2018 Mugello MotoGP Sunday Round Up: The Prodigal Son Returns And Wins

A circuit as magnificent as Mugello creates a certain level of expectation. The crowds pack the banks and grandstands expecting their favorite riders to triumph. The riders expect to be able to use skill and bravery to make up for some shortcomings of their bike, but they also expect to suffer on top speed if they are down on horsepower. The manufacturers expect to showcase their engineering prowess, at a circuit which demands the utmost of their machine in almost every aspect. The bike has to brake well, turn well, accelerate well, and be so fast it takes your breath away. Something which the front straight at Mugello does quite literally at MotoGP speeds.

Were expectations fulfilled this year at Mugello? Some were, perhaps. The massed sea of yellow spectators who made the pilgrimage to Mugello were not disappointed, though their joy was not unalloyed. They came to see a race which featured Valentino Rossi as a protagonist, one in which he would emerge triumphant and vanquish his rivals (especially those from the Iberian peninsula), and they got some of what they wanted. Rossi was involved in a thrilling battle for the podium for most of the race, there was an Italian victory to celebrate, and the failure of Rossi's arch rival to take pleasure from.

The weight of expectation lay heavily on Rossi's rivals, too. Marc Márquez came to a track where he has struggled in the past, knowing that the tire allocation would mean he would struggle. Andrea Dovizioso came to the place where he won last year, but on the back of crashes in the last two races, risks were even less of an option. Maverick Viñales came to Mugello after a successful test at Barcelona, where he believed the team had solved the problems he had suffered through the first part of the season. And Jorge Lorenzo came to Ducati's home track for his 24th race on the Ducati, one for every million his contract paid him, without having lived up to reasons the Italian factory had signed him: to win races, and contend for the title.

My very own tank

Yet there were signs that Lorenzo was ready to rise to the occasion. In recent races, Lorenzo had led the race early, before fading in the latter stages. At Jerez, he had led for the first seven laps, at Le Mans for the first nine, before fatigue in his arms and shoulders had left him unable to sustain his pace. But at Mugello Ducati had brought the modified tank section he had been asking for since Thailand, which allowed him to use his legs and his body to support himself better under braking, and take some of the strain off his upper body. A less radical version of the revised tank had been tested at Barcelona, and that had been enough to convince Ducati that Lorenzo had been right all along.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, however. Lorenzo got the holeshot once again at Mugello, leading the chasing pack into the first corner for the third time in succession. It was a carbon copy of Jerez and Le Mans, the Ducati rider out front and pushing for an early lead. Behind him came the rough and tumble of the first few corners at Mugello. Marc Márquez made a strong charge through the field to take second place into the first corner, but the effort proved a little optimistic, running wide at San Donato then cutting back to slot into fourth.

Márquez, already the most hated figure in Italy after the bitter recriminations of 2015, and the incident with Valentino Rossi in Argentina earlier this year, made himself even less loved in the second corner. The Repsol Honda rider ran hot into Luco, and up the inside of Danilo Petrucci, forcing the Pramac Ducati, resplendent in a Lamborghini-backed yellow and black livery, wide and to the edge of the asphalt runoff. Márquez took third, while Petrucci was forced back to tenth.

#JusticeForPetrux

The crowd were livid, but not as angry as Petrucci was. "I'm not the Race Director, but I think the Race Director should do something," the Italian said. "In the Safety Commission in Austin, we said that if a rider ruins the race of another rider, he should be penalized. I was third, and then tenth at the next corner. He put me out of the track, and I was quite lucky that the runoff area was asphalt, because if it was a corner later, I would be in the gravel and would maybe crash. I don't know. I did, not the same thing, because Espargaro didn't go out of the track in Argentina, and I was painted like a killer."

By the end of the race, it would be obvious that the incident had a major effect on Petrucci's race, but it is hard to say whether it should have been penalized. The first few corners of any race are hairy, with so many riders so close together. Luco and Poggio Seco are notorious in that regard, with riders taking multiple lines through those corners, their trajectories occasionally intersecting as a result. Márquez was clearly on the line and behind Petrucci when they nearly came together, but the onboard footage makes it clear that Petrucci was already cutting across Márquez' line on the entry to that corner.

Márquez was arguably more at fault than Petrucci, but it was not a particularly reckless or dangerous move from the Spaniard. If it had been Dani Pedrosa or Maverick Viñales who had forced Petrucci wide, it would have been immediately discounted as a racing incident, albeit an uncharacteristic one. But this isn't Márquez' first rodeo, and so any time he is involved, the starting point is to assume that he has some blame to bear. The FIM Stewards, with more camera angles at their disposal than we mere mortals have, saw nothing worth that warranted a penalty.

Do Not Disturb. Or Else.

The next pass Márquez made was cleaner, an important point given the rider who he was passing. Márquez used Valentino Rossi's slipstream along the front straight, pulling out just before the braking zone to dive ahead of the Italian on the way into San Donato. The pass tested the limits of front grip, the bike shaking and Márquez just holding his line to hang on to second. But it also showed how hard Márquez was having to push to try to catch Lorenzo.

More was to come for Márquez. Convinced by his pace in morning warm up that the hard front and rear tires were the key to victory, the Repsol Honda rider tried to force the bike to his will. He pushed chasing Lorenzo, the front seven still forming a close group. But the afternoon heat and the rubber laid down by Moto2 had transformed the track, robbing it of grip and slowing the pace by a second or more. Márquez saved one front-end slide, but on lap 5, he met his match.

On the long downhill right of Correntaio, the front went away from Márquez, and even the man who seems able to catch everything was unable to right his Repsol ship once it went down. He hung on for a long time – 38 meters, the bike sliding on both tires as Márquez tried to wrestle it up with elbow and knee – but eventually he ran out of tarmac, and the gravel sent him down. "I tried to save the crash and to be quite ‘powerful’ to pick up the bike, but it was impossible, because it was downhill and the grip was not so good and I was still losing the front by the time I got to the gravel," Márquez said. The combination of speed and elevation caught him out, and though he remounted, he was already a long way back when he rejoined.

The lowdown

Cal Crutchlow got a front-row seat for the aftermath of the crash. "I came around two seconds after and he was still trying to save it as you’re in the gravel," he told reporters. "Put it this way - they hadn’t even attempted to put the yellow flags out, so probably thought he was going to come up straight. If there was no gravel there, I would say he would probably got it. Don’t forget, he’s gone on the dirty part of the track and the paint. If it was actual tarmac, it would have stood up."

