Under the floodlights of Losail, the 2018 season of MotoGP got underway with another fantastic race that sets the scene for an exhilarating year of racing.
Johann Zarco started from pole after a blistering lap from the Frenchman obliterated the 10-year pole position record from Jorge Lorenzo, with Marc Marquez and Danilo Petrucci joining him on the front row, after they also went under lap record pace.
As the lights went out for the first time this year, it was Zarco that led into turn 1 with the Repsol team-mates, Marquez and Pedrosa, slotting in behind. The Italians Andrea Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi went in opposite directions, with Dovi back in 9th and Rossi up to 4th as he passed Petrucci on the first lap. As the riders came round to scratch off lap 1 of 2018 Marquez slid up the inside of Zarco at turn 16 to take the lead, but thanks to slipstream the Frenchman was back in front again at turn 1.
The biggest mover of the first lap was Bradley Smith, who moved up 6 places to 14th, while Maverick Vinales found himself falling back to 15th.
Lap 3 and Rossi made his move on Pedrosa to take third at turn 1 on the brakes. Petrucci attempted to follow his compatriot at turn 10, but Pedrosa fought back and kept the position until the Ducati’s power proved superior on the front straight. Pedrosa subsequently lost another place to his fellow Honda rider Cal Crutchlow, with Andrea Dovizioso following not long after, leaving the Spaniard to fight for 7th with Alex Rins.
“All the wolves behind just want to take my arm” – Rossi
At turn 4 on lap 6, Rossi made another move, this time on Marquez as he took second with a smooth pass up the inside. Back in 13th, his team-mate Maverick Vinales was showing the same pace, with the Yamaha pair two of the fastest on track, but a poor qualifying and start meant a big difference in position.
For a few laps not much changed, but on lap 11 it was again Rossi that was making progress. As he pulled out of the slipstream of his fellow Yamaha, he almost took the lead past Zarco but just ran in too hot with the Frenchman dragging them both wide and Marquez slipping in between to reclaim second. It proved to be a difficult lap for Rossi, which he described as “all the wolves behind [insert growling] just want to take my arm”, as he was then passed by Dovizioso, before coming under attack from Petrucci as his front-end was visibly unstable around the Qatari circuit.
Dovizioso had now turned his attention to Marquez and passed his 2017 title-rival for 2nd at turn 1, while Rossi had settled back down and Petrucci had been passed by Crutchlow as the British rider moved to 5th.
Until lap 13 all 24 riders were still standing (sitting?) but that changed at turn 2 as Alex Rins crashed out after running onto a dirty part of the track and losing the front shortly after passing Petrucci. He was joined in the DNF ranks a couple of corners later when Jorge Lorenzo was forced to abandon ship due to a front brake failure. Back out front and Marquez was back in front of Dovizioso, as Zarco was attempting to pull away and the World Champion had recognised the need to stick with the French rider.
Lap 15 and Dovizioso took second back from Marquez on the front straight, while Vinales had now moved into 9th with 8 laps to go. As the riders made their way through turn 14, Marc took a long look over his shoulder at the chasing pack as he tried to gauge the competition. One lap later and Pol Espargaro pulled into the pits to retire after the electrical issue that had plagued him in qualifying returned, while Petrucci was being closed down at a rapid rate by Vinales, who was still showing incredible pace in the 1’55s.
Qatar is an odd race
With 5 laps to go, Dovizioso hit the front as he passed Zarco at the start of lap 18. Marquez followed the Ducati through, but with the Honda wiggling and no room to brake, it took all of his extraordinary skill to pull the bike up and make it into the first corner and keep the position. For Zarco, this was the end of his time at the front as his tyres had been pushed too far and those around him still had a little life and pace left. Rossi passed him for third, while the other Yamaha of Vinales continued to close in on Petrucci, who in turn was chasing down Pedrosa.
Petrux caught the Samurai for 6th on the next lap, while Crutchlow made it past Zarco, with the rider who had led so much of the race now in 5th. Meanwhile, the current leader, Dovizioso set the fastest lap of the race on the 19th, showing just how well he had managed his tyres and kept his true pace until the end, with Marquez and Rossi doing the same as they both set personal best times.
Andrea Dovizioso came into this race as the favourite
With two laps to go, Petrucci moved past Zarco into 5th, before Vinales secured 6th position after passing Pedrosa and Zarco in quick succession. Then it all came down to the last lap. Rossi was secure in 3rd, but would Marquez make a move on Dovizioso? Who are we kidding, it’s Marc, of course he did.
Into the last corner Marquez moved up the inside, but as with the previous iterations of this same fight Dovizioso cut back and powered for the line to take the first win of the 2018 season, his 9th in MotoGP.
Qatar is an odd race for a few reasons; it’s the first race of the year, the schedule is a mess, the race is at night and the track conditions change at will. But since 2002 there have only been 3 occasions when the rider crowned World Champion didn’t stand on the top step of the first race (2008, 2015 and 2017), and Losail has hosted the season opener for 12 years. Will 2018 follow the trend and see either Dovizioso, Marquez or Rossi lift the trophy in Valencia?
