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MotoGP Jerez: Masterful Marquez back on top

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In MotoGP sometimes you have weekends where things mostly go as you expect them to, for example, last time out at Austin, the Marquez script was played out to perfection.

Then there are the races where the end result isn’t quite what you imagined and Jerez definitely fits into this category.

Marc Marquez showed strong pace throughout the weekend and despite qualifying in 5th he was pretty much a certainty to fight for the win. That turned out to be true, but everything else that happened? Not so much.

When the lights went out at the Circuito de Jerez – Angel Nieto, it was under bright blue skies with track temperatures just reaching 40 degrees. We knew race day would be a warm one and despite being resurfaced the track surface still gets very slippery as the mercury rises.

Cal Crutchlow started from pole but it was Jorge Lorenzo that got a rocketing start off the line ahead of Dani Pedrosa and Johann Zarco.

Lorenzo’s choice of the soft front tyre meant that he had to push early and it was reminiscent of Jorge’s days at Yamaha as he smoothly weaved his way out front.

Marc Marquez had made a good start but didn’t improve on 5th until the final corner of the first lap when he passed Crutchlow to move up into 4th. Bradley Smith made the most progress on lap 1, with the KTM rider moving up 7 places to 14th. But it was considerably worse for Aleix Espargaro as his Aprilia broke down on the first lap due to an engine issue; both he and his team-mate were actually running new engines on raceday but that didn’t work out so well for the Spaniard.

On lap 2 Marquez made the move up to third after again making a move at turn 13, this time on Zarco and it was the World Champion that set the fastest lap as he turned his attention to his team-mate in front of him.

Valentino Rossi made a small amount of progress when he passed Andrea Iannone for 8th before Jorge Lorenzo ran wide at turn 6 and Pedrosa briefly came through to take the lead before Lorenzo cut back for turn 7. Marquez then made the move on his fellow Honda at the Alex Criville turn 11 with a fantastic pass up the inside of the fast turn that moved him into 2nd.

By the 5th lap, Lorenzo had a lead of just 0.2 over Marquez, while behind him Crutchlow had passed Zarco for 4th at turn 1 as the French rider struggled with the front-end of his Yamaha, and Dovizioso and Rins fought it out for 5th.

That battle was short-lived as Alex Rins crashed out at turn 11 on lap 6 after losing the front, giving the Suzuki rider a gravel bath and his 3rd DNF this season.

Attention then turned to the fight for 8th as Petrucci passed Rossi at turn 9 before running in too hot, allowing The Doctor to cut back as they headed into the next corner.

Lap 8 and the next faller hit the floor. This time it was Cal Crutchlow as he lost the front at turn 1, before rejoining at the back of the field. The British polesitter later retired on lap 17.

That meant that Dovizioso had seen both of the riders in front of him fall and with the Italian showing good pace it looked as though his hope of fighting for a podium might come true.

Back out front and Marquez was all over Lorenzo, as the Ducati rider was visibly battling movement from his bike in some of the turns. Turn 13, at the corner named after him, Lorenzo lost the lead as Marquez moved up the inside as they came to the end of lap 8. Realistically, the soft front tyre had allowed Lorenzo to push early on but with the riders around him still in the 1’39s while he was in 1’40 it seemed to have run out of a little bit of pace.

One lap later and Dovizioso passed Pedrosa for 3rd at turn 13, making it a provisional double Ducati podium, while his fellow Italian, Rossi, found himself in a Pramac sandwich between Petrucci and Miller back in 8th.

The next two laps saw two further crashes with Abraham falling at turn 1 before rejoining and Luthi ditching it at turn 11 and leaving a considerable amount of gravel on the track in the process.

That proved problematic on the next lap, when, as the fans paid tribute to Angel Nieto on the 13th lap (12+1), Marquez came round to the Alex Criville corner and saw the rocks on the track too late and suffered a big slide with his rear tyre. Perfect reactions kept the Spaniard onboard but it was a dangerous situation with so much debris on the racing line. Yellow flags were being waved but if someone had crashed that wouldn’t have been satisfactory.

