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MotoGP Argentina: Marquez was irresponsible but Crutchlow was magnificent!

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If you thought Jack Miller’s push for pole position in qualifying for the Argentina Grand Prix was crazy, it turned out to be nothing compared to what race day had in store for us.

We had a race start that was delayed, a grid that was one of the strangest you’ll ever see, 3 penalties for 1 rider, crashes, and an incredible fight for the race win between 4 different manufacturers.

So where do we start? The only way to make any sense of what happened in Termas de Rio Hondo is to start at the beginning and hopefully get to the end without driving ourselves completely crazy.

Track conditions had already been complicated for both Moto2 and Moto3, with Marco Bezzecchi taking his first win in the lightweight class as the riders who gambled on slicks failed to reap the rewards, and Mattia Pasini securing a stunning intermediate victory in a “dry race”, that was still wet, but saw the whole grid on slicks.

A cloud of confusion descended over Termas de Rio Hondo.

As the clock ticked around to MotoGP hour, everyone went to the grid on wets, with some riders doing an extra sighting lap, including Valentino Rossi who took slicks out for his first look before going back to wets.

Jack Miller was on pole for the first time in the premier class, and the Australian made the decision to switch to slicks on the grid. He had nothing to lose and the track was drying by the second, it was a risk worth taking despite the race being declared wet.

But then a cloud of confusion descended over Termas de Rio Hondo. Bikes further back on the grid started to be wheeled back to pitlane, with riders deciding to change to slicks ahead of the warmup lap. This was unfair to Jack who had taken a risk and you have to ask if they should’ve been allowed to leave the grid when MotoGP is flag-to-flag anyway. With just minutes to go before they were supposed to get started, the grid only had Jack Miller sitting on it and pitlane had riders, bikes and team personnel going in all directions.

Unsurprisingly, the start was delayed due to safety conditions, and the riders who had squeezed themselves 5 abreast at pit exit had to push their bikes back up pitlane to their garages. IRTA, Race Direction and team managers then had an impromptu summit on the grid to work out what the hell was happening, while everyone else just stewed in a bowl of confusion and stress, as light rain started to fall again (thankfully it didn’t last long).

10 minutes after the race was supposed to have started, rider numbers were going back on grid positions, but in some very odd places, as the grid was reformed with everyone who left being put to the back.. but when there’s 23 of them there’s not a lot of room, so they were placed in order of qualification giving Jack Miller about 4 rows of space behind him on pole position.

https://www.facebook.com/MotoGP/videos/10156745123320769/

 

Quick-start procedure was declared, riders had 60 seconds to get out onto track when pitlane opened, there would be 1 sighting lap, then a warmup lap, then the race would be 24 laps (1 less than the original distance).

And that was all the drama there was before the race started.

Just kidding.

Marc Marquez then stalled his bike after the warmup lap. The rules mean that you have to then remove your bike to pitlane, but he had space in front of him that wouldn’t normally be there so he managed to give it a push start and the Honda was living once more. There was some confusion as to whether he was told to go to pitlane or his grid spot, but he felt he’d been given permission to start from the grid, so he rode the wrong way up the grid (strike 1 – you’re going to want to keep count) and turned his bike around behind Alex Rins before getting back to where he was supposed to be.

Now, briefly ignoring the fact that he broke the rules, it was some great bike skill on show from Marquez. MotoGP bikes aren’t easy to start on your own and he unsurprisingly showed great handling to get back into position. But he did break the rules.

With Marquez now in position, we could finally start. The lights went out and Jack Miller led (duh) from Dani Pedrosa, Johann Zarco and Marc Marquez. Zarco then had a wobble on a wet patch that let the World Champion through into third, who then went on to make a forceful but fair pass on his team-mate Dani Pedrosa for second.

Coming into turn 13 on lap 1, Zarco attempted to pass Pedrosa but pushed them both wide and Pedrosa hit a damp patch and was high-sided to the moon, slamming down hands first. I don’t think there was anything particularly wrong with the pass, it was definitely a hard one and probably a bit much for the first lap of the race with wet patches, but for me, Dani was just unlucky.

Back out front and Marquez was in the lead, while Bradley Smith had shown great progress; moving up 12 places to 9th. White flags then started to be waved, indicating that pitlane was open for bike swaps.. which was the last thing this race needed so thankfully no-one did.