The LCR Honda rider also had an interesting theory as to why Márquez managed to save so many of those massive front-end slides. "The reason he saves them is because he’s so low to the ground," Crutchlow explained. "None of us are anywhere near as low to the ground as he is. He’s already on the ground anyway. The lean angle of the bike, a lot of the time, it's not that much more. It used to be a lot more. Now it seems that we are very close lean-angle-wise, all of us, but we just don’t lean our body on the floor like he does. We don’t point the knee the way he points the knee."

Haters gonna hate

Márquez' crash produced a massive cheer from the crowd, and even among a contingent of journalists in the press room. It is an increasingly common phenomenon, though Mugello is perhaps the epicenter of the Márquez hatred. On Friday, while they were filming a segment on the Mugello campsites, Slovenian TV came across a mock grave bearing Márquez' name, with his date of birth, and the date of the Mugello race as his date of death. The police were called to remove both the grave and the people who made it, their tickets and campsite access revoked.

Márquez was disappointed, but not surprised by the reaction. "Well, it is something I expected," he told Spanish media. "To celebrate the crash of a rider is sad because we are taking risks on the track. I don't know if many people celebrated my crash today but, well, it is curious that they celebrate a crash of a rider more than a victory of another. It is a curious thing about motorcycle racing. Different factors also meant we arrived here."

The Repsol Honda rider also highlighted the same behavior on Friday, when the crowds were booing and whistling every time Márquez appeared on screen during the red flag caused by Michele Pirro's huge crash. "For me it says it all when on Friday we saw a rider in the gravel and we didn't know how he was and whether he was dead or alive – because you can imagine after a 300kmph crash – and they are only focused on jeering the rider they saw in front of the cameras. This says it all," Márquez said.

Breaking the chase

With Márquez out, there was still a group chasing Jorge Lorenzo. And as the riders crossed the line to start lap 7, there were still six riders in the hunt for the lead. The race was approaching Lorenzo's make-or-break point, the point at which he had started to fade in previous races. It looked like Lorenzo was once again holding up the group behind him, and once they found a way past him, he would sink like a stone once again.

Not this time. With Andrea Dovizioso now at the head of the field, it was the chasing group who started to slow. Lorenzo's pace never faltered, the factory Ducati rider banging out low 1'48s from lap 2 to lap 14. When he did slow, he lost only a couple of tenths, where those behind him saw their pace slow by a second or more. The gap quickly grew to two seconds over his teammate, and seven seconds to the group fighting for third. The final six laps laid bare the relentlessness of Lorenzo's pace, as Dovizioso had to slow to stay on board the bike.

Victory came at last for Lorenzo. It had been 24 races in the making, but at last Jorge Lorenzo did what he had been signed by Ducati to do for them: win races brooking no opposition from his rivals. Lorenzo's statements through his long drought that he did not doubt his own talent had rung hollow, but no longer. "I am not a good rider, but a champion," he had said on Thursday in response to comments made by Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali. On Sunday, he justified those words.

The Lorenzo Method

What made them ring true was not the victory, but the way he took the win. This was classic Lorenzo, winning in the exact same way he won his last race on the Yamaha, at Valencia in 2016. First, grab the lead. Next, lay the hurt on your rivals with a pace they can only sustain for a few laps. Finally, when they crack, keep the metronome ticking, lap after lap after lap within hundredths of a second.

On the basis of Mugello, this looks like a breakthrough for Lorenzo. If, as he says, the new tank unit is the final piece of the puzzle which allow him to ride as he wants to, then more wins are on the cards, starting perhaps next week at Barcelona. That doesn't mean Lorenzo could win a championship on this bike (certainly not this championship, as he is still 54 points down on the leader Marc Márquez), as the Spaniard still has his weaknesses. When conditions are predictable – a dry track with good conditions, or a fully wet track with the rain falling – Lorenzo can ride to his potential. But if it only spits with rain, or if it rains and then the track starts to dry, his Achilles heel is exposed, too tentative to understand and exploit the grip which is available. We will see where Lorenzo really stands when we get to the Sachsenring, and it rains on Saturday morning.

Lorenzo's outburst of joyous celebration was also a release of frustration, at everything which had happened over the past eighteen months. His comments after the race laid bare an issue which persists in Ducati – and not just Ducati, but also Honda and Yamaha – that teams and engineers do not always place sufficient faith in what their riders tell them. "Now is very easy to talk, but before, there's the tough part," Lorenzo told the press conference. "To believe in Jorge Lorenzo before when the results are not good, and to believe what I said that I need is true. Not so many people believe that. Not all the people believe that."

Doubting Thomases

Lorenzo also seized the chance to take a shot at his doubters. His complaints about the bike were no mere excuses, he said. "I always say the truth. When I make I mistake, I say that I make a mistake. When I need something, it’s true, and I demonstrate it again. When Ducati finally give me this modification on the bike, with my method - a lot of people said it was impossible to win with my method with Ducati, I won with this method."

That senior management had been among the doubters had angered Lorenzo, and he used the opportunity to rub it in their faces. After the race, both Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall'Igna and Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali said in interviews no decision had been made about Jorge Lorenzo continuing in the factory team in 2019, Domenicali accusing journalists of liking to fabricate a story. But when Lorenzo was asked by Spanish TV if the win and the new parts Ducati had brought meant he might stay with Ducati, he was frank. "It's too late," he said.

He hinted at something similar in the press conference. "Next year... For one side of my heart is sad," he said. "I’m very happy about this victory. Very, very happy, but one side of me is sad because I believe if I had this modification before I could tell you that I would continue Ducati, but I cannot tell you that." Lorenzo's future lies with Yamaha again, in a Petronas-backed team organized with the Sepang International Circuit. But the details of that can wait for another day.

Tire issues

Though Lorenzo was untouchable for the victory, the battle behind was entertaining. Andrea Dovizioso looked like he had second place wrapped up by mid race, but the track conditions left him struggling, as they did everyone else bar Lorenzo. "During the race I lose the front too many times," the factory Ducati rider said. "After the crash of Marc, but especially after you lose too many times the front tire, and after Le Mans during the race… It was a long race. You think about a lot of things."

