2011 Mugello MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Italy Awaits

If you want to know what the attendance at a racetrack is, you have two options, the official channel, and the unofficial one. If you want the official tally, you have to wait until Sunday, when the circuit, together with Dorna, publish the number of spectators over the three days of the track. Those numbers are based on ticket sales, though how precisely they are reflect the numbers at the track is a frequent topic of speculation.

If you want a more accurate assessment of how busy a track is, then the best thing to do is to canvas a few of the regular photographers who shoot MotoGP. They spend all day wandering around the track, seeing most of the grandstands and hillsides which overlook the circuit. A trained eye for detail and an excellent memory are key assets for a professional photographer, so they generally have a pretty good idea of how many people are at the track. Their estimates are usually much more accurate than the official numbers, and can differ by a surprisingly large amount from them.

So when several photographers report that the hillsides at Mugello seem emptier again this year, then it would appear that MotoGP has a problem. And given the nature of MotoGP's audience in recent years, that problem has one major cause.

Valentino Rossi's difficulties with the Ducati have been well documented, and are on all-too-public display at Mugello. Handicapped by both the weather - the MotoGP class lost nearly all of FP2 yesterday, and a good chunk of qualifying on Saturday to the conditions, a light rain making it neither wet enough for rain tires, nor dry enough to take risks on slicks. An electrical problem on Friday left Rossi and his crew with even less track time, but the question remains whether that would fundamentally change Rossi's situation.

For there is clearly something wrong with the Ducati Desmosedici, and though the advent of the GP11.1 has fixed the rear of the bike - a problem which the machine had suffered almost since the inception of the 800cc era - the front remains a problem. The message has been the same, almost from the very first time Rossi swung a leg over the Desmosedici at the Valencia tests at the end of last year: It's hard to get heat into the front Bridgestone, which makes it hard to feel what the front tire is doing. Given the way that you ride an 800 - high corner speed requiring lots of edge grip - absolute faith in the front tire is essential. Without it you're nowhere, or as it's more commonly known, 12th.

Added to the lack of front-end feel is the difficulty of finding a good setup with the Ducati. The operating range within which the Desmosedici is fast and usable remains razor-thin, and finding it is still like finding a needle in a haystack. Some days, you can transform the bike from zero to hero with a single click of damping, other days, you turn the bike upside down and it still won't respond. It is hard to make sense of how the bike reacts.

The problems with the Ducati are illustrated perfectly by Hector Barbera's results this weekend. After three sessions of free practice, Barbera was down in the 1'51s, and firmly ensconced at the back of the grid. During qualifying, his Mapfre Aspar team found something, and the Spaniard took a second and a half off his best time of the weekend, and made it up to 10th, second Ducati behind Nicky Hayden.

Rossi's media debriefs - once entertaining affairs that you would leave feeling better than when you went in - have now become rather lackluster affairs. Rossi sits, repeats the same story week in and week out, and smiles bravely. The battle with the Ducati is visibly wearing him down, and something will have to give soon.

A leading Spanish journalist, Borja Gonzalez, commented to me afterwards that what had struck him was that Rossi no longer has anything to say. Previously, there were stories, ideas, jokes, an impish grin, but all of that has gone. Rossi is stuck, and badly needs a breakthrough.

Two lights loom on the horizon, which may provide some relief. In the short term, the decision by Bridgestone to replace the harder selection at four of the next six races with a much softer tire may give Rossi some of the feel that he is missing. In the long term, his hopes lie with the 1000cc - well, maybe 882cc or 930cc - GP12 due to be introduced next year. The extra power provided by the bigger bike negates the Ducati's weakness, and gives Rossi the feel from the front he needs. When he tested the GP12 at Mugello, he was faster everywhere with the bike - even through the corners, a surprise given the higher corner speeds demanded by the 800. 2011 may just be a question of trying to sort the major problems with the chassis design and simplify its complexity, and holding on for 2012. Whether Rossi's fans - or Ducati's fans, the two factions are as yet to be unified - have the patience to hold on remains to be seen. There may yet be calls for heads to roll at Ducati.