Regardless of what it means for the championship in 8 months time, it was a fantastic way to begin the year and perfectly prepares us for the next 18 rounds.
For Andrea Dovizioso, he came into this race as the favourite. Losail suits the Ducati and it’s of no surprise that he was standing on the top step on Sunday evening. He didn’t have a good start but thanks to his excellent tyre management combined with his superb pace that allowed him to progress without pushing too hard, when he did reach the front he still had enough left to keep Marquez at bay.
For the other Ducati of Jorge Lorenzo, it was a weekend to forget
After Austria and Japan Dovi knew to expect Marc in the last corner and the usual strategy of cutting back on the inside, again worked perfectly. But there is a reason to be wary of this deja vu continuing. As Marc pointed out, these last lap clashes have come in tracks where he’s not as strong. In happier hunting grounds the score might start to be evened up, maybe he just needs to try it around a left corner for a change? Either way, it’s a guaranteed way to keep everyone’s nerves on a very ragged edge.
For the other Ducati of Jorge Lorenzo, it was a weekend to forget in many ways. On Saturday he lost time with technical issues, while on Friday he’d had to swap bikes due to his chain rubbing. In the race, he didn’t have a great start due to wheelie and then he noticed an issue with his front brake from lap 2, which he put down to him overheating it, so tried to use it a little less. Unfortunately on lap 13 as he negotiated his way around Iannone, he found he couldn’t stop and “needed to jump from the bike to avoid hitting the wall”. As Jorge pointed out, it’s a good thing that it hadn’t happened a few corners earlier at turn 1 and thankfully he walked away unhurt.
The man in second traditionally doesn’t feel at home in Qatar, something his team capitalised on for their own entertainment when they sent Marc a dash message saying that he was being followed by his brother Alex in FP3. But this weekend, he was there. The only session he topped was the warmup, but he’d demonstrated he had a good pace over race distance and that in qualifying he could do a single quick lap as well. The hard front tyre he’d chosen was a little bit tricky to handle in some of the left-hand corners but he rode a really great race, and it just wouldn’t be Marc if he hadn’t tried to squeeze past Dovi in the last corner. In his own words “I try and now I can sleep well this night”.
His team-mate Dani Pedrosa had been pretty quiet over the weekend but was held back by his rear tyre in the race due to excessive spinning. The good news is that Dani had a good feel with the hard front, particularly in braking. He found setup improvements in FP4 and while the pace wasn’t at the same level as Marquez, 7th isn’t a terrible start to the year for Dani.
After signing a new two-year contract, the usual critics crawled out of their dark holes to question what else Valentino Rossi had to offer as he starts his 23rd year in Grand Prix. Well in Qatar, he showed them and summed it up in the post-race press conference “in our sport, like in all the sports, just one thing is important; the result. You can speak a lot, but after, the only important thing is what happen on the track. I don’t race to demonstrate to the people that I’m not too old. I race just to demonstrate to me that I can stay at the top.”
For Maverick Vinales, he hopes this race is a turning point
Valentino felt good on the bike and had decent pace, but tyres were a worry, particularly the longevity of the front. For raceday, he decided to forget about the rubber and focus on the speed, “we try everything to go fast, and if after, the tyre resist, it resist, if not ciao”. It worked, he was able to battle well with the other riders and keep a good pace until the end that kept his podium position secure while he enjoyed the Dovi/Marquez show from behind.
For Maverick Vinales, he hopes this race is a turning point. He was struggling to get a good feel on the bike until he convinced his team to try a stiffer setup. This gave him the feeling he’d been missing and it showed in his pace during the race. A bad start compounded the problems of a poor qualifying, but he had the same speed as the leaders for much of the 22 laps and recovered very well to 6th. 2017 didn’t end so well for the Yamaha team, but if they can take the momentum they’ve found in Losail forward and continue the improvements, particularly with the electronics, the future should be brighter.
Taking the chequered flag in 4th was LCR’s Cal Crutchlow who had aimed for the podium but was unable to catch the riders in front, as he could match their pace but not better it. The British rider came away from Qatar happy though, with a good points haul at a track he hasn’t finished at in the last two years.
Joining Crutchlow in the LCR garage this season is Japanese rookie Takaaki Nakagami, and it hadn’t been the easiest debut weekend for Taka. On Saturday he had a big crash the first time he ever used the hard front tyre, followed by a technical issue on his second bike, so qualifying in 23rd wasn’t ideal but he gained a lot of experience over 22 laps and learnt a lot from the riders around him.
Danilo Petrucci was another rider not entirely satisfied with their final result as the Italian brought home 5th after starting on the front row and being in the front group for the entire race. He recognised that he’d had the potential to finish on the podium, but the soft front tyre hadn’t given him quite enough in braking and turning. The weekend, in general, was very positive for Petrux though and it’s good to see he’s carried forward his excellent form from 2017, it looks to be another great year for Danilo and that first win might be coming soon (which would definitely make the amount of weight he lost over the winter worth it!)
With 5 laps to go, Johann was struggling
His new Pramac team-mate Jack Miller had a decent race to 10th, despite losing some front feel, especially in right-hand corners. The Australian is still looking for improvements from his new-to-him Ducati but he looks a much happier and more comfortable rider already this season.