There was simply no room and Marquez just went in too fast and too aggressive.

As the riders came around to start lap 4, Race Direction put out the message that Marc Marquez was under investigation for his actions at the start, but the man himself was pulling away with a 1.5 second gap over Jack Miller in second. Two laps later and the decision came through; Marquez was given a ride-through penalty for riding in the opposite direction during race start procedure.. As the message flashed up on his dash, the Spaniard seemed to momentarily lose his concentration, but came in at the end of the lap.

With Marquez touring down pitlane before rejoining in 19th, polesitter Jack Miller was now leading again, with Rins, Zarco and Crutchlow following behind.

Unfortunately for everyone else on the track, giving Marquez a penalty, and in turn, a lot of work to do, seemed to unleash a wild animal in the World Champion. He was so much quicker than the rest and that soon became a real problem.

On lap 9, as they came through turns 12 and 13, Marquez entered far, far too hot on Aleix Espargaro, making contact with his compatriot’s rear tyre and leg, pushing them both wide. There was simply no room and Marquez just went in too fast and too aggressive. (Strike 2).

Unsurprisingly, Marquez was again penalised. This time he was told to drop 1 position, but due to a little confusion decided to play it safe and drop 2, letting rookie team-mates Morbidelli and Luthi past, before soon repassing them. It didn’t slow or calm him down though, as replays also showed him going in pretty hard on Taka Nakagami.

Then came lap 20 and the moment that will sadly overshadow this Grand Prix for a long time to come.

Back to the front and Miller was still leading, with a gap of 0.4 and the top 4 all running in the low 1’41s. The Australian soon come under attack though, as, with 14 laps to go, Alex Rins made his move. The Spaniard took the lead but ran wide letting Miller back through, something which repeated itself over the next couple of laps, while Aleix Espargaro retired with a technical issue.

Lap 16 and Alex Rins made a brave pass on Miller at turn 6 and this time made it stick.. for all of 1 lap. He ran wide which let Miller back into the lead, with Crutchlow and Zarco also following through.

Two laps later and Marquez passed Dovizioso for 7th, while Bradley Smith crashed out at turn 1, before Miller almost lost the front at turn 13 after running wide, this time giving Cal Crutchlow the lead in the race. The front runners were all having some visible struggles with their bikes as the track dried and their tyres reached the end of their life.

Then came lap 20 and the moment that will sadly overshadow this Grand Prix for a long time to come. At turn 13, where Marquez had already come together with Aleix earlier on, he again came in too fast, but this time it was Valentino Rossi in front of him. As they both went for the same piece of asphalt the pair came into contact before Marquez pushed them both wide, resulting in Rossi crashing as he touched the grass.

Marquez was quick to raise a hand in apology, but as Rossi picked his bike up, now complete with some Argentinian foliage, I’m not sure he was particularly interested. (Strike 3).

 

In the leading group, Zarco had found his way to the front and maintained the position for a couple of laps before Cal Crutchlow took advantage of the slipstream on the back straight. With 1 lap to go the podium was complete and as the British rider crossed the line to take the chequered flag, he not only took his 3rd MotoGP win but also Honda’s 750th Grand Prix victory. After all the stress of the day, it’s not that surprising that LCR team boss Lucio Cecchinello sank to his knees in joy and relief with his rider now leading the World Championship.

Johann Zarco took another podium, his 4th in MotoGP, while Alex Rins came home in 3rd to secure his very first top 3 finish in the premier class. The man who’d been on pole, Jack Miller, took the flag in 4th, which is still an excellent result for him on just his second race with the Pramac Ducati.

The fact that 3 of the top 4 were from Independent teams is also an important one.. regulations that level the playing field work!

Sadly, much of what the top 4 achieved was slightly overlooked because of the antics of the World Champion, who received his 3rd penalty of the day when Race Direction gave him a 30 second penalty (a ride-through equivalent) after the Rossi incident, which dropped him down to 18th in the standings, 1 position ahead of where the Italian finished after rejoining.