It didn’t disrupt Marquez’s rhythm though and by the next lap, he had pulled a 1.1 lead over Lorenzo, who in turn was being doggedly followed by Dovizioso who just couldn’t find a way past. Lap 15 saw Dovi attempt to pass at turn 13 but he had to pull out of it as he almost hit the back of his team-mate and lost his position to Pedrosa in the process. He swiftly took 3rd back though, retaking the place at turn 1.

The start of lap 16 was also an impressive milestone for Valentino Rossi as it marked the completion of his lap around the Earth. Since joining Grand Prix racing back in 1996 The Doctor has completed 8730 laps in 369 races, taken 115 wins, 227 podiums, 64 pole positions and secured 9 world championships. The end of lap 15 meant he had travelled the same distance as the circumference of the Earth (40,075km) and it’s a record no-one is going to be beating any time soon.

Then came lap 18. It started with Marquez having a 2.28second gap over Lorenzo and Rossi briefly passing Petrucci at turn 1 before the Pramac rider took the 7th position back. It ended in disaster.

Dovizioso was still clinging to the back of Lorenzo as he desperately looked for a way past his team-mate. At turn 6 he saw his opportunity and passed Lorenzo up the inside on the brakes. But as often happens at the Dry Sack corner he ran wide, with Lorenzo also running off-line as he prepared to cut back and hold his position.

But while the Ducatis had run wide they had left behind them a wealth of space that presented Pedrosa with the chance he’d been waiting for and he slipped up the inside, keeping a tight line to the kerb.

Lorenzo then cut back to the inside line, without realising Pedrosa was now in that space and crashed into the side of the Repsol Honda. That set a pinball action into effect, with Pedrosa flung to the moon as his bike jerked underneath him, while Lorenzo was deflected wide into the path of Dovizioso with both Ducatis hitting the floor and going spinning into the gravel, while Pedrosa picked himself up from another huge highside that had left his bike stricken in the middle of the track, calling for some quick avoidance tactics from the following riders.

Dovi was angry with Jorge, letting his Italian blood show through his hand gestures, which Jorge returned by gesturing towards Dani, who was more preoccupied with the amount of pain he was in after landing incredibly hard on his right hip. Dovi then tried to rejoin the race with the wrong Ducati (which I’m fairly certain would be against the rules, although I don’t think it’s explicitly mentioned anywhere..) before all 3 were left to return to the paddock on scooters.

That now left Marc Marquez with a huge advantage, his gap increasing from 2 seconds to 7 in the space of one corner as Zarco now moved into second with Iannone in third. The riders who had been fighting for 7th now found themselves looking at a fight for the podium with Petrucci, Rossi and Miller all chasing down the Suzuki.

On lap 20, Vinales finally made it past Morbidelli for 8th, while Miller passed Rossi for 5th and Petrucci passed Iannone for 3rd, with both moves coming at turn 6.

Further back the KTM trio of Kallio, Pol Espargaro and Smith were sitting pretty in a line from 11th to 13th, with occasional changes in order.

With Marquez already on his 24th lap, Rossi passed Miller for 5th at turn 13, before Iannone took 3rd back from Petrucci at turn 5 and Vinales passed Bautista for 7th at turn 10.

Onto the last lap and Rossi could clearly smell a podium and his pace was strong but it came a little too late and he couldn’t quite make up the gap to Petrucci.

Meanwhile, Marquez had such a big lead that he was relaxed enough to start waving at the fans as he came through the Peluqui corner at turn 10 before again dancing over the line. This time it was something apparently called “flossing/ the backpack kid dance/ twist-twist” depending on who you are. I’m willing to show my age and ignorance here and say I have no idea what the hell he was doing but Marc says “all the kids are doing it, and I’m a kid”.

Following the World Champion, and new championship leader, to the chequered flag, was Johann Zarco and Andrea Iannone, while Nakagami split the KTM trio, slotting into 12th between Espargaro and Smith.

For Marc Marquez, it was another masterclass in domination.

Regardless of what happened behind him, this was his race to win and he did so with terrifying command over the rest of the grid. It hadn’t been the easiest weekend at a track he often struggles at, but after 3 crashes and a difficult qualifying, in the race no-one else came close. He was understandably delighted with the win and showed that through his celebrations (some of the most exuberant we’ve seen in a while from Marc). Winning at Jerez is an important marker for both him and Honda and is a sign of good things to come.