Then it’s time to look at the race leader for 17 laps, Johann Zarco. He’d already blown everyone away in qualifying after finding the confidence he’d been missing until that point, with his team boss Herve Poncharal conceding that the pressure and the expectation had been affecting him. In the race, he got a great start and much like 2017, he led well, although this year his time at the front lasted longer and didn’t end in the gravel. But the front tyre had its limit and with 5 laps to go, Johann was struggling with sliding and couldn’t turn onto the right side properly.
It was a mixed result for Suzuki
While the Frenchman was undoubtedly impressive out front it’s important to recognise that the riders behind him weren’t necessarily pushing as they all had to save their tyres. Dovi explained, “he was struggling a lot, he didn’t have the grip, he use too much the tyre.. he lead the race because we wanted, because everybody save the tyre”.
On the other side of the Tech 3 garage is rookie Hafizh Syahrin, who made history as the first Malaysian rider in MotoGP. A late addition to the grid after Jonas Folger ruled out a return from illness this year, Hafizh has definitely impressed and did so again in Qatar. 14th on his debut after only completing two tests with the bike is a great result and brings more experience for the Malaysian, particularly with managing different engine maps during the race.
It was a mixed result for Suzuki with Andrea Iannone taking the flag in 9th. The Maniac had a good start but had issues with front feel during the race, thankfully he thinks they should be easily resolved, which meant he focussed on finishing the race and bringing home some points. He’d struggled with the front throughout the weekend but showed good pace while Alex Rins started his season with a baptism of gravel after crashing on lap 13 but remained optimistic after a very impressive weekend where he found a good feeling with the bike.
Just outside of the top 10 was Tito Rabat who had a difficult start to the race but found some decent pace as the laps continued. 11th was a good comeback from a complicated Saturday and the signs look good for Tito this year, as he’s visibly more comfortable on the Ducati. Rookie team-mate Xavier Simeon is finding the step to MotoGP a little trickier than his fellow former Moto2 riders, but Sunday was his first time doing a full-race distance on a MotoGP bike and the fact that he stayed calm and saw the chequered flag is a positive sign and he’ll benefit from the experience.
Moto2 World Champion Franco Morbidelli crossed the line in 12th after an impressive race that was “a better result than I expected” and definitely a good way to kick off his rookie year, while team-mate and fellow debutant Tom Luthi also performed better than he had thought in 16th, despite some braking issues.
The Angel Nieto Ducatis of Alvaro Bautista and Karel Abraham finished 13th and 15th, with Alvaro losing time at the start as he struggled to get heat into the tyres and Karel having to take avoiding action, while also needing to deal with the front of his bike shaking and a lack of grip.
The Qatar Grand Prix was a spectacular season opener.
Bradley Smith brought the KTM home in 18th after the front tyre performance dropped after just 10 laps and left him battling understeer, while Pol Espargaro retired with an electrical issue. KTM have definitely made a step forward from last year, but so has everyone else. Both suffered technical setbacks in Qatar and Pol is still recovering from hernia surgery, so hopefully, the next races will see improvements from the Austrian factory.
The other Espargaro, Aleix, also struggled on Sunday, as his Aprilia ran into a fuelling issue that saw him drop back through the field. Without the problem, Aleix felt he might have been able to fight in the top 5/6 and he’d shown decent pace over the weekend. His main area for improvement seems to be getting the most out of new tyres, particularly for a fast lap, so if he can improve qualifying his results should benefit. His new team-mate Scott Redding finished just behind Aleix in 20th after lacking rear grip for much of the race, but the British rider is still learning the RS-GP so we should see him gain confidence as the season progresses.
Overall, the Qatar Grand Prix was a spectacular season opener. We saw a 10-year-old pole record smashed by Zarco, a tyre masterclass from Dovizioso, another last corner challenge from Marquez, a return to the podium for Rossi and some very strong performances down the rest of the grid. Moto2 and Moto3 served up brilliant battles as well, with Pecco Bagnaia and Jorge Martin starting the season on top. And MotoGP had one of it’s closest top 15 finishes with just 23.287 seconds separating them.
With 3 weeks until the next race in Argentina, it’s Desmo Dovi who starts the year in pole position at the top of the standings and there’s every reason to expect further visits to the top step this year for the Italian. After seeing Ducati boss Claudio Domenicali bow down to Andrea on the podium, it’s perhaps time the Borgo Panigale factory got out their pen and secured Dovi’s future at the team. Give him as much money as he wants, it’s his birthday this week!
Welcome back MotoGP, I can’t wait to see what the next 18 races have in store.
Fire it up in the comments below:
MotoGP Mugello: Form is temporary. But class? Lorenzo
Mugello. A ribbon of perfection nestled in a lush green Tuscan valley and the destination of the yearly MotoGP pilgrimage to its sacred asphalt.