Dovizioso had a cushion back to the group battling for third, but choosing the hard front had possibly been the wrong choice, the Italian said. "Normally I’m one of the best to save the front tire with my riding style and for the characteristic of Ducati, but we didn’t want to take a risk," he said to explain why he had chosen the hard front tire. "In FP4 we were quite fast with the hard tire, but maybe the heat of today, it was worse, the work of the front tire maybe. I saw Valentino lose too many times the front tire and he had the same tire as me."

Rossi had looked to be out of contention for second place, dropping back through the field and getting caught up in a battle with Andrea Iannone, Danilo Petrucci, and Alex Rins. The Movistar Yamaha rider looked to be getting the worst of the battle, but as the end neared, he found new strength and courage from the crowds cheering him on. He had started the race believing that strategy would determine the outcome, working on making his tires last to the end. But when push came to shove, his heart ruled his head, and he threw strategy out of the window in pursuit of glory.

Alex Rins and Danilo Petrucci dropped behind Rossi, and the Yamaha man facing off against Andrea Iannone, the man who had been flying all weekend. Seeing the roar the three Italians received as they fought, Rossi pushed on. "It was a strategic race today because you know your rivals," he said. "So, I try to keep the situation under control because with the front tire that we have, you cannot go at the maximum. Every time I try, I lose the front very close to crash. After you have just to wait and hope that the guys with the soft front finish the grip."

But after seeing Rins and Petrucci struggle, and having Iannone chase his heels, Rossi gave it his all. "After, my big opponent was Iannone, because in the last lap you forget the strategic and is all heart for try. So, you enter in the corner and you think, maybe close. Maybe I crash, but I have to try. You trust in the tire, in the bike." The battle brought Rossi close to Dovizioso, but not close enough to think about taking second from him. But he was strong enough to hold off Iannone for third.

No easy way forward

It was important for Yamaha, as the Japanese factory continues to struggle. Mugello makes 16 races in a row without a victory for Yamaha, the last one dating back to Assen. They have six podiums from six races, but two of those came from Johann Zarco in the satellite Tech3 Yamaha team. Yamaha were lucky to get a podium in Mugello, the podium being down to Rossi's inspired riding, far more than down to the strength of the M1. Rossi's teammate Maverick Viñales finished eighth, Johann Zarco back in tenth, a measure of the issues with the bike.

Rossi had been borne to third on the wave of support around the circuit. "The ten minutes in the podium in Mugello - when you achieve the podium - in front of all the fans, all the crowd repays you for all the effort that you do during the year for train and for travel and make the rider," the Italian said. "Yesterday was already fantastic feeling. Pole position was a great emotion. Also it was crucial for my podium today because I start in the front."

But his second podium in a row, putting him to second in the title race, had done nothing to allay his concerns with the bike. "It's the third podium of the season and I’m second in the championship," Rossi said. "This is very positive, but my best result in the race is just third. I want to try to fight for the victory, for the first two. We improve with the balance of the bike, especially in the hot lap with very good grip. At this moment in the race distance we suffer a bit. We are not so strong. So I hope that during the season we are able to improve the bike and try to fight for the victory in the second half."

There was still a lot of work to do, despite the improvement new parts at the Barcelona test had brought, Rossi reiterated. "We improve mechanically the balance of the bike with some different parts. In fact, we can use the good thing of the Yamaha, but especially in the qualification or in the first lap when you have grip. But for the race distance, especially in the second part, especially when the tire go down or in the places where we have less grip, we suffer more compared to Honda and Ducati. For me, we have to work in different areas for improve this part."

This was a problem for Yamaha to solve, he said. "For me personally, the problems are very clear and I try to explain. Now Yamaha have to work and try to improve, but is not easy. You need a lot of people that make this work. Is a long work. You have to start to try something, but is not so easy. Is not sure that you try new things and are better. So I think that is long, but we have to start. The Yamaha start to work. The season is still very long. Maybe during the season we can improve."

Superstar Suzukis

Rossi's late lap push robbed Andrea Iannone of a chance at the podium. Both Suzukis were strong at Mugello, Iannone at or near the top of the timesheets throughout practice, while Alex Rins overcame a painful shoulder picked up in a practice crash to finish fifth, just behind his teammate. The Suzukis suffered the same problem as everyone else: a hotter track and Dunlop Moto2 rubber left the surface lacking grip, which killed acceleration. Fortunately for Iannone, the lack of grip affected everyone, and being in among the fast group at the front meant a slipstream was always available. Despite complaining of a lack of top speed, Iannone recorded the fifth highest top speed down Mugello's fearsome front straight.

Ecstar Suzuki Alex Rins was both delighted and surprised to have finished at all, let along so strongly. In the warm up on Sunday morning, Rins had barely been able to string four laps together before having to come back into the pits, but some expert advice from the Clinica Mobile and the adrenaline of the race helped make the pain manageable for the young Spaniard. "In warm up I could do a maximum of four laps and on the grid I was trying to forget this thing and to enjoy the race," Rins said after the race. "On the first corner when I overtook a lot of riders I have a big smile on my face and I tried to enjoy it more and more. During the race I was struggling a lot with my right shoulder and arm but overall it was very positive and I was trying to keep focused and hold my position and rhythm. Finally at the end of the race I was feeling stronger than the other riders like Iannone or Valentino but honestly I didn't find the correct place to overtake."

Both Rins and Iannone had used the medium front tire, which had proved to be the winning choice for Jorge Lorenzo, but conditions had made the end of the race tough for everyone running it, which was most of the grid. "The performance was quite good but in the last seven laps it was difficult to managed because it was so hot on the track," Rins said.

Hobson's choice

Cal Crutchlow was also running the medium front, but for him, it had been the least worst option, rather than a positive choice. "It was a damage limitation race, as we knew from tire allocation," Crutchlow commented. "Here two weeks ago when we tested it, Marc did 1'46.8. I did 1'47.0. We did ten of them in a row basically. Track temperature 20 degrees less, but the tire allocation now with this heat for us was really bad."