Johann Zarco admitted that he got lucky with the fallers in front of him, particularly because he’d been struggling to make it past Pedrosa for a number of laps. But as the Frenchman continues his run of scoring points in the last 21 races and takes his 3rd podium of the year, following his 8th successive front row, he moves to second in the championship and is really showing his potential in the early stages of this season.

His Tech 3 team-mate Hafizh Syahrin just missed out on the points back in 16th but had been suffering a lot of pain throughout the weekend, but especially on race day. In Austin, he’d had two heavy crashes, before having a fast bicycle crash in training that left him with a big scrape on his left hip. By the halfway point the Malaysian was running out of energy and his boss Herve says he hopes that Hafizh will stop cycling downhill from now on.

Third went to Andrea Iannone as he secured not only his first ever back-to-back MotoGP podiums but Suzuki’s 3rd podium in-a-row for the first time since 2008. The Maniac is performing really well so far this year and he looks happier off-track as well. He was disappointed to have made a mistake with his tyre choice after changing to the hard rear on the grid, but happy with another strong weekend and the progress they made with the bike after struggling in the slower corners on Friday.

The other Suzuki of Alex Rins again ended up being brought back on a truck as he failed to finish for the 3rd time in just 4 races. The Spaniard said he didn’t understand why he had lost the front as the data showed that he didn’t do anything different but with 2 days of testing at Mugello later this week he needs to find some consistency because the pace is there.

Danilo Petrucci brought home 4th for Pramac and while he was happy with the position, the Italian was disappointed to have not been able to catch Iannone for the podium as he had to defend from Rossi. He’d shown decent pace in the weekend and after saying on Saturday that he didn’t think they were quite at top 5 level for the race, 4th is a strong result.

Jack Miller followed him home 2 places later in 6th and was happy with a good result, despite not being able to hold off Rossi and felt that it had been a good weekend overall as he returns to almost full fitness after his pre-Austin shoulder injury.

5th was secured by Valentino Rossi but he was quick to point out that he got lucky with the crashes in front of him and that despite having an ok race they shouldn’t be in a position where they’re happy to finish 5th. Jerez was another difficult weekend for the Factory Yamahas as their old woes with lack of acceleration due to lack of grip and spinning returned. Valentino places these issues as 25% mechanical and 75% electronic, and it’s on the software side of things that he really wants Yamaha to focus their attention.

Speaking after the race he said that “if we want to fight for the podium and the victory, Yamaha have to help us and in not too long a time”. He was more openly critical of the lack of development than normal and it’s important to remember one thing: when Valentino says something, he does so for a reason. He’s already worked out what he wants to say and what he wants the outcome to be. He doesn’t speak without thinking and he knows how much weight his words hold, especially when spoken publicly.

He wants action from Yamaha and fast, and the Hamamatsu factory would do well to listen.. they’ve fallen behind in their electronic development, especially after so much focus on their chassis issues last year, and they’re being left behind. If anyone from Magneti Marelli is looking for a new job give Lin Jarvis a call.

The other Yamaha finished in 7th after a difficult race for Maverick Vinales that saw the Spaniard struggle to make it past Morbidelli and Bautista until he found a bit more grip late on.

The main issue for Yamaha, aside from the actual problem, is their lack of consistency, and I don’t mean in results. While being able to get a podium one week and then struggle to finish in the top 5 the next is problematic, the fact that their issues aren’t even presenting consistently is possibly even more of a challenge.

In Austin, Vinales went for a more aggressive style with a bit less electronic interference and it worked, he loved it. In Jerez, with less grip and higher temperatures that simply doesn’t work. Last year, they struggled at Jerez, found some improvements in the test, had a great race in Le Mans and then got lost once it got hot again at races like Barcelona. Don’t be surprised if they’re strong in France in 2 weeks time, but don’t be fooled into thinking that that necessarily means problem solved (although it would be great if it did).