Yellow is the colour of Mugello, challenged only slightly by the beauty of il Tricolore and the heat of the Ducati red. The “Popolo Giallo” (or yellow people for the non-Italiani) dominate and with Valentino Rossi on pole, the excitement and tension within the Autodromo del Mugello was at one of it’s highest points since the golden era of the Italian master.
As the polesitter made his way around the 5.24km track to the grid, the usual spontaneous combustion of his followers took place, bathing much of the circuit in that familiar yellow haze, and he was manoeuvred into his grid place to the soundtrack of a deafening chant of “Vale Vale Vale”.
If you want a partisan crowd nowhere does it better than Mugello, and they’re quite good at the patriotism side of things too, with a rousing rendition of the spine-tingling Fratelli d’Italia echoing through the hills, something only the roar of the Frecce Tricolori could drown out as they bathed Mugello in the green, white and red of the Italian flag. In itself, it was a sight that had paddock veterans staring at the sky in awe, but combined with the atmosphere from the fans and the anticipation of the 23 laps ahead? It was an unbeatable spectacle that left the grid sitting in a haze of smoke thanks to the planes and flares.
When the smoke cleared the riders headed off on their warmup lap, and the 90,000 attendees along with millions worldwide settled themselves in for a rollercoaster 40 minutes. The track temperature was as high as the anticipation, with 51 degrees promising a punishing time for the tyres. The majority had the medium front in but Rossi, Marquez, Dovizioso and Vinales went for the hard asymmetric option, while Pedrosa and Pol Espargaro chose the symmetric. On the rear, it was mostly softs, with the medium being the tyre of choice for Rossi, Vinales, Zarco, Pedrosa, Crutchlow and Miller, with Marquez being the only rider to opt for the hard compound.
As the lights went out in Italy, it was unsurprisingly Jorge Lorenzo that got the best start as his Ducati rocketed off the line, giving him a secure slot into the lead down into turn 1. Marc Marquez made a good start from 6th but ran in too hot at San Donato and as he tried to claw back positions he had contact with Danilo Petrucci at turn 2, forcing the Italian to run off-track while the World Champion moved into third behind polesitter Valentino Rossi.
The turn 2 of Luco proved problematic for Dani Pedrosa and Takaaki Nakagami as both of them hit the floor 2 corners in. This time it was Pedrosa’s fault as he’d touched the rear of Bautista as he tried to pass Nakagami; a mistake that resulted in him taking both of them into the gravel. Nakagami was able to rejoin eventually after going back to the box but had to contend with damaged handlebars.
The final corner of Bucine saw another double crash as Scott Redding and Karel Abraham hit the floor. Abraham had lost the rear at turn 15, with his bike then taking out Redding’s Aprilia and rounding out a difficult weekend for both of them.
On lap 2, Maverick Vinales had dropped down 8 places from his starting position of 3rd, but while things weren’t going well for the Spaniard, they were far worse for Jack Miller who crashed at turn 4 and Tom Luthi who hit the floor at turn 15 after losing the front trying to pass Simeon. By the end of the second lap, 6 riders had crashed, which didn’t exactly bode all that well.
At turn 1 at the start of lap 3, Marquez made his move on Rossi, moving up the inside of the Italian on the brakes, while Petrucci was recovering from his clash with the Championship leader by putting in the fastest lap of the race.
Out front, Lorenzo was slowly but surely opening up his lead, with Marquez, Rossi, Iannone, Dovizioso, Rins and Petrucci all following in a group.
Lap 5 and Marquez’s championship lead took it’s first hit as he slid out of the race at turn 10 of Scarperia. And when I say slid, I really do mean he slid.. he tried so hard to save it and if he’d had a bit more asphalt he probably would’ve done, but once you hit gravel that’s game over. His determination left one hell of a black line behind him though. Thanks to a bit of help from the marshals, Marquez was able to rejoin back in 18th but it wasn’t going to be a 4th successive win for the Spaniard. 10 out of 10 for effort, but no points for the championship in Mugello.
Dovizioso made his move on Iannone shortly after, moving the Ducati rider into 3rd behind Rossi as his team-mate continued to pull away at the front.
2 laps later and Dovi moved past Rossi at Arrabbiata 1 to take second, with Valentino then running wide at turn 1 on the next lap, allowing Iannone to move through into 3rd.
By lap 12, Lorenzo led by over a second and back in the Yamaha days this would’ve been game over for the rest of the grid. Clear track + Lorenzo = domination. He was confident the modifications to his fuel tank would allow him to maintain his pace longer during the race, because he was less tired riding the bike, but could he take it all the way to the chequered flag?
Behind him, Rossi made it back past Iannone at turn 14, before running wide at turn 15 which let both Iannone and Petrucci past him, with the yellow & black Lamborghini liveried Pramac taking over 3rd as they chased each other down the front straight.
One lap later and Iannone lost two places, dropping back to 6th as both Rossi and his team-mate Rins made it past him, while Lorenzo’s lead was now 1.5 seconds over Dovizioso, with Petrucci rounding out an all-Ducati provisional podium.
Alex Rins then made it past Rossi for 4th, but he wasn’t able to hold the position long as the Italian duo of Rossi and Iannone pushed him back to 6th two laps later, with Valentino then turning his attention to Petrucci in front of him.
