2017 Mugello MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Moto3's Towing Madness, And Rossi's Miraculous Recovery

Imagine you find yourself at the start of a 40 minute session of track time, at one of the greatest racing circuits in the world, sat astride one of the most sophisticated racing motorcycles in the world, with the Tuscan sun beating down from clear skies, and the hillsides echoing to the roar of tens of thousands of delirious fans. What would you do?

If you're a Moto3 rider competing at the Italian Grand Prix, then the answer is simple: you sit in your pit box for five minutes, then pootle out into pit lane, spending all your time looking backwards. You are finally persuaded to head out of pit lane over the crest and down towards one of the most challenging corners of the season, so you potter around at a miserable 30 km/h, constantly looking behind you in the hope of finding a faster rider coming up behind you at speed. You repeat this for the full session, interspersed with the odd hot lap.

The situation got so bad that in one of the hospitality units after the day was over, one person came over to us and asked if the Moto3 qualifying session had been red-flagged. They had been working through the session, and had noticed that the track had gone completely quiet. But it was not red flags which stopped the action, it was the desperate search for exactly the right tow. The trouble is, when all 31 Moto3 riders are waiting for a tow, there is no one left to be giving them.

'T is better to be hung for a sheep than a lamb

The violation of Moto3's rule prohibiting riding slowly had been violated so flagrantly that as of late Saturday night, it is still unclear who is to be starting where on the grid on Sunday. After all, if 31 riders break the rules, then 31 riders have to be put to the back of the grid. But putting everyone to the back of the grid means you end up with everyone in the same place again.

So far, only three penalties have been handed out, including to pole setter Jorge Martin. But those were handed out for violations of the riding slowly rule during FP3. Heaven knows what Race Direction will do for qualifying.

The bitter irony was that after the session was over, the riders interviewed about their position all said that there wasn't much difference qualifying on the front row or on the fourth row. The slipstream is so important at Mugello that the most likely scenario in the race is that a massive group of fifteen riders or so will battle for the win all the way to the line. Victory will eventually be decided by whoever manages to position themselves in about sixth position on the entry to Bucine, as they will be best placed to catapult themselves to the win from behind the group.

How to solve the problem of towing in Moto3? Race Direction have tried just about everything in their power to curb the practice, so far without effect. Both riders and teams are guilty of creating this state of affairs, teams placing pressure on riders to secure a good grid position. Perhaps something as extreme as a one-race ban may have to be considered. It would punish both rider and team, and definitely grab their attention. It would be a massive overreaction, of course, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

I thought he was injured?

Moto3 qualifying was in stark contrast to MotoGP. The premier class conjured up a fascinating day of practice, topped off by a couple of thrilling qualifying sessions. Add in a fair few surprises, and you had all the ingredients for something a little bit special on Saturday, setting MotoGP up for a truly classic race on Sunday.

Making the weekend even more special is a return to form for Valentino Rossi. After his motocross crash last week, there had been credible rumors that the Italian was far too injured to race. Gossip had it that he would turn up, turn a couple of laps to keep the crowds coming, then pull out of the race. As late as Tuesday, even Rossi had been doubtful he would fit to race. When he walked into the Yamaha hospitality unit on Thursday, he looked stiff and awkward. When he got off the bike at the end of FP1 on Friday morning, he grimaced with pain. Things were not looking promising.

That all changed on Saturday. Rossi had been faster on Friday afternoon after some physiotherapy and painkillers. He made a huge improvement on Saturday, and was immediately formidable. Fastest in FP3 on Saturday morning, within a few hundredths of the outright lap record. Second in FP4 on Saturday afternoon, with very strong pace. Then ending qualifying in second place, and looking like he could have had a decent shot at grabbing pole. It was an outstanding performance from the Italian.

"It was a difficult week starting from last Thursday," Rossi said. "Very tough. I did the crash in the training and sincerely until Tuesday I think that for me it was impossible to race. I was very, very sad. So, to be here when I arrive in Mugello Wednesday night when my condition coming better is like a gift to stay here. I have to give the maximum for make a good race and also or all the fans."

He was better on Saturday than on Friday, he said, and able to ride without pain. He still needed a lot of time to recover after racing, but that was only to be expected. But having found a solid setup, improving physically each day, and buoyed by the prospect of 100,000 fans covering the hillsides in a sea of yellow, Rossi found extra inspiration.

Yamahas setting the pace

Both Marc Márquez and Cal Crutchlow tipped Rossi as favorite for the race on Sunday. Márquez tipped the two Movistar Yamaha riders to be battling for the win, just as they were at Le Mans. Crutchlow believed it was Johann Zarco who had the real pace, with Rossi a close second. But Rossi starts from the front row, while Zarco found himself stranded three rows further back, in eleventh.