Alvaro Bautista took the flag in 8th, which is a good result for the Angel Nieto team rider at the circuit that now holds the name of “el maestro”. More important than the final position for Bautista though was the good feeling they’d found with the bike from FP4 after working on the front-end of the bike. After the race, Alvaro said “I felt that I was riding the bike rather than it riding me” which is always a good sign.

His team-mate Karel Abraham finished 18th after crashing and remounting and the Czech rider had suffered from a bad feeling with the front from the start of the race, giving him an unstable bike that ultimately led to him crashing.

It was also a good result for the rider in 9th, Franco Morbidelli, as the rookie gets an important top 10 finish thanks to a strong start, although the Moto2 World Champion did have to slow down towards the end of the race as his tyres dropped off. His fellow Marc VDS rookie, Tom Luthi, was unable to finish the race after crashing out and had struggled with the front of his Honda with a full tank at the start of the race and was unable to keep the pace before he lost the front.

Rounding out the top 10 was the first of the KTMs, wildcard Mika Kallio onboard the first evolution of the 2019 bike. The Finnish rider felt that they were getting closer to the level they had finished at in 2017 and that his newer version of KTM had suffered less with grip and spinning than his team-mates.

Pol Espargaro followed him home in 11th and the Spaniard hadn’t found the right feel from the start so while he was disappointed to finish behind Kallio, he was able to take the positives from the factory’s development work. Bradley Smith completed the trio in 13th, after losing pace with the others in the second half of the race and was also happy to see the bike Kallio was riding showing promise.

Japanese rookie Takaaki Nakagami found it difficult to feel the grip in the higher temperatures and focussed on the need to improve his starts and performance over the early laps, but 12th is still a good result for Taka after some struggles during the weekend.

His team-mate Cal Crutchlow was forced to retire in the latter stages of the race after crashing and rejoining. The British rider said that his hard front tyre had been overheating because as he lacked rear grip he was trying to make up time on the brakes but at turn 1 he maybe just leant too much and lost the front. He also thought he might’ve touched the white line but was unsure. After qualifying on pole he had been confident ahead of raceday but his comments about having to manage the front tyre carefully proved true.

Tito Rabat took the flag in 14th after a difficult weekend that was compounded by a not-so-good start and lack of good feel with his bike. His Avintia team-mate Xavier Simeon finished 17th and was equally unhappy, saying “we went worse and worse every lap” as the Belgian rookie lacked pace and was unable to push.

The sole Aprilia to make it to the line was Scott Redding in 15th but his issues with grip that had plagued him throughout the weekend continued and Aleix Espargaro had been forced to retire early on as his new engine decided it didn’t really fancy 25 laps around Jerez. Aprilia, like Suzuki & Ducati, will be testing at Mugello ahead of Le Mans.

Then we come to the 3 that brought the biggest talking point of the race; Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso. Thankfully all 3 were “ok” and Dani didn’t further damage his already broken wrist but did have a lot of pain and swelling in his right hip.

First, we’ll start with the completely innocent party, Andrea Dovizioso. Dovi had been happy with the feeling they’d found on the bike after some big setup changes and fitting the aero fairing and his pace and speed were good. Unfortunately, for the Italian, he had arrived at Jerez leading the World Championship and he leaves it 24 points behind Marquez in 5th. Dovi knew nothing and could do nothing about the crash, the first sign of trouble for him was when he was smashed into by his team-mate.

Giving his opinion on what happened, Dovi said “I was unlucky, I braked very late.. both did a mistake, I think. Dani is the rider behind so he can manage better the situation and he didn’t because he enter too fast and I think this happened because Jorge and Dani were too on the limit.. Jorge, I think he also did a mistake because he didn’t really care about the inside line because he was a little bit out of the line, it’s true that from the helmet is impossible to see inside but you have to take care and he didn’t”.

Andrea also said that he felt Jorge’s decision not to have the size of the group displayed on his pitboard was a mistake but Jorge brushed that off saying just because you know there are 3 of you, doesn’t mean you know where all 3 are.

For Lorenzo, he was reluctant to explicitly blame Pedrosa and assigned it mostly to bad luck, while apologising to Dovi. The Spartan was happy with his good start and speed and it was a very impressive first few laps at the front for the Spaniard as he made the most of his soft front tyre. Jerez is one of Jorge’s favourite tracks and he was pleased with the work they had done on the bike to make it smoother.