With 6 laps left, we reached the very end of the life of the tyres and riders were having to eek every single drop of grip out of the abused rubber. Petrucci and Rins were both informed by their respective teams to move to mapping 3 in an attempt to smooth things out and nurse the tyres home and while Petrucci struggled Rossi pounced, taking third at turn 4 with a perfect block pass up the inside that left no room for retaliation. Iannone took advantage shortly after, moving to 4th, while Vinales and Bautista had found some late pace and were hot on the tails of the chasing group.
With Lorenzo’s lead now over 3 seconds clear of Dovizioso, who in turn was 5 seconds ahead of Rossi, Dovi appeared to make the decision to settle for second and just bring the bike home and by the next lap, Jorge’s lead had increased to 4.6 seconds with ease.
It was 2016 when Jorge last turned Mugello into Lorenzo’s Land
Iannone made a brief attempt to pass Rossi at San Donato but ran in too hot giving the Yamaha rider plenty of room to cut to the inside line and retake the position. With 4 laps to go, Aleix Espargaro pulled into the pits to retire, marking another disappointing weekend for the Noale factory.
Petrucci, meanwhile, was still going backwards with both Rins and Crutchlow passing him in the final laps, dropping the Italian back to 7th.
On the penultimate lap, Iannone made another shot at taking 3rd from Rossi at turn 1, but as before he ran in too hot giving Valentino an easy move up the inside and he was able to chase down Dovizioso until the end of the race, closing the gap between the Italians to just 0.25 seconds at the line.
But the only gap that really mattered was that of the race winner, as Jorge Lorenzo stormed over the line to take the chequered flag 6.37 seconds ahead of his team-mate after a dominant performance that didn’t give anyone else a shot to challenge him. His pace had been unmatchable and unbeatable during the race, with the Spaniard only dropping out of the 1’48s on 4 of the 23 laps (the first and then the final 3).
It had been 2016 when Jorge last turned Mugello into Lorenzo’s Land after that incredibly close battle with Marc Marquez that saw them cross the line 0.019 apart. There was no battling this year and as Jorge planted his iconic flag into the gravel in front of the Ducati stand at Correntaio he marked his first win with Ducati and his return to the top step for the first time since Valencia 2016.
There were some who, before he had even thrown a leg over the Desmo, said that Jorge would not be able to tame it. That it wasn’t the bike for him. That he was going to follow Valentino into 2 years with no reward.
Those critics got louder as the results didn’t come, especially when Dovizioso showed that the bike could win. But Jorge remained firm in the belief that all he needed was a little help from Ducati to become more comfortable and to make the engine a little smoother and then he would be able to show his competitiveness for more than a few laps at the start of the race. The latter came at Jerez, the former at Mugello after productive tests in Barcelona and Mugello. And then the win came too.
Valentino applauded Lorenzo on the podium and embraced him in Parc Ferme
Jorge Lorenzo was hired to do one thing by Ducati; to win a world championship. But while Dovi came close last year, the bike ultimately wasn’t ready for that when Jorge arrived at the Bologna factory. You can’t expect a rider, any rider, to move from a bike like the Yamaha to one like the Ducati and produce instant results. It doesn’t happen.
Dovizioso’s success last year might have taken some of the focus away from Lorenzo’s developmental needs, prioritising the winning rider isn’t too surprising, and possibly explains why such a relatively simple tank addition has only just arrived, when he’d been asking for it months earlier.
Make me more comfortable and I’ll win was a belief Jorge stuck to and in Mugello he backed himself up emphatically.
He becomes only the 6th rider in MotoGP to win on two different manufacturers (along with Rossi, Biaggi, Stoner, Dovizioso and Vinales) and the first to do so with Yamaha and Ducati.
The wait was a long one but that will have made the cava taste all the sweeter, and while the fans at Mugello have always jeered Jorge (because he won when Rossi couldn’t) it’s important to note that Valentino applauded him on the podium and embraced him in Parc Ferme. If there’s anyone who knows how it feels to be at Ducati and struggling to win, it’s Vale.
But while Jorge did what Valentino could not (important note: completely different situations, bikes nothing alike, different factory structure & management etc), he looks to be following in his former team-mates footsteps by walking out of Ducati at the end of the season. Speaking after the race he said “unfortunately on one side of me I’m sad because I believe if these pieces that I needed arrive much earlier, maybe 4 months earlier, now I would say to you I stay in Ducati and I have now 2-3 victories, but unfortunately arrive too late.. now it’s too late and next 2 years I will be with another bike”.
Ducati team boss Gigi Dall’Igna was slightly more caged in his words saying “I think it’s really difficult that he stay with us, but never say never, see what happens in the next weeks”.
The reality is that Jorge had clearly made up his mind that he’s going and next year we’re most likely to see him on a satellite Yamaha. The where and the how are unknown but it should be a good move for him to get back to the bike he was so devastating on, and it might help Yamaha with their development too.
But that’s all in the future and Jorge Lorenzo was keen to stay focused on the present, at least until he’d had a few drinks to celebrate with his team, and he marked his win at Mugello as one of the top 3 wins of his career (not including championships) saying that it was a “dream come true” to win with Ducati at Mugello.
