2012 Mugello MotoGP Thursday Round Up: On Mugello, Marquez, And Tires, Once Again

It's a good job we are here in Mugello. Normally, at the end of three back-to-back race weekends, riders, team members and journalists are all just about ready to strangle each other - some paddock insiders have colorful tales of intra-team punch-ups which they will tell if plied with a few drinks - but this is Mugello, the one weekend each season which everybody looks forward to. There is something very special about the setting, the track, the weather, the location which mellows everyone out. Maybe it is the spectacularly located Tuscan villas most of the teams stay in for the weekend - there is nothing quite like taking a dip in a private pool as the sun goes down behind the beautiful hills of Tuscany to calm the spirits. But the truth is that everyone seems to wear a smile around the Mugello paddock, no matter what hardship they have suffered in the weeks before the weekend.

It is to be a special weekend, just as every race at Mugello is special. And it will be important too, with several big announcements already made, and more to come. The biggest - and least surprising - was the announcement that Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez will ride for the factory Repsol Honda team for the next two season. Both signings had been long expected, despite some rumors that Valentino Rossi would be moved into the Repsol team in Pedrosa's place. HRC Vice President Shuhei Nakamoto explained to the press that the decision to sign Pedrosa had been because of the experience of the Spaniard. "A good rider with good experience," is how Nakamoto described Pedrosa, saying that his signing was good for Honda.

And Honda was not Pedrosa's only option. He had had other options on the table and been able to decide freely where he wanted to go, Pedrosa told Spanish media, the implication being that he had an offer from Yamaha, though Pedrosa refused to go into details. He had been a Honda rider throughout all of his career, Pedrosa said, and so to continue had been the best option.

The signing of Marquez has generated the most interest, however. The 19-year-old is rated very highly inside the paddock, one Moto2 team manager telling me "Marquez is something really special" after seeing him on a Moto2 bike for the first time at Valencia in 2010. During the press conference, all five riders present - Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, Casey Stoner, Andrea Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi were asked their opinions of the Spaniard, and all were impressed. Valentino Rossi put his finger on what made Marquez special: "He has demonstrated he has potential," the Italian said. "He has show he can win races even when he is not the fastest." Andrea Dovizioso said he was interested to see how Marquez would go: "He's so fast, so strong," the Italian said "His style is quite particular, and we will see how he rides a MotoGP bike. There's a big difference; in Moto2 you can't work a lot on the bike, but in MotoGP, you have to do so a lot." Earlier, Cal Crutchlow had joked that Marquez was "a pain in the arse", as he had taken one of the factory rides that might otherwise have been open for the Englishman. But he was also one of the fastest guys out there, Crutchlow added. "I think you'll see him very close to the podium from the very first race," he said.

The signing of Marquez and Pedrosa provides another major part of the puzzle in MotoGP's Silly Season for 2013, but some key question marks remain. Mugello was expected to be the place where Cal Crutchlow put pen to paper on a contract with Ducati, but the Englishman is still waiting. The ball, Crutchlow said, is in Ducati's court, and he is waiting for the Bologna factory to give him a contract to sign. "Everything is discussed," Crutchlow told reporters. "We have some paperwork to go through, but we don't have any paperwork at the moment." While most paddock insiders expected the deal to be done here in Italy, Crutchlow said that he had known since Germany that nothing would be signed at Mugello.

The delay at Ducati opens some intriguing possibilities. Where previously, most paddock insiders had expected Nicky Hayden to lose his ride to make way for Crutchlow - something which apparently Hayden also expected, given his remarks in Germany - the delay could open more opportunities for the American. Hayden was marginally more upbeat about his prospects at Mugello than he had been at both the Sachsenring and Assen, which may have something to do with the talks he had with Audi bosses in Germany. They did not discuss details, Hayden said, but it had been a positive meeting, and Hayden had come away impressed with Audi's enthusiasm for the project. Audi, in turn, may be impressed with Hayden's sales potential in the US, and with Ducati's sales already up 26% in the second quarter in one of Ducati's most important markets, having an American rider may become important for the Italian factory.

Outside of the Silly Season, the other subject which has dominated the 2012 season has been Bridgestone's tires. Mugello, sadly, is no different. The good news is that Bridgestone has brought four extra rear tires for each rider, all using the hard compound, and all with an extra layer of rubber between the carcass and the tire body. The idea of the extra layer of rubber is to help dissipate heat, so that the dangerous temperature build up that occurred at Assen causing problems for Ben Spies, Valentino Rossi and Hector Barbera can be avoided.

