In many ways, the Moto2 race at Mugello resembled the MotoGP race. One rider seized the initiative, sized up the competition, and when he saw that they were no match for him, pressed home his advantage. While Scott Redding's victory at Mugello was not quite as dominant as Jorge Lorenzo's in MotoGP - after watching it again at leisure, it is clear just how totally Lorenzo controlled every aspect of that race, from his tough pass on Dani Pedrosa in the first corner to the devastating pace increase he forced when he sensed the Repsol Honda man weaken - it is still one of the most commanding Moto2 wins for some time.
Redding did not quite lead from the start, but he disposed of Takaaki Nakagami without too much difficulty. He then pulled a gap, with only Nico Terol and Johann Zarco able to follow his pace. Terol passed Redding just before the halfway mark, exploiting the slipstream provided by the oversized Englishman, but that was all Terol could do. Redding was puzzled when Terol failed to pull a gap after passing. "I couldn't understand how he caught me, because when he passed me, I was expecting to be fighting to hold on to him, but I was really comfortable behind," Redding said afterwards. He got past four laps later, and turned up the pressure, and while Terol and Zarco could hang on along the front straight, once Redding broke the slipstream he was gone. It was the first back-to-back victory by a British rider in 42 years.
"This is how you earn it," Redding said afterwards. He had wanted to make a point, and he had done so extremely forcefully. But he had done so without taking risks, prepared to sacrifice the victory to maintain his advantage in the championship. After Terol had passed, Redding had been prepared to settle for a podium, but Terol's inability to up the pace once he had passed the Marc VDS Racing rider convinced Redding the win was there for the taking.
It is precisely this kind of long-term prospect that has given Redding such a commanding lead in the championship. Look solely at podium finishes, and Terol, Pol Espargaro, Tito Rabat and Mika Kallio all look strong, with two podiums apiece. But they also all have at least one DNF, and most have a finish outside the top ten to their name as well. Redding, on the other hand, knows that consistency is key to winning a title, and while he clearly enjoyed his wins, collecting points in every round is just as important.
"When you see any championship being won, consistency is the main thing. In Texas, I could have pushed for the podium and I could have crashed. I think to take the points for the fifth position is better than to take none," Redding said after the race. "Sometimes you have to think this way, but like Dave Thorpe [former three-time motocross world champion - DE] told me, when you feel good, take the most points you can take in the situation. Today was just one of those days, same as Le Mans."
Redding also knows he has to capitalize on the situation of his opponents. The young Englishman has seen Pol Espargaro struggling to be competitive, and has been happy to make Espargaro's life even more difficult whenever possible. When Espargaro criticized him in the Spanish press in the lead up to Mugello, Redding took careful note of his words and bided his time. After the qualifying press conference on Saturday, and then again after the race press conference on Sunday, Redding made sure to point out to representatives of the Spanish media that Espargaro's charges did not hold water. On Saturday, he told a reporter from one Spanish magazine, "there was a quote from Pol [Espargaro] last week about me being weak and inconsistent. But for me it's not true. To have a crash in the morning, and put it on pole, it's giving [him] the words back."
On Sunday, Redding was even more crushing, this time in the guise of being benevolent. Asked about Espargaro's difficulties this year - the Spaniard is struggling with an inexplicable lack of grip - Redding cranked up the pressure a little bit more, this time to Catalan radio reporters, once again an important media source in Spain. "I don't really know why Pol is struggling," Redding mused. "The first race, we were fighting, and then he just sort of dropped down the order a bit, I don't know why. I think he feels some pressure from me, because he didn't expect it after the testing, where I stayed quiet, and then in Qatar I was there. It kind of took him off his feet a little bit, and now when he sees I'm constantly fast it's not helping." He also pointed to his crash in free practice, and the coincidence that saw Espargaro go fastest in a session from which Redding was absent. "Same with the crash in FP3, he was fastest then, and then in qualifying I put it on pole. I think for my opponents this is quite destroying for the mind, because I've been in this situation when I was racing against Marc, you know, so I know the feeling." He also made it clear he was under no illusions this was permanent. "He's going to bounce, but it's just a matter of when," he said.
On Monday, at the test, Espargaro showed every sign of having bounced back immediately. The Tuenti HP 40 rider was the fastest man of the day, and faster than both he and even Redding had been all weekend. Clearly Espargaro has lost none of his actual speed, what is missing at the moment is the mental resilience. Given the pressure he is under from the media in Spain, that is not surprising, but he has been in difficult situations before.
