It looks like we may have a race on Sunday at Mugello. In fact, it looks like we might have two races, looking at the times set in MotoGP and Moto2. The last two races of the day at Mugello promise to have battles for the lead and for the podium, and could well provide some top flight entertainment.
There won't be much of a race in Moto3, however. Mugello's artisans are probably already engraving Maverick Vinales' name into the winner's trophy to save some time, such is the advantage of the young Spaniard. Vinales is basically four tenths a lap faster than anyone else in Moto3, with nobody capable of matching his pace. Even Jonas Folger's pole position was Vinales' by proxy, the German acknowledging in the qualifying press conference that he wasn't able to make that lap time alone and that he had a tow from Vinales to thank for it. The battle in Moto3 will be for the remaining podium places, and it would take a brave man to lay money against Alex Rins and Luis Salom making it an all Spanish podium.
Such a podium is unlikely to be repeated in Moto2. Scott Redding is increasing his vice-like grip on the Moto2 class, thanks in small part to the inconsistency of his rivals, but in much, much larger part to the confidence he has been showing all season. Redding is acting like champion, and by acting like a champion, beating a path to his first title, and a thoroughly deserved one, though the road is still very, very long.
His attitude is paying off twofold. First, his confidence is allowing him to not sweat the small stuff, and stay calm when others might get flustered. After feeling uncomfortable on the bike on Friday, he completely destroyed his machine on Saturday morning on his third lap out of the pits. Instead of getting flustered, he jumped on the back of a scooter, got back to the pits, changed his leathers and sat calmly watching as his crew busily repaired his bike. Had he been worried? "No. I just did my part to be ready to go, and the guys were doing their part. Watching the guys going round, when I looked at the time yesterday when I wasn't feeling comfortable, and I was still within half a second, I knew, OK, I was sure I could get half a second on them." Instead of worrying about what others were doing on the track, he concentrated on what he was capable of, and then went out and did it in the afternoon.
That confidence is also helping him disrupt his opponents. Pol Espargaro had not been particularly fast on Friday when Redding was on the track, but as soon as he dropped out of FP3, the Spaniard went straight to the top of the timesheets, setting his fastest time of the weekend. Once Redding returned for qualifying, and started leading the session, Espargaro was struggling again, qualifying a lowly tenth. His speed in the morning proved that he is easily capable of doing the lap times, and it is only his focus on Redding which is causing him to struggle. When Redding was asked about this, his answer was simple: "You work it out." He also returned a little dig which Espargaro had flung at him via the Spanish press. "There was a quote from Pol [Espargaro] last week about me being weak and inconsistent," Redding said. "But for me it's not true. To have a crash in the morning, and put it on pole, it's giving the words back."
Tire life, often a problem for Redding, is not an issue for him at Mugello, but Takaaki Nakagami and Tito Rabat might be. The Italtrans rider and the Tuenti HP 40 rider have both been consistently fast throughout the weekend, and look capable of matching Redding for race pace. Mugello looks like being a similar story to Jerez, with Redding, Rabat and Nakagami all being pretty close together. Rabat ended up running away with that race, but it is hard to see any of the three running away in Italy.
In MotoGP, it is a different story. Two men are head and shoulders above the rest, two or three tenths a lap better than everyone else. Picking a winner between Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa is hard, though, as there is nothing to choose between them. Lorenzo has been fast from the opening session, while Pedrosa has got progressively quicker as the weekend has gone and grip levels have improved. Right now, Lorenzo looks in better shape, and the Spaniard said as much in the press conference, claiming that he had the better race pace. But if Pedrosa and his crew continue to exploit the ever-improving grip at Mugello, as the weather improves and temperatures rise, Pedrosa could end up with the edge.
What we hope for is a repeat of Brno 2012, and Mugello has all of the ingredients to provide it: a track which allows riders and bikes with different styles to be fast, two rider/bike combinations which are evenly matched, and two men with a point to prove. Dani Pedrosa wants to press home the early advantage he has built up over in the last three races, while Jorge Lorenzo wants to seize back the initiative.
Picking a rider to be third is another matter altogether. There is a large group of riders all closely matched for pace, making it almost a toss up as to who will come out on top. Cal Crutchlow, Valentino Rossi, Marc Marquez, Stefan Bradl, Andrea Dovizioso, and maybe even Nicky Hayden and Alvaro Bautista. Of that group, Bradl, Crutchlow and Rossi would appear to have the strongest hand, with Rossi and Bradl perhaps boasting the strongest race pace.
Rossi himself was confident that his pace in the race would be strong. Not enough to match Pedrosa and Lorenzo, but good enough to battle for the podium. He was feeling comfortable on the bike, and though he was still not perfectly happy with the performance on the brakes, it was good enough for a podium, he said. What made it hard, though, was his poor qualifying position. This time he did not feel that his team had got the strategy wrong, but he had still ended up giving others a tow. In this case, Marc Marquez, who managed to use Rossi's slipstream to post a quicker time than him ("Rossi is the best person to follow here," he said wryly). Why didn't Rossi try the same? "When I let them go past, they roll off the throttle," Rossi said. At Mugello, Rossi was the locomotive, not the carriage.
Of the others, Stefan Bradl looks to have the strongest credentials. Marc Marquez is surprisingly quick, and has bounced back astonishingly well after his massive crash on Saturday. The first time he crested the hill at the end of the straight on Saturday morning, he was a little cautious, and he continued to lose several tenths a lap in that one section alone. But little by little he regained his confidence, upping the speed and perfecting his braking for the corner. Having to come through Q1 helped, as it gave him a little extra track time, enough to build on his confidence some more. By 2pm on Sunday, he should be plenty fast enough, but his fitness may not necessarily be enough to withstand 23 laps of Mugello. He has a slight fracture in his right arm, and pain in most places. Marquez has proven to be a fighter, though, and give all he can to remain on the podium.
Cal Crutchlow was quick too, but a qualifying crash left him struggling. The problem was caused by hay fever, a common problem at rural Mugello. Along the long front straight, the combination of wind and pollen conspired to leave Crutchlow's eyes streaming, and by the time he got to Poggio Secco his eyes were streaming. "Normally, I can blink it away but I actually touched a kerb at turn three because I was unsighted. That made me twist the gas and I ended up falling off the side of the bike," the Tech 3 man said. There is every chance that Crutchlow will have a similar problem tomorrow. Treating it is difficult, as so many of the available remedies either make you drowsy or are on the banned substance list. The anti-doping list is there for a reason, but it can sometimes have an adverse effect.
Pleasing the home crowd was Andrea Dovizioso's second front row start in two races, but Dovizioso was under no illusions for the race. He had made his qualifying time following Dani Pedrosa, and it was not a time he could manage on his own. Tire wear and his neck problems will make a podium difficult, but at least he should be fighting at the front for a while. A little physiotherapy and help from the Clinica Mobile had helped, but Dovizioso was uncertain how his neck would hold up for the duration of the race. The problem is that he cannot bend his neck backwards, which is precisely what he needs to do to get into a racing crouch. On Saturday, it was just about bearable, where it had been impossible on Friday. With another night's rest and some more physio, it might improve a little more. But with a painful neck and the tire wear Ducati still suffer late in the race, a podium seems a little far fetched.
The weather, at least, looks favorable. The weekend had threatened to be a washout, but the outlook has improved day by day. It should stay sunny and dry right up to race day, and throughout all of the race. It will rain on Sunday, but probably not until the racing is done. That is an outcome the fans will willingly accept.