It looks like being precisely the solution needed to the issues which have dogged Bridgestone since the switch to the 1000s. New machines with larger capacity and more torque and a softer construction, introduced to put an end to the horrific morning cold-tire highsides which had dogged MotoGP for the past couple of season had caused Bridgestone more problems than they expected. Several riders, including Andrea Dovizioso, have said that tire temperatures have been at the limit of their operating range, and this is what has caused the problems with tire wear and tire chunking. Boosting heat dissipation should be a bit step towards solving the problem.

But the temporary fix is not without problems of its own. All of the riders were critical of Bridgestone during the press conference, though Casey Stoner, as the only rider not interested in the consequences due to the fact he is retiring at the end of the season, was most outspoken. Stoner was most displeased about the fact that despite having been given an extra tire option, the riders basically only had a single choice of tire for the weekend. They had been told that they would not be allowed to race the softer of the two original compounds, Stoner said. They would be able to race the harder of the two original compounds, but not without putting in at least half race distance consecutively, at race pace on one of the hard rear tires first. That tire would then be cut open and examined for damage, and if none was found, then the rider would be allowed to select that option as a race tire.

The new construction is the only tire the riders will be allowed to race without having to justify their choice first. "It's a strange situation," Stoner said. "It seems like we will only have one choice of tire for the race if the weather is hot. I don't really understand the situation."

This is the downside to being the single tire supplier in a series like MotoGP. Unless you get your tires absolutely perfect, you will face a barrage of criticism from riders, teams and fans. The tires were clearly better when the rule was first introduced in 2009. However, the innate conservatism of Japanese factories has led them to play it safe on tire duration, which in turn caused the spate of highsides and serious injuries throughout 2010 and early in 2011. The reverse is now true, with durability now being the problem, and heat build up causing tires to occasionally lose tread. Bridgestone's next step should come very close to solving the problem, but the damage has already been done. A role as official supplier in single-manufacturer tire series is a lose-lose proposition: get it right and nobody notices, saying only that of course the World Champion is using your tires, he had no choice in the matter. Get it wrong, and you are spread all over the front pages of the motorcycling media. An unenviable position to be in.

Total votes: 171
Total votes: 39

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Comments

The new Alien, he has the right bike for a start.

Dani will stay with Honda till he retires, on his day he is as fast any.

Hayden will get a Ducati gig as he sells in the US of A, as does Ben, the worst either of them will do is move to a satellite with full factory support.

Cal should probably start using more diplomacy when discussing his factory options, step by step press announcements by him will be viewed with scepticism. Megaphone diplomacy is silly.

Bridgestone seem to have had more impact on this championship than Bautista, perhaps they should revisit the formula they used in 2009, riders etc. seemed happier then.

Honda roll out a brand new bike, just happened to have 2013's model waiting to go! Hmm... puts Ducati's need of Audi in context, how do you fight a giant? Well you bring your own giant to the fight - VAG. Well done Ducati, a strategic master stroke, oh and we'd better keep that Hayden guy around, as Stoner liked working with him, we'll make Stoner an offer for 2014 he can't refuse (when we fix this dog).

Rossi to a satellite Ducati team with full factory support in Audi colours in 2014, Stoner back in the duck unform, much to everyone's relief.

Total votes: 159

Auskid27, I agreed with most of that, until I got to the part about Stoner in 2014. You really think Ducati has based their future strategy on that???

Total votes: 156

But an old guy is allowed to dream...

Can you imagine 5 or even 6 aliens (if ben would get his act together)?

Pipe dreams, not serious at all.

I think he'll be driving V8 supercars and go fishing in the winter.... such a shame.

Total votes: 130

Six Aliens? It'll be like the old days, or perhaps an even awesomer version of Moto2. In other words, heaven for the viewers and an invigorating challenge for the riders.

My opinion: BRING IT ON!

Total votes: 143

. . . . . . . think back to 2005-2006: Dani Pedrosa was the next all-conquering, all-victorious, up and coming rider. Get him past his rookie season and you might as well give him the next two or three championships in a row (even with Rossi at his peak). Dani's going to win everything and we're going to have to put up with that arrogant handler of his because his talent is just so far beyond everybody else.