The problem, Crutchlow said, was that the left side of the asymmetric hard tire was too soft, making the medium tire the better choice overall. "The problem was the right-hand side of the hard was hard, perfect. The left was softer than the medium. So it was take a risk on the left, or try to manage the medium. Marc said he’d take a risk on the left, and I said I’d try to manage the medium. Which we know for our bike is impossible. If Ducati are running a medium, we need to be running a hard." The symmetric hard was no use at all, Crutchlow said. "The symmetric hard is softer than anything else. It’s just heat protected. That’s all it is. So it’s softer than the soft."

The Hondas suffer with tire overheating in the race, and Mugello was no different. "I did what I could. I sat there. The problem I had was the heat from the bikes in front of me were just melting the front tire. So I could not pass. If I passed, honestly I was on my head. So I had to just accept it and try to be there whenever I got fresh air."

That had also been the key to Jorge Lorenzo's victory, the LCR Honda rider reckoned. "The track temperature is so hot, and you can ride around in practice alone - as I said, I rode around alone one second off Rins, and I caught him one second in the lap because I was alone and you get the fresh air," Crutchlow said. "Lorenzo did it perfect. I think he would have been in more trouble if he was in the group. He just did it perfect."

Simmering anger

A thoroughly disgruntled Danilo Petrucci had crossed the line in seventh. Petrucci believed he had the pace for the podium – given the fact that the riders who finished fourth to tenth were within four seconds of third, that is a reasonable assumption for all of them – but said he had been robbed by Marc Márquez, who had forced him wide at Turn 2 on the opening lap. Finding himself in tenth place, Petrucci had had to push harder to make his way forward again and put himself in a podium position. With success: from lap 12 to lap 17, it looked like Petrucci would repeat his success of last year, and make it a clean sweep of the podium for Ducati.

"It's a shame, because you work for the entire weekend to try to manage the tire, you try to think of a strategy," Petrucci fumed. "I was thinking, OK, I'm not a good starter, but I did two starts per free practice to work on my weak point. And it worked, because we are working a lot on the start and in the last three races, I always started quite good. But then Márquez did a good start, went wide at the first corner, and then at the second corner, he went wide again, but I was in the middle. I was just lucky that the runoff area wasn't gravel, but I stayed on the asphalt by just one centimeter. I lost six or seven positions. I was maybe ninth or tenth on the first lap."

"Then I recovered six positions, trying to pass Crutchlow, Rins, Iannone, Rossi, Zarco. I pushed very, very hard, I did the fastest lap time, but it was not in my plan. My plan was to stay quite calm in the first part of the race to try to save the tire for the second part, but at five laps to go I was over my tire consumption. And it was very, very hard to keep the pace of Rossi and Iannone. Then the bike was difficult to manage, we got a small problem with the fuel pump, so I didn't have the same power of the start of the race. So very, very difficult to manage. Unfortunately we lost even the top five. Still in the championship we are there, only nine points to the second place, but we missed an opportunity today. Half of the race was ruined on the first lap. When you are third at the first corner and at the second, you are tenth, all the work you did in qualifying is wasted."

The Lost Boy

If Petrucci was furious with Marc Márquez, Maverick Viñales, who finished behind Petrucci suffered a mixture of bemusement and frustration. The Movistar Yamaha rider was bemused and confused by the fact that the improved setup they had found at the Barcelona test last week had given him so much more speed during practice and qualifying, yet the gains had all but disappeared during the race.

"Honestly for me it's so difficult," Viñales said. "I'm getting lost, I'm getting lost because I work in the practices in a good way I think and I'm competitive. And I don't know why from FP4 to the race we lose one second - or even more because in the last laps I was 1'49. Last year on the last lap I did 1'47.7 or 1'47.8. I honestly cannot believe we made the bike worse like this. It's difficult to believe honestly as a rider. I cannot push. Honestly I'm like going at my 50 percent. I even did not sweat in the race because I cannot push. I can only do what the bike wants to do."

The Spaniard had a complete lack of front grip, despite choosing the asymmetric hard front – or the "W" to give it part of its official designation, though that only applies to the compound on one side of the tire – on which he was so quick during practice and qualifying. "The tires are good, because yesterday - and also in FP2 - I could do with the 'W' a 1'47.6-1'47.8, with used tires," Viñales said. "That shouldn't mean that in the race it's not working. It's difficult and strange to explain. Honestly not even inside the team have an explanation."

"Honestly I was feeling really strong this weekend," he continued. "The team work was really good because after FP3 we struggled so much in the cold conditions and then in FP4 suddenly it came, we changed the bike and we got the rhythm again and I think it was a good rhythm. This morning I was quite fast with used tires and then in the race everything wrong. It was completely the same bike, same electronics, just we changed the tires and the bike was completely different."

A bike to win?

Viñales was frustrated because he had felt that the solution had been so close, but once again, the Yamaha had failed him. "I think the problem is on the tires, the way maybe we warm the tires or something, because it cannot be possible that I lose 1.5 seconds from the practice… Anyway, I never get this issue. And last year in the first five races I didn’t get this issue. And then every race, sliding, sliding, no grip, no grip. I'm trying to find an explanation because you know, 28 points, I want to win the championship whatever it goes. But I need the help a little bit of the team and when I signed with Yamaha it's because they promised me a bike to win. It's time to show that the bike can win."

"They promised me a bike to win." It was a phrase he repeated multiple times on Sunday evening. "I hope Yamaha can solve this problem because when you are in one bike that they promised you to win, you want to win no? So in my mind is, maybe not to win every race, but to be there. I think I can be there, with the level I have and the level we show. Then in the race everything goes… so it's difficult. I hope Yamaha receive the message and start to work because they promised me a bike to win. Not to be seventh and fighting with satellite Ducatis."

Alvaro Bautista was the satellite Ducati Viñales had spent most of the race trying to hold off. "I did the start not so bad, but when I saw Maverick two or three positions in front of me, I though, okay, he is very strong after the middle of the race, so I have to be behind him in that moment," the Angel Nieto Team rider told me. "So I tried to overtake the other riders. I did it, and then I went with him. Now we catch the podium group, but for me it was difficult to overtake him because especially in the straight his bike, he has more speed, especially in mid-race, in mid-straight."

Viñales' speed may be a clue as to how the 2018 Yamaha M1 engine has changed. Its strength was not in outright top speed, Bautista said, but rather in how it reached it. "Not top speed," Bautista said of the Yamaha. "Not probably acceleration. It’s just fourth, fifth, and the first part of the sixth gear, his bike was stronger than my bike. In fact, I exited sometimes very close to him, but I was losing distance. So I arrive very far to the first brake and was a big risk to try to overtake him. In fact, I tried a couple of times and one of them I almost crashed, but I can save the crash. So I decide to stay behind him."