What Rossi doesn't have is the luxury of the switch that solved Jorge Lorenzo's ills. The Spaniard went back to using large parts of the 2010 Yamaha M1, and since then, Lorenzo has regained his confidence and refound his speed. The reigning World Champion was fastest on Saturday morning, blasting away the previous pole record set by Valentino Rossi on the last of the soft qualifying tires in 2008. The complicated conditions during qualifying - starting dry, but with a few spots of rain on the track, drying out a fraction, then getting wetter and wetter as the rain began to fall in earnest. A misjudged balance of tires, setup and timing saw Lorenzo qualify just 5th, but in terms of race pace - probably mid-1'48s, maybe even faster - Lorenzo should be right on the mark.

Lorenzo was out-qualified by his teammate Ben Spies, the Texan getting on the front row of the grid, another confidence booster after his win last weekend at Assen. Spies was relatively happy with his race setup, but felt there was more time in the bike he could get out of it. Expect Spies to stick with the front runners for a long time at Mugello, and maybe even get in their way.

The two fastest men of the day were once again two Honda riders, Casey Stoner taking his fifth pole of the season ahead of Marco Simoncelli, the revelation of 2011. Stoner was not entirely happy with his setup - as is his habit, and maybe the secret of his speed - saying that if conditions and setup had been perfect, a 1'47.0 would have been possible. Instead, all he could manage was to go just a fraction faster than Lorenzo had been in FP3.

The Australian is certainly the favorite for the race tomorrow, but the Italians may yet have something to cheer for. Despite all the controversy surrounding him, Marco Simoncelli is still blazingly fast - in qualifying, at least. His aim is "to do his best" a phrase that is wide open to interpretation, but Simoncelli must be able to taste his first podium, and maybe even his first win.

His main aim, though, is to stop making mistakes. Comparing his first-lap crashes at Estoril and Assen, he said he regretted his crash at Assen most of all. The crash at Estoril had been down to a lack of experience, Simoncelli said, but at Assen, he should have known better. Hotter conditions at Mugello gave him a better chance of surviving the first few laps, and if he does, he is likely a threat.

Exactly that is why he believes such controversy surrounds him, Simoncelli said. If the other Aliens think he can challenge them, they will do whatever they can to stop him. Many of the complaints about him were an attempt to get into his head, Simoncelli said, and that would not succeed. The look on his face spoke volumes, but his result on Sunday will say even more. It should be a very interesting race on Sunday.

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Comments

Whether Rossi's fans - or Ducati's fans, the two factions are as yet to be unified - have the patience to hold on remains to be seen. There may yet be calls for heads to roll at Ducati.

I think there is a lot more at stake for Ducati than just a few upset fans. They'll reveal their new superbike at the end of the year which reportedly has a similar "subframe" like the GP11.X made out of cast aluminium. If the GP 11.9 doesn't fly, Ducatistas as well as potential Ducati customers will (probably incorrectly) decide that the new superbike "has the same problems as Rossi's nail". IMO Ducati has essentially no other option than to get Rossi on the top podium step this year.

Exactly that is why he believes such controversy surrounds him, Simoncelli said. If the other Aliens think he can challenge them, they will do whatever they can to stop him. Many of the complaints about him were an attempt to get into his head, Simoncelli said, and that would not succeed.

Which again demonstrates Sic's mental problems, does any rider complain about a blistering fast Ben Spies? Sic once again refuses to grok that he is ruining other ones races as well as his own championship, once again he portrays himself as the "victim" when it was him who made the mistakes.

I agree with you a lot on this issue perhaps spilling over onto Ducati's retail sales. There is a reason why a company wants the best players on their team (this goes for hockey etc), because that can translate into sales. People think that if they have the same bike as Rossi, or the same hockey stick as Crosby, that they can be a better rider or hockey player. It's all in our heads of course, but it does influence peoples purchase decisions.

With taking on Rossi, Ducati had the opportunity to explode sales if he was on the top step in Qatar. Unfortunately as we've seen, his season is quickly turning into a nightmare, with Ducati essentially "legally" testing their GP12 Chassis in 2011 now trying to get a leg up.

If they don't fix this soon, I suspect it will translate into lost sales, as whether we like it or not, people will subconsciously think that if Rossi is having all these problems pushing his bike to the limit, then they might too. It goes both ways.

You can tell that Rossi is losing patience now, and the go lucky happy guy we're used to seeing is becoming more and more frustrated. I don't think we're at the bottom yet either, I think this is going to be a long season for Ducati, but that their 2012 bike will be a lot more competitive.