Zarco had missed out on passage to Q2 when he struggled on Saturday morning. He continued to work on race pace in FP3, but got caught short when he didn't put in a quick lap at the end to ensure a spot in the top ten. That meant he had to go through Q1, and the way he did that displayed real chutzpah and nerve. He waited in his garage for the first part of the session, then went out for the second half of Q1, and put in a set of blistering laps. He earned easy passage to Q2, along with Danilo Petrucci.

But the effort required to put in such a fast lap in Q1 cost him dearly in Q2. "When you give all your energy to do this lap time on your limit to crash in all corners, it’s difficult to give the same energy again on second qualifying," he said. When asked if waiting until the second half of Q1 had been a risky strategy, Zarco was clear. "I should have done exactly the same in Q2," he said. "Typical from human side that when you are on the limit, taking a lot of risks, then you are doing well. Q1, it was the decision to wait, see how they are and then push on the last moments. I think if I analyze, to be able to give the same energy late in Q2 it could be a solution."

Pole belonged to Maverick Viñales, however, the Spaniard taking his third pole in six races. The Movistar Yamaha rider is back to his old tricks, laying down a strong pace during FP3 and FP4, and confident enough to take pole comfortably on his last qualifying lap. His crash on Friday had left him nervous, and with strapped up forearms bruised from catching his fall. But slow improvement in FP3, then more in FP4 restore his confidence, and leaves him ready for whatever comes on Sunday.

How he holds himself if he finds himself battling with his teammate will likely prove decisive. He gave a foretaste of that in the press conference, when he was asked what it would be like to be fighting for Rossi in front such massive support for his teammate. Viñales carefully glossed over the question, answering with platitudes about strong rivals and how physical a track Mugello is.

Ducati's dark horses

The dark horses at Mugello are in the first place the Ducatis. Andrea Dovizioso took third, and the final spot on the front row of the grid, with another solid performance. The asset of the Desmosedici is the horsepower of the bike, putting them at the top of the speed charts some 10km/h faster than their main rivals.

All three factory Ducati riders could be a factor on Sunday. Dovizioso has shown his pace all weekend, as has test rider Michele Pirro. Jorge Lorenzo took an extra day to get up to speed, as has often been the case this year. But Lorenzo's pace was much better than his qualifying position looks. He was only a tenth or so off in terms of race pace, but when it came to qualifying, the Yamahas were capable of knocking a second off their times, where he could only manage half a second. The main aim, Lorenzo said, was to cut the deficit to the winner, more than worrying specifically about the podium.

Michele Pirro could cause a surprise or two on Sunday. As Ducati's official test rider, he has thousands of laps around Mugello, and so has a step on everyone else on the grid. Even so, to have someone this quick as a test rider makes a huge difference to Ducati. Lorenzo lavished praise on the Italian. "I’m really happy for him," Lorenzo replied when asked if he minded Pirro finishing ahead of him. "If I had some riders I would like to finish in front of me, this is Michele. I would prefer to finish in front of him, but Michele finishes in front of me, I’m OK with that and happy for him. He’s doing a great job for the team. He’s the best test rider with difference and also he’s a good guy to work with. Tomorrow, if he’s able to stay there and he can be consistent he can do a good race and he can be happy and this for sure will make his morale higher."

The importance of a good test rider cannot be overstated. While the KTM RC16 MotoGP bike is still a work in progress, everyone in the project is surprised at exactly how quickly the bike is advancing. Both Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro make sure to mention every time just how important KTM test rider Mika Kallio is to the project, and what a difference he makes too.

Getting the wrong tow

Though the Yamahas and Ducatis look strongest, the Hondas are not too far behind. Marc Márquez and Dani Pedrosa start from sixth and fifth respectively, and Márquez could have been even further forward if he hadn't run into Johann Zarco on his final hot lap. Yet Márquez said the blame for that lay entirely with him, rather than with Zarco.

He was using the Frenchman as a target to aim for, and hoping to get a slipstream along the final straight, as the slipstream made a big difference to the final lap time. "It was my fault," Márquez said. "Johann was pushing all his lap. I tried to take him to have some reference in the slipstream on the straight because with Honda we feel a lot when we have some slipstream and we improve a lot the lap time. It was my fault because I start the lap too close to Johann and immediately at the third or fourth corner I was behind him. I didn’t make the best strategy."