But before we get into that, let’s round up the riders who didn’t almost lose their minds.

this is the way to win…

LCR Honda CASTROLCal Crutchlow takes an incredible victory at Termas de Rio Hondo #ArgentinaGPMotoGP

Posted by LCR Honda Team on Sunday, 8 April 2018

 

Race winner Cal Crutchlow was unsurprised by his victory, saying that he’d come into the Argentina weekend expecting 1st or 2nd and rightfully pointing out that if he didn’t believe he could win, then he’d stay in the garage. The series leader rode a sensible race, avoiding risks and even taking different lines to those around him in case any of them crashed. Throughout the weekend he was the closest in terms of pace to Marquez and it was an excellent performance from the British rider.

His team-mate Takaaki Nakagami brought home his first MotoGP points in 13th and made a great recovery from a difficult qualifying position. The rookie is still very much in learning mode, but found strong pace from the middle of the race and rode well.

Crossing the line in second was Frenchman Johann Zarco, who ran into a lot of criticism for his crash with Pedrosa. It was an aggressive overtake, especially considering the track conditions and the fact that it was lap 1. But I do believe it was a mistake, so a penalty isn’t really needed, but with his previous form, Race Direction might want to have a stern word and warn him that next time there will be repercussions.

Tech 3’s other rider, Hafizh Syahrin finished in 9th, making it a great day for the French team.. the Malaysian rider rode well, had good pace and pushed hard. There were some raised eyebrows when he was brought in to replace Folger but he has already more than earned his place.

Third went to Suzuki’s Alex Rins, who was understandably delighted with his first MotoGP podium. He’d been a bit nervous at the start (understandable) but felt comfortable and despite making a few mistakes when leading, was happy with his race and is already looking forward to Texas. Last year was a hard year for Alex due to injury but this year he looks so much better, especially combined with a stronger package from Suzuki.

The other blue machine was brought back in 8th by Andrea Iannone, who had decent pace but made some mistakes when overtaking that stopped his progress through the ranks. Overall, a very positive weekend for the Hamamatsu team.

Jack Miller had been left all alone on the grid when everyone else ran off and while he wasn’t able to convert pole position (and 4 rows of empty space) into a second MotoGP win, it was still a fantastic race and weekend for the Aussie. His pole lap was incredible and both he and the team did a great job during the race. He was the only rider to take the initial gamble on slicks and definitely deserves some praise for that.

Pramac team-mate Danilo Petrucci turned around a difficult weekend to finish 10th despite losing some time on the last lap due to contact, but will hope that the issues with feel and grip that he encountered earlier in the weekend don’t return later in the year.

5th place had initially gone to Marquez, but after his penalty, Maverick Vinales moved up to take the position and was happy to have found so many areas to improve in both wet and dry conditions. He was less pleased with his position as towards the end he’d been running the same pace as the front-runners but after some tricky points over the weekend, especially in qualifying, it’s a decent result.

While Vinales benefited from Marquez’s penalty, his Yamaha team-mate Valentino Rossi suffered due to the move that made it necessary, finishing in 19th. Thankfully the Italian was unhurt, but to say he was unhappy is a gross understatement. Before the crash, he’d been riding ok, not really a podium threat but still in a position to take home decent points. Don’t worry I’ll be coming back to him later, but it was also interesting to see him run the aero during the race.

Qatar race winner Andrea Dovizioso finished 6th after a very difficult weekend for last year’s championship runner-up. He’d never quite got there with pace and speed in Argentina, a track he knew he could struggle at, but he handled the race well and at least no-one knocked him off this year!

Fellow Ducati rider Jorge Lorenzo fell foul of the mixed conditions, finishing in 15th. The drying track with wet patches isn’t happy racing turf for Jorge and after last year’s crash he was cautious to avoid contact at turn 1. It was a strange weekend for the Spaniard; with speculation on his contract, interviews mentioning his team-mate taken out of context and an aero package he doesn’t like because it pushes the front but chose to run because of the front feel it gives. Hopefully, things will settle down for Jorge in Austin, so he can start finding his footing with the GP18.

Another rider on a Ducati, Tito Rabat, brought home his best MotoGP finish in 7th after having an equally excellent qualifying that put him 4th on the grid. Riding in the front group was good experience for the Avintia rider and he is really impressing since he moved away from Honda.