Of course, for Ducati, it was a pretty special day too, with a second consecutive win at Mugello after Dovizioso’s victory last year and a double podium for the factory riders in front of all the fans and factory with their first 1-2 at the circuit.
For Dovizioso, second was not the race result he wanted and he felt he’d made the wrong front tyre choice which stopped him from being quick enough through the corners before he then ran out of rear grip as well. But 20 points were very welcome after two DNFs and he moves to 4th in the championship, 29 points behind Marquez.
It’s the man who finished in third who is now the closest challenger to the World Champion as Valentino Rossi moved to 2nd in the championship, 23 points behind. For Rossi, they’d been able to improve the balance of the bike during testing, particularly over one lap, but they still need to work more for race distance. Pole position had been a very welcome surprise for The Doctor and being back on the podium for the first time since 2015 was a good way to end the weekend at home.
Valentino had been given no real choice when it came to running the hard front tyre; the medium simply wouldn’t last until the chequered flag, but it did mean he was lacking grip and meant it was a tough race for the Italian. But being on the podium in front of the yellow masses all chanting his name? Totally worth it. “That 10 minutes in the podium in Mugello in front of all the fans repay you for all the effort that you do during the year”.
It’s moments like that when he’s stood there basking in the adoration of thousands of fans, all bathed in yellow and chanting “Vale Vale Vale”, that give him all the motivation he needs to still be so competitive 23 years after he started. Valentino also reached a new milestone in Mugello as he became the first rider to reach 5000 career points in the premier class as he took his 230th Grand Prix podium and his 194th in the top tier.
In 4th came another Italian, with Andrea Iannone bringing the Suzuki home to a strong finish after a very competitive weekend that saw him top all but one of the practice sessions. In the race, he was struggling with his rear tyre and losing out on acceleration as expected but he fought until the end to try and take the final place on the podium away from Rossi and as he looks to secure his future in MotoGP it was an excellent weekend from Andrea.
The second Suzuki wasn’t far behind with Alex Rins making it a double top 5 for the Japanese team and the Spaniard was delighted, especially as he wasn’t fully fit after crashing on Saturday and hurting his shoulder (which he will have checked this week). Like everyone else, he struggled with front grip but it was a brilliant ride for Alex, especially as it was his first time at Mugello on the MotoGP bike.
6th went to Cal Crutchlow, which the British rider felt was better than he’d expected after a tough weekend. He’d struggled with front grip and found it difficult to overtake but as he continues to return to fitness after his huge crash in France, top Honda is a good result.
His LCR team-mate Takaaki Nakagami reached the chequered flag in 18th but was 5 laps down on the rest of the field due to his crash at the start of the race. Taka was understandably disappointed, especially because it wasn’t his fault, but was pleased to have kept a decent pace after he rejoined.
Despite a strong comeback after contact with Marquez, Danilo Petrucci crossed the line in 7th after he ran out of rear tyre at the end and also experienced an issue with the fuel pump that slightly reduced his power output. He’d had a few laps in the podium positions and was “very angry” to drop back late on but I think they can take positives from the good pace he showed during the weekend.
His fellow yellow Pramac team-mate (they should really keep that colour scheme) Jack Miller recorded his first DNF since Austria last year, ending his impressive run of top10 finishes. Miller crashed out on the second lap of the race and was disappointed in his mistake after a good weekend and said: “I’ve learnt a lesson”.
But one of the most disappointed riders at the end of Sunday was Maverick Vinales who brought his Yamaha home in 8th after a lot of issues with the front of the bike early on, leading him to say that “I cannot ride this bike”, before later finding some pace but being unable to really capitalise on it as he’d already destroyed his tyres. For Maverick, the high temperatures again seem to have caught the Yamaha out and it’s the difference in performance from one session to another that’s really frustrating the Spaniard. Finishing 4.4 seconds behind his team-mate on the same bike and tyres when they started on the same row is not ideal.
9th went to Alvaro Bautista after what he called a “pretty hard race” but he was happy with the gap to the leader and to have secured top 10, while his Angel Nieto team-mate Karel Abraham suffered through being ill all weekend and lost the rear at the last corner on the first lap.
Rounding out the top 10 was Johann Zarco who had a difficult weekend and never really found the pace he normally shows, saying he felt they were missing something. In the race, he still couldn’t find a good feeling and instead focussed on finishing the race as he was fighting his bike in every corner. Hafizh Syahrin had a good result in 12th despite struggling with grip early on and using up most of his energy trying to push to make up for it later on. It was actually a pretty good weekend for the rookie as he regains some of his confidence.
Splitting the Tech 3s in 12th was Pol Espargaro on the KTM and it had been a difficult weekend for the Austrian factory as they struggled through the many fast corners that make up Mugello. Pol had been battling spinning during the race and was having to adjust his throttle and engine maps to try and reduce that, while his team-mate Bradley Smith finished 14th after losing a couple of places late on after his front tyre pressure rose a bit high.