I don't think the results of Ducati in MotoGP have any effect on sales of their production bikes. Most of us common mortals are unable or unwilling to put enough stress on a production bike to notice minor imperfections in a subframe. The well informed buyers know there is a world of difference between a prototype and a production bike anyway.

When I bought my first sportbike, I had no idea MotoGP even existed. That's what you get for growing up in the U.S., home of NASC--I mean, "SPEED" Network...

Edit: (Now that I think about it, it's way worse that my second bike was a Repsol-liveried Fireblade and I still had no idea MotoGP existed!)

Bayliss I think he name is has just been whipping around Mugello for a few days on the 2012 Ducati Superbike quicker than he ever has and just raves about the machine. From a commercial perspective Rossi's Ducati failure isn't going to make a jot of difference.

Rossi's looking and sounding disillusioned and has made plenty of past references to considering WSBK. There's nothing he can do about the young guns now, so perhaps a step down to beat up on his old foes Biaggi & Checa could be on the cards. Then that really will be a commercial, old bloke in a silly hat, sanctioned Italian match. Don't rule it out.......

The well informed buyers know there is a world of difference between a prototype and a production bike anyway.

If the majority of the customers would be well informed then we wouldn't have PR.

The fact that the vast majority of private bikers will never be able to ride a current street legal supersport bike to the limit won't keep the same vast majority of customers to select the "fastest" bike of the world SBK series or a bike with "MotoGP championship winning" technology.

That a street legal bike has nothing to do with a MotoGP bike has never been a problem for PR departments of the various motorcycle brands.

+1 commitment to the superbike with the same layout must be playing a major part in ducati still trying to make the cf work. Whether it will affect sales negatively is open to question as long as the wsbk effort goes well, but with the stresses put on superbikes and the ever increasing race to match motogp technology, can ducati say for sure, that the inherent weakness in the cf chassis won't rear it's ugly head at some stage when the reach the track??.
Also having the ducati motopg bike work with the same layout as the Road bike and Rossi winning on it, would do wonders for ducati sales.

Come on - this is racing. Yes Sic made some novice error and has said that he was sorry for them (well, especially the errors that involved other riders). The main problem I see is the Pedrosa situation - refusing to accept an apology from Sic, it sure looks to me like the riders are just trying to get into his head, but thankfully Sic just won't care about all that politicking and off-track nonsense preferring to let his riding on-track speak for itself. But hey - I suppose the racing has been a bit less of a show than in previous years so alot of fans have to take up other activities like flogging dead horses...

I think it is way too soon to allow Simo into the hallowed ranks of the "aliens". He has to prove himself with some consistent results first.

-to me has always been about speed. As far as I'm concerned Sic is more alien than non. He's got another 15% more to go head wise but the bulk of it is in the talent. It's like once you break the sound barrier and show that you can do it, then you know the taming of the power will follow from there.

One need only look at Lorenzo, and even Stoner when they were younger. Look at Stoner this year as an example. He's always been crazy fast but has not been able to put the whole package together since 2007, only now people speak of the change in maturity in him and wisdom he's showing this season. Same goes for the big leap Lorenzo made last year in discipline and focus. Took a few years of being a crash test dummy to iron those kinks out. (that high-side during QP in Laguna in 09 was insane, and it was literally right after a crash).

Anyway, people forget too quickly me thinks...

They have won EVERY dry race so far since 2007...except Assen 2011.
So being an alien is about being a contender for the win.

Also they have systematically occupied the top 4 ranks (top 3 in 2007 when Lorenzo was still in 250) in the championship.

Spies being the only non-alien to win a dry race in the past 5(!) seasons, he is in good course to become one of them.

On the other hand Simoncelli has never even scored a podium in MotoGP...and his raking in the championship is not even worth mentioning.
He could become one, he certainly has the raw speed, but is still a long way from it.

"The extra power provided by the bigger bike negates the Ducati's weakness, and gives Rossi the feel from the front he needs". Yet the GP11.9 is merely a de-stroked 930cc ( or even 882cc?). Whilst I understand these guys have more feel ability than the Princess of the pea fairytale I am really struggling to understand how such a small difference can have such an impact on corner entry and turning - we're talking about an off the throttle situation where Rossi's problems lie, how is power helping here?! I would love to hear a detailed account from the man himself on the different sensations from the GP11.9 and GP12 running identical settings on the same warm track of Mugello.