Working tires

Bautista was still pleased overall with ninth position. The setup changes at Jerez had solved a big part of the problem with tire temperature which Bautista – the second-lightest rider on the grid – had suffered in the early races. "From Jerez we found a good setup that help us to warm very good the tires. But in the qualifying, I don’t know why. I don’t feel the tire performance is high. We have to improve that. If we can start between the first twelve, we are there. We have the good rhythm for the Sunday, so the important thing now is to work for the Saturday to start more in the front."

Johann Zarco rounded out the top ten, a mediocre finish to a miserable weekend. Zarco had been uncharacteristically agitated all weekend, and had managed only to salvage some points. "Difficult race," he commented on Sunday night. "It’s not because the warm temperature, I think just because we didn’t find the solution to have a better feeling and to control well the bike. From Friday the start has been difficult. We went in a good way, or I thought we were holding the solution, but then I saw that on Saturday we didn’t find what was the problem. So we have been lost a bit. "

The Monster Tech3 Yamaha rider had been waiting for his pace to come in the latter half of the race, but it eluded him. "Again today for the race I expect to have the possibility to stay with that group," he said, referring to the group of riders all battling over the final podium spots. "They were not far at the beginning and really a few laps after I was thinking, okay, you will find the pace and you will catch them. Finally, it became worse and worse, and then I was tired. When you need to force on the bike, all is becoming worse. It was necessary to finish. This is the good thing of today. Finish the race, have the points, and then forget that bad weekend."

Zarco was not willing to discount the fact that his problems may lie with himself and his approach to the circuit, rather than anything to do with the bike. "It's possible it's something about the track, something about me not understanding the track or something about me, my setup with the bike not adapting to the track," Zarco admitted. "But even Marc, he is the best rider having the best average for the 19 races in all season, and usually here he has a bad race. So if I can maybe compare myself to him, when I’m bad here but can have better performance in all the tracks, or most of the tracks, we will understand. So that’s why maybe we can see that there are guys that usually I’m in front, and in Mugello they are in front of me. It’s possible that the track is something."

Learning by doing

Marc Márquez' crash has tightened the championship considerably, but the large group of competitive riders behind him are stuck squabbling with each other, rather than fighting with Márquez. His advantage has been cut from 39 points to 23 points, but after Le Mans, it was Maverick Viñales in second, while now Valentino Rossi has climbed up to take second from his teammate. Luck is still breaking Márquez' way, even when he makes stupid mistakes.

But even if he hadn't crashed, there was no way he could have beaten Lorenzo, Márquez believed. "The podium was possible because after the crash, the bike was not perfect, and I was still at a good pace, similar to the podium guys but Lorenzo today was faster than everybody and he managed the situation a lot. We tried but it was impossible. The podium was the goal but riding alone later I nearly crashed ten times."

Márquez claimed that crashing out at Correntaio had been an opportunity to learn, and perhaps prevent a repeat in the future. But overall, he result left him feeling hopeful. "From this race I learned, well, I don't want to take much information!" Márquez joked. "In the morning I had a perfect bike and in the afternoon it was totally different. I still need to be able to manage all the things and improve for the future but I learned I cannot crash again! It is something I already know but we are humans and sometimes we make mistakes. It is one year since I crash in a race [so I’m] disappointed but what is important is that we are 23 points ahead in the championship and we were 37 back last year."

What remains

There was more, much more that went on at Mugello, which there is not time to put into this report. Jorge Lorenzo's imminent departure from Ducati was matched by a move up from Moto2 to Suzuki by Joan Mir, while Danilo Petrucci will finally get his shot in the factory Ducati team. But there is an empty seat at Aprilia which needs filling, most likely to the recently released Andrea Iannone. There is the mystery of where the Petronas money will end up, along with Jorge Lorenzo, who it is paying for. There is the question of who takes the second seat alongside Lorenzo, and whether Dani Pedrosa will be forced out of the Repsol Honda garage, as revenge for happened earlier. But that will have to wait for another day, along with a tense Moto3 race which pointed the way to the future, and a thrilling Moto2 race which set the tone for MotoGP. Race weekends are so packed with action that it is impossible to capture anything beyond a tiny slice of the action, and by the time you think you have most of it covered, it's time for the next race. Another week, and we head to Barcelona for the Barcelona round of MotoGP. The season moves on, and we are in the thick of it.


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Total votes: 72
Total votes: 131

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Comments

"and whether Dani Pedrosa will be forced out of the Repsol Honda garage, as revenge for happened earlier."

I must have completely missed something. What happened earlier? 

Total votes: 42

Alberto Puig is a twat. But Honda has done very well to secure Lorenzo.

Pedrosa to SIC Petronas on FACTORY sky blue Yamaha bikes alongside Pescau, please! He will do better than he has of late on the Honda, he has it in him to have a second blossom.

HRC - with Marquez, Lorenzo, Repsol...could it be any more Spanish? Am I going to have to hear the same yellow-tinted pasta filled crap at the pub next year about them? And read it here from the same three tired people? They are going to beat the snot out of Yamaha. I am obviously no fan of HRC and love Vale, but between the yellow-eyed skewey views and Yamaha feasting on their own detritus of crusty myopic poor strategy it is difficult to support them.

Marquez is smart. To have a real challenge here, having a Zarco/Jorge/Vinales level rider on a factory Honda is the way to go. Getting to watch Jorge get on that bike and take it to the limit will be a treat.

Ducati with Dovisioso/Petrucci/Bagnia will be a joy. The bike is not at a crescendo. Here comes the Suzuki and Mir (Jr Team already you c*nts!). The more we get to connect with good old down to Earth hard working Dovisioso the more I like him. The Ducatisti cappuccino drinkers aren't my crowd at all, but the Ducati MotoGP project offers plenty to love. Blue collar blokes on the Bologna silk-lined carbon fibre rocket? Enjoying your trajectory.

Total votes: 44

David, could you elaborate on your comment about Dani Pedrosa? what "happened earlier"?