13th went to Tito Rabat who was really just happy to be on track and to get points after a crash at the Barcelona test left him with some ligament damage to his left arm. He had issues with the front tyre during the race saying it had felt like he was riding on ice and that it was almost like riding with the handbrake on. Team-mate Xavier Simeon finished 17th after a good start was hampered by issues with a rear tyre that kept stepping out on the Belgian.
The final point scoring place was secured by Franco Morbidelli in 15th who had a decent weekend; including going straight to Q2 on Saturday. He kept constant pace during the race and showed some good speed during the practice sessions. Fellow Marc VDS rookie Tom Luthi had a few crashes during the weekend and again fell during the race as he lost the front trying to make an overtake on Simeon and apologised to the team after a complicated weekend.
World Champion Marc Marquez took the chequered flag in 16th but 12 seconds off the points and 39 seconds back from Lorenzo after his fall at turn 10 on lap 5. Trying to explain the crash, Marc said that the front had folded on him unexpectedly when he wasn’t even pushing that hard. He had struggled with the tyres throughout the weekend, with the allocation being too soft for the hard braking of the Honda, but he was happy that he’d kept a decent pace after rejoining and now looks forward to Barcelona in 2 weeks time.
The other Repsol of Dani Pedrosa didn’t even make it to turn 3 of the first lap as he crashed out after touching the rear of Bautista’s bike sending both Dani and Nakagami into the gravel and Pedrosa didn’t have an easy weekend as he was never able to find grip with the tyres. His race was always going to be difficult as he was unable to progress into Q2 after having to use his second bike in qualifying due to a crash in FP4, but a DNF is the last thing Dani needed after a difficult start to the season.
It was a home race to forget for the Aprilia team as Scott Redding crashed out on lap 1 and rounded out a difficult weekend for the British rider who just can’t find the right feeling with the RS-GP, while Aleix Espargaro had to retire late in the race after having big issues with his rear tyre that led to him almost crashing on numerous occasions and eventually left him no choice but to pull in.
On the MotoGP calendar, there is nowhere like Mugello. Phillip Island has the stunning scenery, Spielberg has the greenery and the speed, but nowhere can rival the atmosphere of a Mugello that’s at the very top of its rev limiter.
Racing and Rossi are a religion for the majority that pack the grandstands and hills that line the track and they make their adoration known, and loudly. Few places on Earth show devotion like a Mugello in celebration of Valentino Rossi and his love for them burns as bright as the colour he made his own all those years ago. Long after the riders have left the podium, the invading fans remain on the grid to chant “dove Vale, dove Vale” which is their way of calling Valentino back to the podium to greet them again.. and he answers every time.
But while Mugello is always about the 46, on Sunday it was Ducati’s day as we witnessed the return of a MotoGP King to the top step as Jorge Lorenzo took his 149th Grand Prix podium, his 111th in MotoGP on his 180th start in the class thanks to his 45th win in the premier class, and his 66th overall.
It was a fast and furious weekend at the Italian Grand Prix. Lap records were smashed with the fastest ever lap now belonging to Valentino Rossi and the top speed record was surpassed twice by Andrea Dovizioso and now stands at 356.5 km/h. But while we celebrate the astonishing speeds the riders are now able to reach, we also had a sobering reminder of their danger when Michele Pirro crashed in FP2. There is no worse feeling in racing than a red flag when a rider is down and the screens come out. The fear and uncertainty are palpable and while thankfully Michele was relatively ok, it’s important that we don’t lose sight of the dangers the riders face (so again, stop booing of riders and cheering when they crash) and that we keep pushing to make things safer.
Speaking of safety… Sunday marked the two-year anniversary of the fatal accident of Luis Salom at Barcelona in 2016 (at a corner that should have been modified years earlier) and it was lovely to see him be remembered throughout the paddock; with tributes from Moto2’s Joan Mir and the Moto3 winner Jorge Martin, as well as many online messages for the wonderful young man we knew as Mexicano and who is still missed every day.
My image of the weekend? It’s split actually. Michele Pirro back in the garage on the Sunday was wonderful and the Frecce Tricolori display is always breathtaking. But I think I’ll choose the podium and Jorge Lorenzo standing on the top step, holding that gorgeous Mugello trophy aloft and Valentino Rossi standing next to him, looking up at one of his greatest rivals with a smile on his face and applauding him.
Remember: form is temporary, but class? That’s permanent.
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MotoGP Preview: Mugello has everything you’d want, but it isn’t perfect
Mugello and the Italian Grand Prix; the two are inseparable.
Trying to separate an Italian from their pasta would possibly be easier than trying to take this race away from the lush green hills of Toscana.
Mugello is MotoGP’s Mecca. After all, racing could easily be deemed a religion. And every year, the pilgrimage to the Autodromo del Mugello takes place, with over 100,000 fans (many of them the “Popolo Giallo”) flocking to fill every available piece of space around the 5.2km circuit.
I adore Mugello; most people do. It is a track so beautiful in both design and location that it looks as though it were carved out of its surroundings by the Roman Gods themselves.
It has everything you could want; slow corners, fast turns, sweeping curves, quick changes of direction, tricky off-camber sections, changes in elevation, hard braking and the most thrilling straight you’re ever likely to find.