Rookie team-mate Xavier Simeon finished 21st after making a mistake in the early laps that lost him time and also struggling with grip issues in corner entry and on acceleration. The positions weren’t impressive in Argentina for Simeon, but he did make progress from Qatar and that’s always the most important thing.

11th went to Pol Espargaro on the KTM, who obviously wanted more but with all things considered it’s a decent result. He found that he struggled for grip in the dry and there’s clearly more work to do, but it’s a far better result than Qatar.

Marc Marquez eventually finished 18th after his penalty.

Bradley Smith was unable to bring his KTM to the flag after crashing out. He lost a lot of time after coming into contact with multiple riders, but then went offline at turn 1 and lost the front. The Brit was taking positives from Argentina though; he found a good feel this weekend and that bodes well for Texas.

Next up was the Aprilia of Scott Redding in 12th who was struggling with some serious back pain throughout the weekend. He was losing time on the straight but was able to even things out on the rest of the circuit and after a long race he was happy overall.

Aleix Espargaro was forced to retire with a throttle issue that caused issues in low-speed acceleration, but his race was obviously also impacted by Marquez. He also had some contact with Petrucci and said that the pair “took some avoidable risks”.

14th went to Marc VDS rookie Franco Morbidelli who stayed careful in the early laps and was happy to bring home some points after a tricky weekend, while his team-mate Tom Luthi took the flag in 17th after reaching his tyre’s limit at the end and having to fight his bike’s sliding. For both rookies, every lap is a learning experience and it’s good that both finished a difficult race.

The Angel Nieto team riders Alvaro Bautista and Karel Abraham finished 16th and 20th respectively, with Alvaro struggling to get his tyres up to temperature at the beginning but finding good pace and grip later on, and Karel having issues with contact, a brake issue that put him in the gravel, and multiple warning lights from his bike.

Finally, there’s the Repsol Honda team. Dani Pedrosa was high-sided out on lap 1 and will be having his right wrist checked in Barcelona on Tuesday. With him still healing from a hand injury in testing, hopefully this won’t be something that holds Dani back for long.

Marc Marquez eventually finished 18th after his penalty and this seems like a good time to really look at what went on with the World Champion in this race.

He wasn’t riding with care and in a couple of cases he was downright irresponsible.

Starting at the beginning, when his bike stalled. The rules say that if you cannot start your bike you must go to pitlane “where he (the FIM hasn’t embraced gender neutrality) may make further attempts to start it”. Now, this is where it gets tricky. Should he have been allowed to attempt to start it on the grid? Technically no and in a normal situation, there wouldn’t have been the space for him to start his bike the way he did. But then once it’s running, should he still go to pitlane?

Some of the officials looked as though they were telling him to go to pitlane, but Marquez says he felt he’d been given permission to go to his starting position. But seeing as they gave him a penalty for going in the opposite direction on the grid, it doesn’t look like they did.

Either way, the ride-through penalty came as a surprise to Marquez, but he still came in for straight away. Unfortunately, putting him in 19th, when he had been so much quicker than everyone else all weekend, meant that he was carving through the riders in front of him at a terrifying rate.

Why is that a problem? Because he wasn’t riding with care and in a couple of cases he was downright irresponsible.

With Aleix, he went in too hard, too hot and too fast, where there simply wasn’t room. It was unnecessary and the 1 place penalty wasn’t really satisfactory, because he didn’t learn from it. It didn’t calm him down or make him take more care with riders.

When he came upon Rossi, he was going so much quicker that he could have passed him with ease anywhere on the track. He chose turn 13 when the front straight was just 2 corners away. Again, he came in too fast and while at corner entry there was more room than there had been with Aleix, knowing Valentino would be turning into the apex (because..duh) it was a reckless move that has no place in MotoGP.

Did he mean to come into contact with Rossi? Valentino will tell you yes, “he do purposely.. he point the leg between the leg and the bike”. I don’t agree that it was intentional, or that any of Marquez’s moves were, for me it was just careless, which is almost worse.. carelessness gets people killed.

Marquez’s explanation was that he’d hit a wet patch, locked the front and released the brakes to avoid crashing. That makes sense, but he put himself in that position, not once but twice, at a corner everyone knows is problematic. He shouldn’t have been making a move that aggressive in that place, it was completely unnecessary.