Total votes: 49

they severed ties a few years ago. I'm not sure when. Then in 2016 Puig openly questioned Pedrosa's motivation and effort. It seems Puig holds a grudge and their relationship is cold. And now Puig is his boss and gets to decide who rides the second Repsol Honda.

So Pedrosa is screwed and his days are numbered. Nothing else could explain how so many riders have apprently turned Repsol Hond down but they still haven't simply renewed with Pedrosa.

Total votes: 46

Yes, this piqued my interest as well.

Total votes: 44

Or does Puig simply believe like Spencer, Lawson, Gardner, Schwantz, Crivillé, and Roberts Jr. before him, Pedrosa has simply taken too many blows from crashes over his career and has faded from being a consistent top level rider?

Total votes: 42

It will be interesting to see if this race was a one-off for Lorenzo or he has truly turned things around. Seeing his pace and consistency was stunning to watch, classic Jorge. If the weather for the season doesn't become a major factor, I see no reason why he couldn't be fighting for top 3 in the championship (after all, he's only 26 points down from Viñales in 3rd).  

While I certainly don't support booing, in sport, it's unfortunately going to happen. However, it was sickening to watch the "fans" boo Marquez while everyone in pit lane waited in anticipation as to whether Pirro was dead or alive. I no longer expect any sort of human decency in the online word anymore, but I'd at least hope witnessing such a serious incident in person would give people pause. 

On a more positive note, I'm glad to see Simon Crafar is putting in the effort to really improve in pit lane - quieting his doubters, of which I was one. Focusing only on MotoGP has likely helped, with the added benefit of getting Neil Morrison in the booth for Moto2 and 3.

 

Total votes: 68

Anybody else notice, even though Claudio Domenicali was front and center in parc ferme, Jorge never acknowledged him once (at least that I saw)? He celebrated with everybody else in Ducati but totally ignored Domenicali even though Domenicali was trying to give him five and congratulate him. Cold! Pretty sure that relationship isn’t getting rebuilt. 

Total votes: 45

Nice report as always. According to Vinales, Marquez, Crutchlow and others most are complaining about the tires (too soft or too hard or too unpredictable). For me, altought I know nothing, it seems to me that to use tire warmers on a 50C track is asking for trouble. I mean, OK use them to put heat in the carcass, but maybe either bring the temp down or heat them less longer. The heat of the track along with the workout they get and the speed attainable is more than sufficient. IMO maybe there is a heat buildup at the end of the race that damage the tires more and more. But again what do I know.

Total votes: 51

Brilliant report, Dave, you are the top of your game here!

I am glad that you commented on the unique issue of MotoGP Michelins trying to find grip on a very hot track...that happens to be coated with Moto2 Dunlop rubber. It is this boundary layer of rubber on the track that I refer to as "the tire in the mirror", and I do not feel that all the Teams have come to grips with it. The comments I have read about the effect of the Moto2 rubber coating the track vary from very well understood (Dovi), to possibly clueless (Vinales). I would love for you to follow up on this with an article about how Michelin and the Teams see this situation.

A few quick observations:

On Friday and Saturday the MotoGP riders are not following Moto2, they are following Moto3. And while Moto3 tires are also Dunlop, lets face it, a Moto3 bike is not going to lay rubber down on the racing surface to anywhere near the degree the larger classes do. I essentially see the impact (to the MotoGP field) of the prior Moto3 session as a complimentary track cleaning service, and not much else.

The MotoGP Teams are making tire choices based on track conditions they will not see in the race except what can be gleaned from FP4. Except FP4 is in the cool of the morning for both Moto2 and MotoGP, only 20 minutes long, and is not a session normally devoted to finding out where the ultimate limits are. Nobody likes to switch to their back-up bike after pitching the number one machine in the gravel Sunday morning, and there is very little time to recover physically (and probably mentally) from binning it hard.

There seems little doubt that when the track temps approach (or exceed) 50 Deg C, the Dunlop Moto2 rubber on the track surface becomes a limiting factor in the performance (and probably heat characteristics) of the Michelin MotoGP rubber. And I am wondering if some of the Teams are getting their sums wrong. This may be counterintuitive, but it would appear that when the track temps get very high on Sunday, the better choice may be the softer options, not the harder ones. The decreased grip levels (folllowing the Moto2 race) allow the softer options to perform better from an ultimate grip standpoint, and also allow them to survive track temperatures that would prohibit their use on a non-Moto2 coated surface. And while the high track temperatures may indicate the use of the harder options, the result may well be a lower grip tire (the hard) is now working on a lower grip surface, and the result is misery.

This is a very difficult nut for the Teams to crack in testing, as on their dedicated testing days they are not following a horde of Moto2 bikes ridden by fast young men with very little regard for their own mortality. The testing days simply cannot duplicate the actual track surface they will be racing on. The worst offender may be the Monday tests the day after a race, which are (almost) always on a clean track coated with Michelin MotoGP rubber. It seems that a lot of the set-up progress that is claimed while testing simply does not show up in the next actual race. To me, this would be expected, as you are solving grip issues for a completely different set of track surface conditions than you will later be confronted with.

It seems probable that (some) Teams are shying away from the softer compounds based on wear rate data obtained in FP2 (if it is hot) with a lessor amount of useful data gleaned from QP1/QP2, and even less from the cooler FP1/FP3 sessions. But if they are rejecting the use of the softer options, are they doing so based on grip levels they will never obtain on Sunday? What has surprised me is that I have seen very few recent examples of riders dropping through the field like a well tossed brick because their race choice was too soft. More often than not it appears that, on Sunday afternoon, the softer options just hang on...and then hang on further, while the hard options never seem to pay out the way one would expect they would in the last five or six laps. (there are, of course, situations where even the hardest compound is too soft for a particular bike/rider combination, the Honda's being the prime example).