But as much as it pains me to admit it… Mugello is not perfect. As bikes get faster the limit of what is safe continues to be stretched. There are walls that are simply too close, in particular down the side of the front straight, there are other areas where there isn’t enough run-off and in general, there’s not much room to resolve either of these things.
Safety has to come before sentiment and there’s a possibility that one day we might lose Mugello. But for now, at least, it’s the best place on Earth to watch MotoGP and this weekend promises to be another memorable Italian Grand Prix.
Mugello is as uncompromising as it is breathtaking. It gives no mercy, so don’t waste your time asking, and while it doesn’t know compromise; the riders will have to.
To make it to the end of 23 laps and come out on top, they’ll have to push themselves physically and mentally to the limit. To find the best possible setup to negotiate the 15 turns that weave their way through the valley they’ll need to find a balance between agility and stability. The first corner of San Donato puts the emphasis on braking, but place too much importance here and you’ll struggle around the rest of the lap.
Honda’s Giacomo Guidotti highlighted the downhill Casanova-Savelli section as one of high importance, saying that turn 6 & 7 were a “key point.. to be fast there means to make a very good split 3, which is an important section”, while also pointing out the need for strong acceleration, in particular for the exit of the last turn of Bucine.
Mugello is a track so beautiful in both design and location that it looks as though it were carved out of its surroundings by the Roman Gods themselves.
The crew chief of home hero Valentino Rossi, Silvano Galbusera, raised another of Mugello’s perils; the crest on the straight, “don’t try to create a lot of downforce on the front and lift the rear because over the limiter, the revs, maybe the engine suffer more”. Downforce means aero and KTM’s Paul Trevathan felt that aero could potentially be a drawback at Mugello, due to the turning agility and top speed needed.
The speed of Mugello would traditionally suit Ducati, but Honda have got closer. The hard braking tends to favour both of them, while the flow of the sweeping curves would usually scream Yamaha, and now possibly Suzuki.
Since 2011 Yamaha, and more specifically Jorge Lorenzo, have only been beaten twice. Once in 2014 by Marc Marquez and then again last year by Andrea Dovizioso. This year? Yamaha are still struggling. Rossi didn’t have a great test at Mugello earlier in the month, while Vinales claims to be feeling slightly more positive after testing in Barcelona last week. Marquez is running away with one hand already outstretched to take his 5th MotoGP championship trophy and is undeniably the rider to beat coming into this weekend. While Dovizioso is still the rider most likely to beat him and has a lot to make up for after crashing out in Le Mans. As does Zarco, who sent his home victory hopes spinning into the gravel along with his M1 last time out. If Yamaha are going to put up a victory battle, it might be a black bike rather than a blue one throwing the punches.
In France, Jorge Lorenzo made one of his characteristic rocket starts before dropping back in the race. A lack of support from the fuel tank of his GP18 means that despite being one of the fittest riders on the grid thanks to endless hours of training, the effort of supporting himself, particularly under braking, drains him of energy. After a positive Barcelona test, Lorenzo hopes to have some ergonomic changes for this weekend that should help him be more consistent over race distance.
Elsewhere, Dani Pedrosa is still recovering from both his broken wrist and the hip injury but while he’s not at 100% he’s better than he was. Alex Rins prepares for his first MotoGP race around Mugello after missing last year, along with the rookies Morbidelli, Luthi, Nakagami & Simeon. There will probably be a little flutter of nervous excitement for them as they head out on the big bikes for the first time in Italy, but they won’t even begin to compare to how Aleix Espargaro will be feeling in Camp Aprilia, as he and his wife prepare for the imminent arrival of their twins.
One thing we probably don’t need to be nervous about this weekend is the weather. It should be sunny, and more importantly dry, for all 3 days. And the riders are going to need that dry track time as they have 4 front tyres to evaluate rather than the usual 3. After testing earlier this month Michelin asked to be allowed to bring an extra addition to the allocation to make sure they covered all the bases. The front slicks will be in the usual soft, medium and hard compounds and all with a symmetric configuration, while the new addition is another hard front that will be asymmetric with a harder right shoulder. For the rear, it’ll be a choice of soft, medium and hard, with the soft being symmetric and the others being asymmetric.
In 2017 Mugello gave us a trio of Italian triumph, with Dovizioso, Pasini & Migno all standing on the top step to the glorious sounds of Fratelli d’Italia being sung back at them. This year, almost anything could happen and guessing who will win could prove as insightful as reading tea leaves, although Marc Marquez remains the favourite.
At Mugello the noise never really stops, it just moves. When the roar of bikes on track ends, the campsites on the hills come alive with music, engines and fire.
Mugello is one of the last of a dying breed of race tracks; it’s unapologetically brutal and yet breathtakingly beautiful with no contradiction between the two. Assen might claim the title “Cathedral of Speed”, but Mugello isn’t just any place of worship, it’s St Peter’s Basilica.
So buckle up and get yourself ready for an Italian feast of speed, bravery and noise. And most importantly, remember; Al Mugello non si dorme.