Mugello MotoGP Friday Round Up: Rookie Revolution, Marquez Gets His Tires, And Ducati's Funky New Aero

And so the rookies conquered Mugello. After a motley crew topped the timesheets in the morning – Marc Márquez taking top spot, ahead of the Ducatis of Danilo Petrucci and Michele Pirro (Ducati's test rider, who is rapidly closing on a light year or so of laps around Mugello, and is immediately up to speed), followed by Fabio Quartararo, Aleix Espargaro, and Jack Miller – the rookies shone in the afternoon. Pecco Bagnaia sat atop the timesheets after FP2, fractionally ahead (0.046 seconds, ironically) of Fabio Quartararo, with Danilo Petrucci taking third, the first of the veterans to cross the line.

For Quartararo to head the timesheets is not much of a surprise. The Petronas Yamaha SRT rider has consistently been fast, already having a pole and a fastest race lap to his name. But Bagnaia's name was something of a surprise. The Italian had been heavily tipped before the start of the season, but once racing got underway, he had slowly slipped back into obscurity. That is part of the learning process, figuring out what you need from the bike at each track, learning from your crew how to get the best out of your package, understanding how the bike behaves in a variety of conditions.

Bagnaia and his Pramac Ducati team had made a big step forward at Le Mans, the Italian said. And the lessons learned had been a big help at Mugello. "The nice thing was that I did not push so much," the Italian said on Friday afternoon. "The time came easier compared to other races and I’m really happy about that. I think the key was the work we made in Le Mans. Now we have something I wanted in the front and I think it will be easier to start in every circuit."

Home crowd help

The location helped too. Being in Italy, on a Ducati, at Mugello, as a VR46 Academy rider, it meant he had enormous support from the crowd. "The power and the energy of the people here push us a lot," Bagnaia said. "It is very nice to ride here. It is an amazing track, very fast and I really like it – more with the MotoGP – but we have to continue working in this direction for tomorrow. I think we are very close to finding my base to be constant in every session."

It is less of a surprise for Fabio Quartararo to be at the front, though the Frenchman was blown away by the sensation of speed at Mugello. The front straight at Mugello is fast on any bike: last year, the Moto2 machines were hitting over 290 km/h; on Friday afternoon, Nicolo Bulega hit 300.6 km/h on his Triumph-powered Kalex Moto2 machine, "a 100 km/h per cylinder" being the phrase bandied about among the Triumph staff at the track.

On Friday afternoon, Quartararo hit 337 km/h, quite a shock to the system. "Incredible!" he smiled. "This morning, the first lap on corner one was amazing. It is the first time I feel this on a MotoGP motorcycle. The feeling in the stomach and everything was crazy!"

Being at the front previously had given Quartararo a little more perspective on the whole situation. "I think everybody was with the soft tire, if I am not wrong, and the times were good," he explained. "We still need to see which part of the bike to improve and which part of the track there are still margins but I am happy about today because the lap time was fast and our pace is not so bad also."

Viva la revolucion?

Is this a revolution in the making, a new wave of talent crashing down upon the grid, ready to sweep the old order away? Fabio Quartararo once again tried to restore some perspective. "I think Pecco has done some laps here in Mugello with the VR46 Academy so, yes, I think this track is more smooth and the riding style does not change so much from Moto2."

Andrea Dovizioso explained why rookies like Bagnaia and Quartararo found it easy to be fast at Mugello. "For sure they have a big talent," the factory Ducati rider pointed out. "But I think it’s clear the reason why they’re fast here. You have to be smooth and fast in the middle of the corners; you don’t have to cut the middle of the corners like every MotoGP rider. For them it’s easier to go in that way. Maybe that’s reason why at some other tracks they weren’t fast like us. So this is the biggest reason. But for sure they don’t have a lot of experience so race-by-race they become stronger and stronger."