Uh, what happened?

I'll start using the words "Marquez" and "alien" in the same sentence when he starts winning races and shutting down Lorenzo and Pedrosa with regularity. Not one second before.

And, quite honestly, I hope he spends a season or two falling on his pretty little face one a regular basis. Maybe some 5th or 6th place finishes. If nothing else, adversity is a wonderful character builder. And I'm getting the feeling that Marquez could use a little adversity. Everything's been way too much on a silver platter so far.

Total votes: 141

With the very recent announcement that Ducati just set a 12 month sales record in the US, what are the odds that VAG will retain Nicky's services for another year to avoid potentially upsetting the current sales trend?
Nicky has also spoken of riding the Duc at Mugello in rather glowing terms recently. This tack leads me to wonder if Cal will be left hanging out to dry...

*I'm also wondering what effect an inaugural event at COTA might have on the rider makeup. Bringing MotoGP to a new part of the country and (importantly) filling the grandstands would surely be easier with one or more Americans on competitive mounts, right?

Total votes: 152

We all know Ducati's #1 objective has been to retain Rossi. I belive they have always wanted to have Hayden as their #2. But with the risk of losing Rossi, Ducati may have felt a pressing need to bring another fast guy on board, thus the interest in Crutchlow as replacement for Rossi. And they were willing to sacrifice their lower priority desire to retain Hayden, in the event that Cruchlow accepted and then later Rossi decided to stay on the red bike. So now if they believe Rossi is a *done deal* to stay with Ducati, they just might find motivation to withdraw the Cruthlow offer and stick with Hayden. That is all pure speculation, but hey, it is the internet.

Another possible theory: Audi management has been comparing passports vs. market size, and might exert pressure in Hayden's favor.

Either way, I am tired of reading yet again about Stoner whining about the tires in public.

Total votes: 169

Vale riding down pit lane at the last race, shaking his head? Did you think he didn't know the whole world was watching him?

Lorenzo was furious over being told which tyre to use... And made statements as such very publically.

Stoner is justified, as are the rest, and because he has nothing to loose, he's doing the rest of the riders a favour by telling Bridgestone how it is. They probably sent him a thank you card.

320kph plus and the tyres are chunking? And you think he's whining? Come on...

Total votes: 149

Whining is a word that can't hurt yourself but a faulty tyres can cause you crash or even worse death. Stoner is absolutely right and now i saw lots of riders had a dig with BS.

Total votes: 150

Your point of view regarding Cal vs Hayden is pretty interesting! It's almost like because Cal had been saying he's not afraid of the Duc, therefore Ducati thinks "Hey, why not bait him in to stress Rossi to sign the contract..." Who knows! They should had stage some "talks" with Hector to join in the fun, ha!

Personally, I respect Stoner that he speaks his mind rather than not saying anything because it's not going to be his problem after his retirement. Wasn't Stoner used to be "whining" regarding the Duc until the day Rossi also says the same time and it became "truth"?

Total votes: 145

Or how about three factory bikes and one satellite going to Marc VDS and Scott Redding?

I do agree with the comment earlier Cal needs to tone it down though, much as we luv him as a cheeky chappie and a really good rider, he could end up looking very silly, and have to stay with Tech 3 (on far less dosh).

Silly season ain't over yet after all!

Total votes: 157

Hi, new guy here, just want to add to what Lefty and others pointed out that Audi is aiming to become top premium car manufacturer and trump BMW so the U.S. market is very important to them, they need to catch up with BMW and Merc over there. So I think they´ll want Hayden to stay at Ducati.
Remember which car manufacturer first wanted to partner with Ducati? I guess Merc brass are chewing their "AMG-46" hats by now...;-)

Total votes: 150

Cal should take his marketability into consideration, if you don't have it off the track then you better be blazing fast(Stoner) on the track. If I were him I'd be racing my ass off on the Tech 3 then asking Yam for an "A spec" m1 next season. Sure the Tech 3 is close this season, but if history means anything Tech 3 riders could see a much further gap to the factory m1's next year.