I can only postulate that it is some kind of harmonic resonance difference between the lower revving GP12 and higher spinning GP11.9. This is where the trial and error differing lay-up experimentation nature of the front CF sub frame comes into play I guess.

If I had any engineering say at Ducati, I'd be suggesting a trial of a front subframe in different materials.
Steel trellis, anyone?
What, after all, do they have to lose?

Ducati ditched the steel trellis because that material could not provide the requisite strength and still find a way to feed the airbox through the maze of support struts around the headstock. Over and above which there were also manufacturing inconsistencies which lead to one riders bike feeling different to the supposedly identical other. Why else would they ditch one of their corporate signatures? The factory is looking forward not backwards.

Everyone is always blaming the CF frame and saying the steel trellis was better. I have news for you...

Go back and watch the races from 2007. Stoner's bike was a rocket in a straight line, but was often running wide in corners and he struggled to get it turned... and it had a steel trellis frame. Capirossi struggled with it too, so people need to stop talking about the steel frame option as the cure.

Ducati can fix most of their problems in one hit... stop building L-configuration engines for MotoGP and build a V-4.

Their issue has more to do with the inherent compromises due to using the L-engine than it does with the frame. If it was just a frame issue then with all the changes they've been making they would have solved the problem by now.

In the meantime, Stoner showed what you need to do to get a result on it. You need to ride it's ass off. Rossi and JB have both admitted that he's just not prepared to do that... and until he gives 100% he will not get results on the current bike, assuming he is even capable of riding it that hard. There's no guarantee he even can go that hard, as so far pretty much everyone except Casey has failed on it.

To be fair to Rossi/Ducati, it's pretty hard to find any evidence or even draw any conclusions based on previous seasons that Casey would have done any better than 6th this year on the duke and that is not good enough, so it's pointless Rossi and Ducati trying to 'do it like Casey'. I suspect with the duke being less competitive again, it's not even quick now, Casey would have spent more time in the litter trying to override it. Still when he stayed on I suspect he would be quicker than Rossi but that wouldn't be quick enough..

It's true that the Ducati needs to be ridden harder, and on the limit more than any of the other bikes to go fast, but don't forget that in doing so the rider will crash more often - a fact shown by Stoner. Yes he was fast on the Ducati, but yes he did also have alot of crashes. You can't really expect all riders just to push more and risk crashing. I can't blame Rossi for not wanting to ride past the limit - why would anyone when they know that crashing is practically a certainty?

Stoner spoke about the Ducati front end in an article by Mat Oxley in Roadracing World magazine. Casey said that the front end would start to vibrate/shake, then go smooth, then all fall down in a flash. The vibration was interpreted as the tire scrabbing for traction, the smooth that it had lost all grip then bang down. Hence the win it/bin it - push it to win, it bites you unexpectedly. Casey had to rear steer via slide/near high side to get through the corner .. spinning the rear isn't as fast through the corner as 2 wheels in line ...

So Rossi is stuck right now, keep the bike paint side up, rubber side down .. back in the pack.

The Honda's have improved / evolved with strong engine and decent handling, the Yamahas continue to turn quite nicely through the corners, the Duc is best at neither ..

The Vale / Desmo combo may not be working, but I couldn't believe the power of the brand at Silverstone. VR46 clobber was flying off the shelves, and all was sported proudly by the masses of fans cheering hysterically every time he passed the grandstands, despite his lowly position in the race.

And typically VR46 kit was 3 times the price of lesser riders stuff.

If a few more millions were thrown at the R&D and it came good, I'm sure there would be queues out of the door of every Ducati dealership for bikes & clothing.

As suggested above, its not just a case of people might stop buying Ducati bikes if Vale fades away, but more a question of just how many rossi replica bikes would sell themselves if he wins a world championship (GP or SBK) on a red bike?

Unlike the other factories, Ducati have only large capacity bikes (and a huge collection of branded clothing) to sell. Even sales of Multistradas / Diavels etc will be boosted by Rossimania if he comes good.

"For there is clearly something wrong with the Ducati Desmosedici,..."