On Pedrosa’s side he showed good pace throughout the race and while he found it tricky to pass the Ducatis, he made it equally problematic for others to overtake him. With his wrist still lacking some strength and range of motion, he had a strong weekend, particularly with his second place on the grid.

Like Dovi and Jorge, Dani pointed out that they are 3 of the cleanest riders in the class and rarely cause problems (although they often get caught up in them). But Dani was less impressed with Race Direction after he went to speak to them (not Race Director Mike Webb as he was busy overseeing the Red Bull Rookies) after the race for clarification after it was deemed a racing incident.

It was a decision Pedrosa disagreed with, he explained “I asked them how they judge: Was I on the correct inside line? Yes. Were the other guys on the outside coming back from a mistake, re-joining the right line? Yes. So who has preference in this case, the guy who is inside or those who are outside? The one on the inside. So, who was at fault? But I didn’t get an answer, only that they had already made their decision and that if I didn’t agree with it, which I don’t, to appeal against Jorge if I wanted. But I didn’t want that, as I don’t want Jorge to be penalised, only for them to understand correctly what is happening on track.”

For Dani the issue is with riders not looking when they rejoin the inside line, for Jorge, it’s that the rider behind needs to be more aware when they move up the inside. For Dovi, it’s both.

Essentially they’re all right. Dani would’ve known when he made the move that Jorge would be cutting back to the inside line, because that’s what racers do. But he did everything he could by sticking very tightly to the inside of the corner. Once he was leaned over on the bike he couldn’t see anything on the left and so had no idea where the Ducatis were.

Jorge would’ve been blind to Dani too, because his peripheral vision inside his helmet wouldn’t have allowed him to see Dani until it was too late for him to do anything about it. But he should’ve been more aware that there could be another rider on the inside because if he’d been in Dani’s position it’s exactly where he would’ve been.

It was an ambitious pass, but you have to be ambitious to make an overtake at turn 6. You could have them replay that same incident 10 times and for the majority of cases they’d maybe have a little contact as they went for the same line but no-one would crash and they’d all just carry on.

Ultimately, the blame can be split pretty evenly between Lorenzo and Pedrosa, both should’ve been more aware but neither were reckless or dangerous with their actions. And Dovi should stop walking under ladders because his luck is awful.

The Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez saw Marc Marquez back on the top step of the podium in another display of dominance, but unlike some, I don’t find that boring. The way he manages a race when he’s able to pull out at the front is a marvel to watch, and if you don’t want him battling because you think he’s “dangerous” then you might have to get used to it, because when he can leave the others for dust, he will.

For Marc, it was his 63rd Grand Prix win and 37th in MotoGP, which equals Mike Hailwood’s tally in the premier class with the 6th most victories on the big bikes. It was also his 105th GP podium and 66th in MotoGP, which continued the trend of having at least one Spanish rider on the podium at Jerez since 2004. It was, however, the first time since 2013 that the polesitter hasn’t won the race in MotoGP (while the curse of the Moto3 polesitter not winning since 2005 continues).

Michelin also reached a milestone as they took their 400th Premier Class win and Bibendum even made a special visit to Parc Ferme to celebrate, getting a kiss from Iannone and a shaking from Marquez.

On Thursday, the Circuito de Jerez took on the name of the man who made motorcycling in Spain what it is today, Angel Nieto, and with a statue in tribute to him now in place, parade laps from his sons Pablo and Gelete on 2 of his old bikes, applause from the fans on the 13th (12+1) lap of each race, and a special bust going home with race winner Marc Marquez, it was a weekend that would’ve done him proud with great racing across the classes.

Now, attention briefly turns to testing, with many staying at Jerez for one day, although KTM will stay on Tuesday as well, while others will head to Mugello before everyone heads North to Le Mans for the French Grand Prix.

Marc Marquez now leads the championship by 12 points from Johann Zarco and it’s the 4th change of leader in 4 races. What will Le Mans have in store? We have just 2 weeks to wait until we find out.

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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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