That all being said, mainly I just don't want to see Cal facepalm his career on the Ducati. It's a giant unknown, sure we expect greater funding for the program next year due to Audi, but the reality is you can throw money at the project all day and get nowhere unless its thrown at the right people. I don't think the right people are running Ducati's gp development program right now. If Rossi stay's I'd suspect we'll see a facelift within team management.

So what of Bradley Smith, anyone really expect to see him on one of the Tech 3 rental bikes? I doubt it personally, either the contract gets scrapped or he is placed on a Tech 3 production racer if they decide to go forward with the program.

Total votes: 148

Marquez on a MotoGP factory ride? with Honda? Fantastic! I can hardly wait until next season.

Well, saying that, I desperately hope that Marquez' potential doesn't peter out like so many other young, immensely talented riders' did when they joined the premier class. Just think of the past faces: Toni Elias; Alex de Angelis; Mika Kalio; Marco Melandri; Sylvain Guintoli; John Hopkins; Ant West; Chris Vermeulen.... They were all great in the other categories, but as soon as they made the step up, they failed to put in any results that proved them as real contenders, and thus the majority of them left MotoGP disheartened, all their past successes in the supposedly "lesser" classes forgotten.

About the whole where-will-Hayden-go story: if Ducati get rid of Nicky, they're completely insane. I adore Cal; really, I do, but Nicky has stuck with Ducati since '09 and it could arguably be said that the Desmosedici is only a marginally competitive prototype thanks to the dedication of himself and Casey. To see a former World Champion and great guy like him pushed out of the series to become another MotoGP reject racing in WSBK would just be tragic.

Just look at these statistics...
Qatar 2012 - Nicky 6th; Valentino 10th
Jerez 2012 - Nicky 8th; Valentino 9th
Estoril 2012 - Nicky 11th; Valentino 7th
Le Mans 2012 - Nicky 6th; Valentino 2nd
Catalunya 2012 - Nicky 9th; Valentino 7th
Silverstone 2012 - Nicky 7th; Valentino 9th
Assen 2012 - Nicky 6th; Valentino 13th
Sachsenring 2012 - Nicky 10th; Valentino 6th

If you work out an average with those numbers, you will find that Vale and Nicky will both theoretically finish consistently around 7th place in the rest of the races this season. Sure, Nicky has more experience on the Ducati bike and perhaps his riding style suits it a bit more, but Valentino is a nine-time World Champion! I know that it is cliche and perhaps a little naive, but technically he should be able to perform on the Ducati.

I doubt that the problem lies with the riders; it's got to be the Ducati. Vale was meant to be a sensation on-board the Demosedici. And who says that Cal will be any better? He's an awesome guy and an exciting rider, but that counts for nothing, really. In my humble and possibly mistaken opinion, I think he will be making a stupid mistake if he gives up his reliable ride at Tech3 to go to Ducati, based only on the shaky belief that his style is akin to that of Stoner, the only man who could master the Desmosedici.

And what will Audi's contribution be? Apparently they are keen on "improving" the Ducati prototype. Maybe the Germans will succeed where the Italians seemingly have failed...if the Italians will let them succeed, that is.

I know, I must sound like a real cynic, but you might as well expect the worst as therefore anything better that follows will be considered an improvement.

Total votes: 143

It's too bad riders don't get to test drive a bike before they sign, I would never buy a new vehicle unless I drove it. I think 46 would have stayed at Yamaha.

Total votes: 127

I agree with Swiftnick here, with customer teams not exactly queueing up to take a satelite Ducati (Pramac probably not around next year and the Cardion team not wanting one) why not run Rossi, Hayden & Crutchlow in the "Marlboro" team? The Audi $$'s would cover this?

Then give Marc VDS & Redding the other bike?

Total votes: 136

Wish it could come to pass but Vale's comments tend to lead otherwise:

"They're both nice," Rossi said of Hayden and probable 2013 teammate Crutchlow. "Nicky, I know him better, and he is one that has always given their best, works hard. But at the end, Ducati can do as it wishes. I do not change anything."

Nick will land on his feet- but it won't be on Ducati Island.

Total votes: 155

Who was the rider who pushed so hard for the one tyre regulation during the 2008 season? Is he the one who is now very quiet?

Perhaps it is time to start considering opening MotoGHP back up to open tyre competition. Michelin, Dunlop, Bridgestone and perhaps even Pirelli may join in.

How many more years is Bridgestone contracted as the sole tyre supplier?

Total votes: 157