I don't know about that. The bike was clearly fast, a race-winning machine with Stoner riding it.

Of course Rossi is not the first to have problems riding the Ducati -- before him, most infamously Melandri, also Hayden (who's still having his problems), had their difficulties. Back then Stoner was winning races, so people said the Ducati was difficult to ride, not that 'there was something wrong with the bike'. I mean, Stoner was proving nearly every week that the bike was podium competitive.

Pedrosa (et al) is on the record as saying the Honda is not that much different than last year's bike.

And I don't think Ducati messed up their bike just in time for Rossi's arrival, or have suddenly become incapable of making whatever changes are necessary to make the machine a winner (despite Stoner's reported complaint that they didn't do enough development).

So I don't know.

I'll go on the record and say that I think Stoner would be winning races on that bike were he riding it. Probably competing for the title. And maybe even winning it, assuming he's cured the crashing problem.

was it;

1: I uttered a mild rebuke at your mischievous suggestion Mugello's crowds Saturday were down because of Rossi's poor performance and not the inclement weather? Did not one of the riders in the post race summary say the sunshine bathed Mugello crowd today looked huge?
2: I suggested the sport was bigger than one man?
3: You've got so used to deleting my replies to (and the petty Stoner slandering postings of) Hugelean?
4: A whoops moment?

I hope the last of these options as what's the point of expressing a legitimate opinion without bias if it is in some small way going to offend the moderator?

5) I got tired of the bickering, and have deleted some of both your and Hugelean's posts. Unfortunately, some good and interesting comments (from both of you) got lost along with the bickering, but I am trying to keep the site free from that kind of argument.

I would like to point out that neither Casey Stoner nor Valentino Rossi need any defending. Stoner has one world championship and is the red hot favorite for a second; Rossi has nine titles to his name. There is very little that anyone could ever say or do to make any difference to those achievements.

and I fully agree the personality jibes have no place on here. That said surely one of the main topic's that feed motomatters is the comparison of Stoner and Rossi given Rossi started 2011 on virtually the same machine Stoner left him. These comparisons are direct, relevant and real. To Hugeleans credit (?) he certainly tempers his comments on this site, whereas he's a rabid dog with his Stoner personality / set-up skill / crasher abuse on MCN. It is him and his ilk that has lead me to discard MCN due to it's bone headed slander. I merely respond to HL's comments made on MM, particularly this farcical and baseless notion nobody can develop a motorcycle like Rossi. Again surely a discussion board such as this is punch and counter punch to some degree?

Of course Rossi's record is undeniable, but there comes a time in the life of most great sports people that through circumstances (age, physical prowess, mental exhaustion, hunger, expectation, fear even in the case of motorcycle racers) that a younger breed bring down a waning star. Look what's happened in golf to Woods, or what is happening to Federer in tennis.

I don't see Rossi as washed up - although he could be. Equally he could surprise and click with the Duke and rattle off a string of wins / podiums. I merely see him as around the 4th to 6th ranked rider on current form. Obviously the motorcycle it a contributing factor to that in this game, but I believe EVERYONE expected a much better showing from Rossi than what we've had season to date. What is so wrong with holding this opinion?

As a rule, comments attacking other posters, or comments saying that a particular poster belongs on other websites and not here, will get deleted. They add nothing to the debate.

That does not mean there is no room for disagreement, on the contrary. But when posting something in reply to someone you disagree with, you (you all, not you, Nostrodamus) should be putting forward arguments to make your case and point out where they are wrong. Just calling them names and saying they belong elsewhere undermines your own case more than it undermines theirs.

David I agree with you on your round up that you posted up several days ago. Rossi is in his prime, faster than ever, and more capable than ever. He came back remarkably quick after the leg break, got back on the podium pretty quick and even won a race on a shoulder that his doctors said he shouldnt be riding on. Considering his stature and statistics he could have sat out a much longer time but chose to get back on quick, as did Randy, and finish his time with Yamaha and Furusawa with some class and elegance that plagues some of the other riders who can't even handle a press conference. He is revered by many because of his riding AND his personality. He is also a freak of nature. After he won the 8hr with Colin many years ago Colin said he could be the greatest rider in history if he continues and he has. That was a decade ago btw. They were riding the RC or SP for you euros that Colin developed and Rossi was besting Colin's lap times. There is also Dr. Costa and his heart monitors. That bit in Faster speaks volumes.

