bike in that corner and went wide out of the track when I was in the gravel trying to pick up the bike with the marshals.

"So the rule is the rule and I think Dorna have to be even more strict because now they are very fast to remove the yellow flag, so if there is a yellow it's because somebody is on the ground and if they crash, you can kill a marshal.

"So I feel sorry for them [losing laps] because I know they did an incredible lap, but it's very dangerous."

The Aprilia rider feels punishments should increase for repeat offenders.

"They have more yellow flags than ever, they have LED panels, so do we start with the radio or flags on the dash? It's difficult to do more. So for me they have to be more strong [with the penalties]."

 

Vinales: 'It's impossible, I never touched the green'

Maverick Vinales would have been the rider to inherit Bagnaia's pole position, had he not lost both of his final flying laps and been dumped down to twelfth.

The Qatar winner initially thought he must also have passed an unseen yellow flag zone, but his infringement was for exceeding track limits by edging a wheel over the kerb.

In previous seasons, the infringement was judged by camera footage and the lap remained legal as long as part of a tyre touched the kerb. But for 2021 sensors have been placed in the green area just beyond the kerb and automatically register even the smallest of breach of track limits, undetectable to the eye.

"Honestly, I thought it was a yellow flag. When I went into the box, they said, 'No, it's because you touched the green', and I said, 'it's impossible, I never touched the green'. Because I didn't touch it. I mean, I know when I touch the green, and I didn't touch it," Vinales said.

"Anyway, at the end, these are the rules, and it's one opinion, you can't say anything about it. The decision has been made, and you cannot protest."

Nonetheless, Vinales had gone to see the FIM Stewards, who presented an image of the infringement.

"Not all of the rear tyre was on the green, so most of the tyre was on track," he said. "You cannot understand if the rest of the tyre is touching the green.

"Yamaha was pushing very hard because they have the same opinion as me, that it's not clear that I touched the green. If it was 100% clear then I would say it is how it is, that's it.

"But it's not clear. So maybe they can give me five positions more or something, not just cancelling my lap. But it is like this, and you can't do anything.

"So I don't know. I don't want to think any more about that. I just want to concentrate on tomorrow, we have a good opportunity, and we will push for sure from the start until the end."

Fellow Yamaha rider Valentino Rossi said: "For the track limits, this year it's a lot more strict because now they put some sensors on the green and the sensors understand if you touch. Looking at Maverick, last year it [would have been] a good lap, because he still touched the kerb. But the sensors say like this, so everybody needs to stay a little bit more far from the green."

With Bagnaia losing his 'record' 1m 38.494s and Vinales his best of 1m 38.732s (plus a 1m 38.990s), pole position eventually went to the Spaniard's team-mate Fabio Quartararo with a 1m 38.862s.

 

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