What can we expect on Sunday? The two factory Yamahas giving it their all for victory. Three factory Ducatis using their blistering speed to more than make up what they are losing in the corners. Two Repsol Hondas trying to race smart and take advantage of the slipstream from faster bikes, then outdo them on the brakes. Cal Crutchlow reckoned there were probably seven riders all pretty close on race pace. It could be a great day of racing on Sunday. And if Valentino Rossi were to win, which seems all too possible, a great night of partying in Mugello afterwards. At Mugello, we do not sleep, the fans say. If Rossi wins, they won't be sleeping for a week afterwards either.


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Comments

...has irritated me for years. It is unsafe, unsporting and disrepectful for those fans who take their time to watch the session.

 

Fortunately, I have three suggestions for Race Direction and I would not mind if you took them to RD David.

1 - Cut qualifying to 15 minutes and 5 flying laps. Simple enough, once the riders have lost the benefit of so much track time, they won't be able to waste so much time waiting for others. At the very least they will put a greater effort into the banker laps. At the same time, the 5 flying lap limitation combined with the 15 minute cap makes it impossible for them to abort their flying laps and sit waiting for tows.

2 - Implement Q1 and Q2, each a 15 minute sesseion. Based on aggregate practice times, the fastest 15 riders go to Q2 and fight for the top 15 spots, the slower riders do Q1 and fight for all spots from 16th downwards. This format would place greater importance in their practice times and would also keep slower and less competitive riders from becoming mobile tow seeking chincanes. The two shorter sessions would also allow less time to be wasted aimlessly and perhaps reward the fans with more genuine fast riding. And it would even be good for the sponsors of smaller teams to possibly get more exposure.

3 - My last suggestion would be to simply let the riders out individually, each some 30 or 40 seconds after another, and allowing one or two flying laps. I haven't done any math for how long it would take but basically each rider would be on his or her own and have no option than to ride hard. I have no idea how to factor crashes and yellow flags though.

Anyhow, I'm other people have other valid suggestions.

Besides ridiculously harsh penalties, it's time RD seriously consider changing the whole Moto3 qualifying format.

I was going to recommend exactly what you suggest in your option #3.

Spacing between riders - and how many can be on the track at the same time - would depend on the track, so it would vary race to race. 20-30 seconds should be enough time between riders. Qualifying order can be based on aggregate times during FP's.

1 out-lap. 2 hot laps. 1 in-lap, where they have to maintain sufficient pace, so as not to interfere with other riders.

On average, the whole process would take about as long 10 or so individual laps of the given circuit, as long as no one crashes.  Realistically, they would need to allow 30-45 minutes for the session.

 

Just finished posting my idea for qualifying and saw your posts. Good to know I'm not the only one thinking along these lines.

Totally agree - they do it similar in the Australian V8 Supercar championship.  Top 10 positions battle it out for a 'Top 10 Shootout'.  Each rider/driver get's one warmup lap, and one flying lap to set a time.  Great to watch and I wonder why more motorsport hasn't adopted a similar format.

Option 3 only works with consistent track conditions. If you add in rain or a quickly heating/cooling/drying track, you're not giving the riders an equal chance. That's a WAY bigger sporting problem than tow.

Q1/Q2 might work to some extent, but a shorter session doesn't guarantee that the riders still won't look for a tow. You will still need a robust penalty system.

I think RD should implement a minimum sector time, going below which should be automatically subject to investigation. If a rider doesn't have a valid reason (e.g. having a big moment, being on the in-lap, mechanical issues etc), they will be penalized.

Having thought about copying the MotoGP qualifying system for Moto3, there is an obvious problem. If the riders needed to get into the top 16 (or whatever) to make it through to Q2, you would merely displace the problem into FP1, FP2 and FP3. Everyone would be looking for a tow there, instead of in qualifying. And even then, there would be lots of towing in Q1 to try to get through to Q2. There would still be towing, and it would probably be happening in every single session.

It is an intractable problem. But it is interesting reading people's suggested solutions.

I think they should make Moto2 and Moto3 the same format as MotoGP.

However, due to the sheer number of bikes, perhaps have Q1, Q2 and Q3, to get it down to roughly 10-12 bikes in each session.

But then i guess you'll just move the towing into FP1/2/3... i guess this is just what happens when you have a bunch of under-powered (vs. the size of the circuit) motorcycles on circuit looking for the best possible time.

Here's my proposed fix for the Moto3 qualifying problems.

At the start of the race weekend, all 30-ish bikes are assigned by lottery to one of three initial 10-bike (or so) heats. The duration of each heat is track-specific, calculated to allow riders to complete an out-lap and a maximum of two flying laps, with only a little time to spare. Breaks between heats are just a few minutes long.