Speaking after the race Valentino pulled no punches saying “he destroyed our sport.. if you start to play like this you raise to a very dangerous level.. you have to have respect for your rivals.. like this, it’s over.. this is dangerous.. we are MotoGP, we are the top of motorcycle.. if everyone is like this, it’s like destruction derby.. he don’t play clean, he don’t play aggressive, he play dirty”.

Now let’s not all lose our minds, what happened in Argentina hasn’t destroyed the sport, it survived 2015 so it’ll survive this, but Valentino is right in that it is dangerous, it does take it to a different level and respecting each other is key to everyone coming home safe at the end of the race.

But it doesn’t paint MotoGP in a good light and it’s controversy we really don’t need. However, there were a lot of people getting pretty angsty yesterday, so I’m going to address a few things. If you managed to not lose your mind, feel free to skip this bit.

Previous clashes: 2015 has nothing to do with Argentina. Sepang was the product of Rossi (wrongly) accusing Marquez of interfering with his title fight and the pair both acting out on track, and no I don’t believe Rossi deliberately caused Marquez to crash either, he just went too far. What followed was a level of hostility I have no desire to see return to MotoGP and it was only dampened when we lost Luis in Barcelona. Let’s not go there again, you, as fans, are better than that.

Some pointed out how much everyone, Rossi included, enjoyed the battle in Phillip Island when everyone was clashing fairings and swapping paint. But that’s very different, because while yes they were aggressive, they weren’t dangerous and they were all riding at the same speed. That’s the opposite of 1 rider not taking care around riders he’s so much faster than.

Then there are apologies. Marc arrived back into the garage, and according to Honda boss Alberto Puig, the first thing he wanted to do was to go to Yamaha and apologise, so he did. Unfortunately, he wasn’t allowed to. I called that unacceptable at the time and I stand by that, because it wasn’t a member of the Yamaha team who said “hey, maybe later”, it was Valentino’s friend Uccio. If one of Yamaha’s management thinks it’s not the best time that’s fine, but when Valentino is in the box and Marc is there, just let him say sorry.

Apologies don’t have to be accepted. When Valentino crashed into Casey Stoner in Jerez his apology was greeted with the greatest response in motorcycle racing history, “your ambition outweighed your talent”, but he was still given the chance to say his piece.

Rossi criticised Marquez’s apology attempt, saying he hadn’t come alone and that it had been for the cameras. When he went to Stoner, he went with members of the Ducati team, was followed by the Dorna camera crew and didn’t remove his helmet.

It’s simple sportsmanship to go and apologise (such as when Pedrosa took out Dovizioso in Austin) and to allow your rival to give their apology. You don’t have to accept it, you can turn around and walk away, but everyone makes mistakes.

Marquez was irresponsible on track, there’s no doubt about that, but Rossi hasn’t handled it particularly well off track either.

Finally, Race Direction. For me, they made a huge mistake when they didn’t penalise Aron Canet in Moto3 after he took out Yurchenko on Friday. Canet felt the other rider had got in his way, waved his arms around, had a brief tantrum, then pulled in front of Yurchenko causing both of them to crash. I also don’t think that crash was deliberate, but I don’t believe Canet when he says it was a complete mistake, for me he wanted to get in his way in retaliation and it just went wrong.

Race Direction should’ve given him a back of the grid start at the very least and shown a strong message that behaviour like that has no place in Grand Prix racing.

On Marquez, the first ride-through was right, he should’ve been given a harder penalty for his move on Aleix and that might’ve stopped him from his clash with Rossi. Is a 30 second penalty enough? It’s basically the same as disqualification, he gets no points but I’m not sure it’s a hard enough message.. A grid penalty for the next race as well might have been a good idea.

Marquez was irresponsible on track, there’s no doubt about that, but Rossi hasn’t handled it particularly well off track either. Regardless of which side you’re on in this latest drama it’s important to remember that every single rider, regardless of class, position or number of championships, is a role model to both current and future riders.

Everyone needs to take the next two weeks before Austin to take a step back, have some deep breaths and realise that ultimately we all want the same thing; good, fast, safe racing.

MotoGP has one of the best atmospheres you’ll find in sport, we’re a family, let’s not forget that.

Fire it up in the comments below:

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MotoGP Mugello: Form is temporary. But class? Lorenzo

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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

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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.

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