The war of words between Espargaro and Redding is frankly rather refreshing. The atmosphere between riders who should have been fierce rivals has been rather too respectful over the past few years. While writing a magazine article recently about Carl Fogarty's reign in World Superbikes, the animosity and needle between riders both increased their motivation and added much to the entertainment for the fans. Trading insults via the media and in press conferences used to be part of the sport, but that edge has disappeared in recent seasons, to the detriment of the sport.
So who's winning the war of words? At the moment, you'd have to say Redding, but that's because words sting more when backed up by results. Espargaro's comments about Redding's lack of consistency have rung rather hollow when you look at his results, but no doubt the Spaniard will want to start backing up the talk with some action. His home track - literally, Espargaro hailing from Granollers, which is walking distance from the Montmelo circuit - would be a very good place to start.
With the press focusing on Redding and Espargaro, Nico Terol is slipping under the radar. Since his first podium at Valencia last year, Terol has started to find his feet in Moto2. He followed that podium with a win at Austin, and now a second place at Mugello. The Spaniard is improving rapidly, and could well start to pose more of a challenge. He is equal on points with Mika Kallio, Redding's Marc VDS teammate, the Finnish rider also showing signs of progress this year. The 2013 Moto2 season is not turning out as expected. Or rather, it is only turning out as expected by Scott Redding.
The Moto3 race at Mugello was a barnstormer, a typical multi-rider battle from start to finish. It did not go as predicted by many, including myself. Ahead of the race, Maverick Viñales looked like running away with victory, but it did not turn out that way. On a Moto3 bike, Mugello's massive straight and long sweeping corners offer too many opportunities to gain ground in the slipstream and recover time lost elsewhere. Escaping is almost impossible, unless you can find a way of breaking the tow, or you have a speed advantage over the riders behind you.
But that was not the case. Five KTMs were evenly matched, and the Suter-built Mahindra is a massive improvement on the Italian Engines Engineering unit which powered the Indian-backed machine in 2012. Viñales' advantage had disappeared into thin air, and he was left to battle it out with 'Team Alex' - the Estrella Galicia 0,0 pairing of Alex Rins and Alex Marquez - Jonas Folger and Luis Salom. That the factory KTMs are capable of outgunning the Kalex KTMs is evident from the difficult which Folger has following the leaders, the factory KTMs having gained an advantage over the winter. But that still left four other KTMs and the Mahindra to fend off, no mean feat for the championship leader.
He was not successful. Viñales had finally to surrender to Luis Salom and Alex Rins, and settle for third. Salom was in the right place at the right time to capitalize on a mistake by Alex Marquez, which allowed him to put a little bit of daylight between himself and the rest. Rins' attempt to chase him down failed in the final corner, as the young Spaniard ran in hot and wide. Viñales crossed the line in third, and holds on to his lead in the championship, though it shrinks to just four points. The Calvo Team rider put his third-place finish down to an engine problem, lacking the power to pull away as he had during qualifying. He lacked the top speed when in the slipstream, and could not slingshot past the rest to take the lead and try to escape.
So where are the Hondas in all this? The answer to that is mid-pack, which is a shame, as there are some fantastic riders on Hondas this year. Romano Fenati has struggled in his second year in Moto3, and Jack Miller's great leap forward is hitting the glass ceiling imposed by the performance of the Honda NSF250R powerplant. HRC have little interest in going all out to try to match KTM - Geo Tech are supplying updates for the engine, but those still don't get the Honda engine near the KTM's power output - and it should be feared that the Moto3 class is heading in the same direction as the 125s which they replace, with a single manufacturer having a monopoly of the class.
Behind the performance differential lies a difference in philosophy, and in approach to the Moto3 class. HRC is treating Moto3 as a class in which it can sell its production racers, and then provide racing kits, much as it did with its RS125. KTM are producing factory racing bikes, and making them available to a number of teams. The fact that KTM are dominating demonstrates rather forcefully that it is much easier to put cheap parts on a fast bike to make it go slower than to put hotrod parts on a slow bike to make it go faster. Honda's unwillingness to listen to input on the weaknesses of the engine or ideas for improving it underlines the philosophical choice they have made. The new rules in 2014 - all engines to be sealed, and supplied at random to customers of each manufacturer - may help remove some of the differential, but unless Honda take drastic action, they still won't be matching the KTMs.
HRC may find themselves displaced by Mahindra. Suter has clearly done an outstanding job - assisted by generous funding from the Indian industrial giant, as well as engineering support from the firm - in building an engine and bike which is competitive. They have two good riders in Miguel Oliveira and Efren Vazquez, which helps a lot, and the results they are booking mean that they are likely to have customers lining up around the block for 2014. It would be even better if another factory entered - rumors of a Suzuki entry never failed to materialize - but for the moment, Mahindra are preventing Moto3 from descending into a monoculture.