After the three heats are run, the top three riders from each heat advance to the final round--which is, again, timed to allow a max of two flying laps. Riders in the final round are guaranteed one of the top 9 spots. Grid positions for P10 + are determined by combined times for all three heats.

A system like this could be run in roughly the same amount of time as the current QP, and there wouldn't be nearly as much advantage (or danger) in sitting around waiting for a tow. Riders would have little choice but to get out quickly and push hard, and there would be fewer potential bikes on track at once.

The downside is a certain amount of randomness introduced by the lottery for the heats (e.g., it rains during one heat and dries the next), but to some extent that's compensated for by the fact that top 3 finishers in each heat are guaranteed a row 1-3 start, even if the lap times in their heat were non-competitive overall due to weather, etc.

So tell me all the ways this wouldn't work in reality...

How about something like dividing them into 4-5 groups or so, randomly chosen, each getting 8-10 minutes? Smaller group of riders should be a bit more manageable. How about starting them out of the gate similar to tt style? Riders starting out of the gate in controlled intervals, with each rider given a time limit to put in their best few laps?

For the simple and obvious reason that riders should qualify on their own merits and not piggyback others. If this happens you get a false grid with slower riders further to the front than they derserve.

If you go down that route, you might has well have a form of reverse grid. 

Blast, I've just remembered they do that in Superbikes don't they ?!

... cruising around WELL off the pace waiting for someone to grab a tow means that they're creating a potentially huge speed difference on circuit.

this is dangerous, and the same reason we don't generally run litre sports bikes and 250 GP bikes on track at the same time, despite them being capable of similar times at a lot of club level race circuits - you're looking at massive speed differences on circuit which can contribute to causing accidents.

 

one rider using another during the race doesn't typically involve cruising around 100km/h off the pace...

Have a set period where all bikes must have exited pit lane ( 3-5 mins after green light?) and commence a lap. Depending on track location allow a maximum of 2.5 - 3ish min for completion of each lap in a session (except out lap) unless crashed or mechanical fault. Must commence exit pits within 5 minutes of return unless mechanical fault or crash damage. Penalty for non compliance for any above = Black flag for that session.

Two fastest and two slowest laps (other than out lap or crash) are aggregated for qualifying session to determine places.

Such a waste of time from the guys. Race on your own merits not on someone else's!!!!!!! Sponsors also need to step up and make noise about how they are being poorly represented.

Classic sport vs entertainment/greed issue here. They knew these problems could arise with this format, but it's far more entertaining than each competitor going out individually, no? How many pixels have been created over the years with this format whether MOTOGP, 2 or 3? A more sporting individual qualifying attempt for each competitor would be far less interesting to the casual fan. I'll be surprised if anything changes here.

Dope. How much and what kind of dope can these riders (in this case Rossi) use while competing? I'm not so sure I'd want to line up  n a grid next to a guy shot full of painkillers, no matter who he was/is.

Interesting to see how competitive both Tech 3 riders and to a lesser degree Scott Redding is, despite the fact they are riding last years bike.

Goes to show that a stable rule book for a number of seasons reduces the development of the bikes as the factories are basically tweaking what would already be an opitmal package, with the beneift that the rider can show their skills, rather than the bike.

Notice how the tyre situation is now the point of dispute, not the chassis or engine. While I agree that to change the spec front tyre under the dubious umbrella of the saftey commission is questionable, if it leads to fewer injuries maybe it's a good thing. However, this situation needs resolving as unless it is a clear safety issue, the riders should not, apart from in an advisory capacity, be making or changing the rules.

I'll throw in a couple of ideas too.

Any changes must be simple for RD to administer and not involve any logistics or timetable disruption.

1.  Maximun lap time penalty.

Rider must ride within a maximum laptime, so pottering about at 30 k/mh wont cut it.  If a rider is outside the naximm laptime thier NEXT lap is scratched.  This means you have to speed up or you wont post a time as you'll run out of laps.

 

2.  Pace Bike.

Idea shamlesslly stolen form athletics were a competitior is paid to run at an ageed pace.   In this case a paid rider who is not in the championship on a fluorescent / lurid bike and kit rides around at an agreed constant pace.  Impeading the pace bike by pottering on the racing line gets you a one race ban.   The pace bike means there is always a tow available.

 

 

 

 

 

Rossi's miraculous recovery is hardly surprising. I remember him "playing possum" in years past and I'm sure his opponents know what's going on too...

He does enjoy a bit of dramatic pantomime ! cheeky

* Que indignant VR46 fanclub *