My point with all that is the man has proven himself over and over. He's won on a 125cc, 250cc,
was the last ever 500cc champion, won on 1000cc 4 stroke Hondas and Yamahas, and won on the 800cc Yamaha. And oh yes, a 1000cc v-twin Superbike at the 8HR with Colin. A race that used to be more important to the Japanese than any grand prix. So given all of this why all the doubt? With the Ducati he is going about his business the same as he always has. He is a development rider and along with again Mr. Edwards the best in the world at it. He isn't going to shazaam into Stoner as he rides differently, each rider has their own style. Rossi, historically, turns whatever bike he is on into a bike that many riders can go fast on. Look at the RC211v, and any year M1. Jorge just switched back to the 2010 chassis that still has Valentino's development hands on it. He has also been on delta box frames for a loong time. He is going to push his factory into making what he wants and it has always worked, always. You know why he isn't a crasher? Because he develops every bike he is on to ride at the limit safely. The desmo he's on has been developed a very different way until this year and the product is at eol. This work they are doing will pay off I guarantee you because what they are doing will translate into work on their production machines. Proof is in my garage, a cross plane 4 cylinder resides there.

Thank you Furusawa and Rossi.

Fans love to see people they don't like fail. Americans are the worst about this. Someone gets really good at something and they'll try to tear them down. What a shame. I watched Jordan's entire career and he was vilified by the haters. Instead of watching someone that talented and being thankful they moaned incessantly. Rossi is no different. All this talk of Stoner and how he'd be winning on the '11 is fantasy as he is with Honda now. The stuff starts getting deep when people start talking imaginary foolishness.

What I don't get and never will is that I am a fan of the sport more than any rider. The sport will continue once all these present riders are retired. And if you respect this sport, love it, or both, you have to respect Valentino Rossi. Go bring up the win list for The premier class. Vale's name is at the top of a long and distinguished list that spans more than half a century. With the exception of last year he's made a habit of staying off the pavement for the most part which is why he can race for years yet. All these younger guys have done is push him a little more where
he wasn't being pushed prior. Biaggi and Sete gave him hell it's just that now there are more of them at the same time instead of just one. He will be back fighting for wins. I'd bet my house on that. He is just wrestling with a development path that for 4 years has been going the wrong way in my opinion. When only one can be fast on a machine I'm looking at the machine. Hay den's times and finishing order hasn't been good this year. He is the constant so if you want to peanut pick the Ducati's capability then review Hayden's performance 2010 vs. 2011. Unfortunately comparing different riders on different years bikes is fools play and kind of cowardly unless you've ridden the bikes yourself. To my knowledge Sir Alan is the only guy that gets to do that. If you are interested in any of these MotoGp riders development skills go read Cathcart's reviews. The bikes Rossi has been on always get revered by Alan.

Stoner and Lorenzo are there, Dani will get back to fitness before too long, Simoncelli is coming as well as Ben. Maybe by seasons end we will get some battles between not just two riders but many. Yamaha still need a few HP (IMO Stoner would have won today without tire issues) but I'm sure will deliver and hopefully the engine rule doesn't spoil the party. With Ben and Marco stepping up we just need Vale competitive for some epic battles. The 800cc racing is why some folks were missing from Mugello today. For the most part they don't provide jaw dropping spectacles of racing. Passes for the lead are seldom and processional wins by Valentino, Casey, Ben, Dani, etc etc are still boring.

Have a race like Portugal 2006 happen again and watch the following rounds get a few more visitors and folks tuning in on the teli.

Hope to meet you @ Laguna David. As always the site is superb. Thank you that I don't have to get on Facebook or twatter for this.

Bricktop you expressed so well my thoughts (but I was too lazy to pin them down). This Stoner/Rossi stuff is lowering the quality of the comments here ... but nevermind. David rightly purges here ant there and maybe soon they will go away as they came.
Motomatters is bigger than a couple of fanboys (whatever side are they) as MotoGP will survive after Rossi (it survived after Ago as a proof of that).

And of course what we all need is some better racing (which will bring also more fans to the sport) something where the 800s won't go down in history as the best class for that.