Cal's comments on the effect on the front tire of being caught up behind a pack of rider's was enlightening, to say the least. For all of their vaunted power, the MotoGP engines are not very thermally efficient. They have a combustion chamber optimized for compression ratio and gross power levels, but as a result they have a lot of surface area compared to their volumes. This can be seen in the longish ignition advance these engines employ. So you have two things happening: The first is that you are starting the ignition sequence a long time before the rod/crank-angle can effectively convert this event into useable power, so you have heat and pressure being created without immediately being converted into work (which is a recipe right out of The Entropy Cookbook). And the second is that it is being contained within a space with a very poor volume-to-surface ratio, which results in a fair amount of that do-nothing heat being transferred to the surrounding components (and then hopefully removed via the cooling system). And since the true master of the universe is entropy, a whole lot of the fuel a MotoGP bike is burning does nothing to propel it down the track, but rather is just removed by the simply enormous air/water heat exchangers that occupy so much real estate at the front of these race bikes. And when that thermal energy is eventually transferred (by convection) to the air flowing through the heat exchangers, it has only one purpose left in life: to cook the front tire of whatever sad man is foolish enough to follow in your wake. And not a little bit, as I imagine the rejected heat content of a 280 BHP MotoGP engine is somewhere around 500 Kilowatts at full chat.

So The Crutchlow Effect (hell, give credit where credit is due) imposes a real Hobson's Choice on riders who are unlikely (through qualifying strength or starting proficiency) to find themselves in clean air for most of the race: If you choose the softer compound, which would be otherwise optimum given the reduced grip of the Moto2 modified racing surface on a very hot Sunday, does that then result in that compound being enfeebled over race distance by the several thousand KW of rejected heat energy you are plowing it through? So maybe the hard is the better option...except for the next bit. The harder option may never provide the performance required to pass the KW shedding bastards in front of you. Only the softer tire choice will deliver you past those in front. This may also explain MM's seeming pathological need to pass people at the beginning of a race (when he does not find himself at the front) or when through other circumstances he finds himself behind other riders: is he actually just agressively trying to protect the thermal loads on his front tire, which always seems to be marginal to begin with (due to his riding style and the native DNA of the Honda)? Do Marquez and Honda strategize that if Marc gets stuck behind a gaggle of others that both his front tire and his chances for a great result get cooked in the same pot? On the other hand, he may just enjoy bunting lessor mortals into the scenery if they show the slightest lack of appreciation for even being allowed to display their puny skills in his majestic presence. Six-to-five and pick 'em in my book.

Anyways, just some random thoughts triggered by your excellent report. I look forward to you posting a far more enlightening screed about this at some point in the future. Cheers.

PS - I would love for the racing world to stop referring to compounds as "Hard, Medium, Soft", and rather to just identify the working temperature range of the compound. But then I apparently exist to be disappointed and broken-hearted when it comes to the racing world's use of the common tongue, so I will not hold my breath.

Total votes: 84

While intresting comments I do not think higher air temps in wake of MotoGP bikes rejected heat will have nearly as much impact as track temperatures where direct contact occurs.  Heat in air is function of convection which is orders of magnitude less effective at transferring heat than conduction which occurs through direct contact. That said most heat in tires would be generated from the constant bending each revolution through the contact patch as it loads and unloads each revolution of the tire. Riding style, heavy loading, or lower air pressures that would increase this constant bending would have the most impact.  I would suspect riding style / air pressures followed by track temp and then air temp would be the order of influence effecting tire temps.

 

Total votes: 53

it is well known following a car closely greatly increases the engine temps of the car that is doing the following. I reckon something similar is going on with the bikes but probably not on that scale as f1.

Total votes: 49

Air cooling may be orders of magnitude less effective than the direct relation between the tyre and the tarmac, but, the amount of tyre in contact with the tarmac is only a tiny fraction of the amount in contact with the air.

I often wonder why more engineering effort isn't put into actively managing the tyre temperature.  It seems to me that they have a motor which is creating a huge amount of excess heat, and brakes, which create a huge amount of excess heat, and yet they still have issues with tyres being too cold on opening laps (or all the time if you're Pedrosa).  You would think that a few strategically placed heat pipes could change things completely.

Then again, I think we expect more out of the box thinking than motogp teams are actually doing; look how long it took Ducati to bring Lorenzo a *piece of plastic* which sticks to the tank and allows him to maintain better posture.  Twenty four million dollars on his contract, but, how long did it take them to set aside a few hours to mould a piece of ABS for him?

Total votes: 31

That DNA seems to have a strand of '...just when you think I am beaten, just watch me come back!' You really have to give it to Jorge: in the last three rounds he has really talked his chances up and gone out to win. And then he does. That this win coincides with him getting the mods he wanted, and hinting pretty darkly that he had not been listened to sufficiently before, well that must make it all that much more like a vindication than a simple win. 

It was a wonderful day of racing, except for what now seems to amount to the onoing vilification of MM. What's really sad about that is I reckon you can make an argument that the overall culture of MotoGP is one of the best of any high level sporting competition. It would be nice if someone could help enlighten the small contingent of meatheads on how to participate positively as fans. It's not eactly clear that the other main protagonist in this story hasn't overstepped the line himself on more than a couple of occasions. At the sheer level of effort and competition we are looking at this year, more than ever, it really is time for riders and crowds to accept some incidents as inevitable, either as racing incidents or poor judgements in the heat of battle. As otherwordly as these riders skills are, they are humans under enormous pressure - out of their effort we enjoy a magnificent contest and we could all be classy enough to show a bit of respect.

 

 

 

 

Total votes: 74

It is indeed strange that the same settings suddenly appear to not work in the race for Vinales. However, at the same time, I'm now convinced that Vinales's issues are his own and/or his team's rather than anything to do with Rossi dominating the garage. At least not any more. Vinales sounds a bit too confused and that's too often.

Total votes: 42

If you watch the Zarco onboard footage at the start of the race, Vinales has a big front end lose on the first or second lap (big long tyre mark) and Zarco overtakes him.  Pretty sure that would have shattered his confidence early on.

None the less, he does get quite mopey....

Total votes: 32

Excellent and thorough article as ever David - the best.

The whole world of Moto GP - journalists, pundits and fans are now talking about Jorge's rider fatigue and that's the issue that's been overcome with the fuel tank mod to unleash Jorge's potential on the Ducati. Indeed Jorge himself confirms this.

I was puzzled as before last weekend I hadn't heard of this as being the problem. I did a Google search to see if I'd missed something. Can't find any piece on this topic before the end of May this year, this in spite of the many times Jorge has started blisteringly and faded. Maybe my search has missed something.

So, has Jorge been raising this and been ignored by both the team and the punditry, and indeed not publicly complained himself? Or was this a measure that's been retro-fitted as being the solution (on the 'Texas Sharpshooter' principle)? It seems incredible that Ducati having paid Jorge multiple millions, would actually refuse to try a cheap tank mod for the last 18 months.

Sport is a world given to much hyperbole. So finally, I would note two things; 1/ in spite of his disappointing results, it should never have been in doubt that Jorge is a world class top rider, changing bikes doesn’t change that. 2/ This is one race, perhaps the hyperbole needs to be taking down a few notches, as only further similarly impressive results will show if the corner has been turned (excellent pun if I say so myself).

Total votes: 47

Thank you for a great review! A few comments:

“Viñales' speed may be a clue as to how the 2018 Yamaha M1 engine has changed. “

Could that just be a matter of gear ratio setting?

if we assume no contract has yet been signed between Lorenzo and another team, is it too late for him and Ducati because he’s severely wounded by the attacks on his ability by Ducati’s big wigs or he’s already given a verbal agreement to another team, and he is a man of his words?

Any words on the Suzuki’a potential satellite team? I would love to see what Pedrosa can do on another bike, perhaps on a Yamaha or Suzuki. Clearly the RC213V no longer suits him. 

Total votes: 37

Although I agree that the whistling at Marquez during the aftermath of Pirro's crash was inappropriate in timing, I do have my thoughts about those reactions in general. Marc Marquez is a child of modern times; he has learned to simply go into the victim role when you get criticized. It's not the perpetrator that is to blame, but the people responding to his actions that are the real villains. How dare they say bad things about him, that is so offensive and hurting. Those words and whistles are of course so much more dangerous than pushing riders off track. Talking about "we take risks on the track" and that that deserves more respect from the fans, seems a bit double-standard coming from him. As if he is so concerned about the safety of other riders.

The crowds on the grandstands have very little power over proceedings on track. They can not issue sanctions like race direction can. All they can do is show their opinion and feelings by either cheering or booing. A fairly harmless action that comes from being emotional about this special sport. There are no riots, there's no violence on the grandstands, fans of different riders and fierce opponents can still sit in the same area together, as far as I know. We're not doing that bad in motorcycle racing, I think.

Total votes: 82

I'm with you, Powervalve58, both on MM and the fans, nice post.

And congratulations again, Jorge Lorenzo. All the sweeter for having taken that long I suspect. Now please do the business at Barcelona, too. It doesn't have to be a win, a podium will do nicely. No pressure. :D

Very sorry to hear about Dani Pedrosa leaving HRC. He probably won't say anything bad about Alberto Puig, but I think that's part of it.

Total votes: 51

Dreadful comment. One of the worst I've seen on this site. Booing is wrong. There's no two ways about it, there's zero reason to defend it in any way. Trying to distract from it by bringing up what happens on track or that it's not as bad as other sports is pretty poor taste. Contrary to what you say Marquez actually handles all of it very well, saying he plays a victim card is just disingenuous because he actually is the only victim of this. Perhaps the sport is too.

If our sport is better than other sports we should keep it that way.

Total votes: 36

This fuel tank revision was just a piece of plastic attached near the saddle. Was it so difficult to provide it to Lorenzo? Why to wait that long?

Total votes: 38

I think this is the first time since Baylistic and Capirex crossed the line first and second in full factory colours at Valencia back in 2006. Lorenzo's win was poetry in motion resembling his old self at Yamaha and congrats to him on a memorable victory on the red bike thus joining Capirossi, Bayliss, Stoner and Dovizioso as the only riders to have won with it in 16 years. Memorable. I think Ducati were as happy for this result as Lorenzo was for different reasons. For Lorenzo it was breaking the duck and for Ducati it went about a full factory one/two in Mugello. The rumour mill is rampant pertaining to arrivals and departures for 2019. I have my expectations but no facts inked so I leave it their. Lorenzo's anticipated departure is something he orchestrated much the same way Iannone did at Ducati back then and as Iannone repeated with Suzuki. It all ended in the first year of the two year contract. In Iannone's case, his blow hot and cold work ethic and rum hot headed moves in a race. No one can can question Lorenzo's work ethic and professionalism. That is just a fact. His problems with Ducati heirarchy started at Sepang last year and again at Valencia (mapping 8). This year he took it to the same level at Jerez and Le Mans. Factories hate this because there are not just a riders, but also a manufacturer's title at stake. Can you imagine Colin Edwards holding Rossi up in 2006? What would Yamaha's reaction have been. Picture Pedrosa or Cruthlow duffing Marquez up a lap or two while Dovi streaks off into the distance after a stellar start for once. Pedrosa has been such a stellar performer for HRC in every way over the years. That is why they retained him. Situation current is that the Honda has been developed so far in Marc's direction with Michelin, I feel Mugello weekend will see Dani out of HRC contract for 2019. Petrux has probably cemented his promotion to factory after Jack stumbled. Jack will be on the GP19 along with Peco in PRAMAC D16 team with even more factory support. The jeers and boo's at Marc are disgusting. He really has set himself up at Honda like Casey did at Ducati back in the day and appears to be the only one that can extract the Honda's potential at any circuit in any condition. This of course dictates multiple saves and crashes. Who can conceivably replace Dani at HRC? Someone who can wring the Honda's neck and is prepared to do the unspeakable to get it there. Romantic dreams. Stoner return alongside Marquez. That will never happen. Stoner is too happy in his GP spiritual home at Ducati. Moto 2 bears watching. A great race. Peco and Joan gone next year to GP. 765 Triumph powerplant. I promised not to get ahead of myself and here I am speculating.. KTM's 4th seat in GP next year?

Total votes: 38

Great comments , enjoyed that ... But ianonne won on the duck as well,  as you'll no doubt now recall vividly.

Total votes: 33

  1. How a team can pay a rider millions of Euros a year and ignore his input. (JL)
  2. What was the tire selection/availabilty issue for this race that was a constraint (and is this a common condition?)
  3. How anyone who doesn't ride competitively or (at least) do track days can Boo a professional rider?
  4. Will additional riders adopt MM's hug-the-pavement lean riding style to save slides now that CC explained it so succintly?
  5. Where do all those fans buy those yellow smoke bombs!?
Total votes: 46

but you were so confident David :)

"Lorenzo's future lies with Yamaha again, in a Petronas-backed team organized with the Sepang International Circuit. But the details of that can wait for another day."

pretty sure JL's move to Honda caught many of us of guard, so dont feel too bad. 

Total votes: 39