Dovizioso's point, which Quartararo endorsed, was that the riding style needed to go fast at Mugello is very similar to the style needed to succeed in Moto2. With relatively limited horsepower and acceleration, the key to going fast on a Moto2 machine is to brake early, release the brakes, and carry as much corner speed as possible, before accelerating on the edge of the tire. A MotoGP bike needs a different approach: braking late and deep into the corner, getting the bike stopped and turned, before getting the bike up on the fat part of the tire as quickly as possible so you can use the acceleration and horsepower of the 1000cc engine.

But at Mugello, with its long sweeping corners, the key to success is carrying corner speed and easing on the gas with the bike still at full lean. That is a far more natural style for a Moto2 rider, meaning they have much less to unlearn, and can rely on the instincts developed in the intermediate class.

Transition faster

This is also, perhaps, why Quartararo has made such an impact in MotoGP, much like Johann Zarco did when he first moved up to MotoGP back in 2017. The natural style of the Yamaha M1 is to carry corner speed and use the combination of agility and stability to good advantage. The Yamaha rewards braking early and releasing the brakes, and holding speed throughout the corner. It is, indeed, part of the issue the M1 has had since the switch to Michelin tires, as the Yamaha spends more time on the edge of the tire than most other bikes, using up edge grip more quickly.

But as Dovizioso said, "For sure they have a big talent." Riding a Yamaha may have made Fabio Quartararo's transition easier, but the Frenchman still finished ahead of Maverick Viñales (3 years in MotoGP, 5 victories), Franco Morbidelli (2 years in MotoGP), and Valentino Rossi (20 years in MotoGP, 89 victories). None of the other riders on a Yamaha went into the first day of practice at Mugello thinking they would give Quartararo an easy ride because he is a rookie. Everyone is flat out, pushing as hard as possible. Yet they all still finished behind the rookie Quartararo, who in turn finished behind the rookie Pecco Bagnaia.

Sick boy

Of course, it is only Friday, and there is still a lot of practice left to be done. Marc Márquez' position on the timesheets may only be a modest sixth place, but that belies the Spaniard's pace. The Repsol Honda rider set his fastest time on a soft rear tire, but it was at the start of a race run, rather than chasing a fast lap. The rest of the field, all the way down to Michele Pirro in thirteenth, had used a fresh set of tires in pursuit of a spot in Q2.

Márquez' choice was down to two factors. The main one being that he was still rather ill, having picked up the 'flu before the start of the weekend. "Today, we need to consider that we were not 100% with the setup, but I was also not at 100%," Márquez said. "I was riding in a strange way. I wasn't concentrated 100%, because I was sick, and it was difficult to understand everything."

Posting a quick lap while sick was not that difficult, as instinct takes over. The problem, Márquez explained, is that you quickly lose concentration. "When your physical condition is not 100% on the bike, especially when you have fever, you are able to be fast, because you have this instinct," he explained. "But the way to understand the bike, the way to concentrate, they way to be constant, is difficult. I'm a rider who can do all the laps at 100%, but today I just did some laps at 100%, then I slowed down to 80%, because I felt like my reactions and everything was slower than normal. Then it becomes dangerous, so experience says to slow down a little bit, it's only Friday, and tomorrow we will try to push in a different way, and it looks like the good thing is it's getting better already. Yesterday was the worst day, and today it was getting better, but it needs time."

Right rubber

Mugello has always been a difficult track for the Hondas, the bikes suffering with the front end. Last year, the tires Michelin brought did the Hondas no favors, suiting the other bikes far better. This year, though, neither Cal Crutchlow nor Marc Márquez felt there was any reason to complain.

"This year, the front tire allocation is better," Márquez said. "Michelin needs to cover everything, but in for me, my personal opinion, I would like another, harder tire in the front. But they brought this new tire, they call it 'S', that's not bad, it's not bad. But it's a little bit on the soft side. With the medium, we don't have graining, we had a lot of graining on the medium last year, and then it becomes dangerous. This year we don't have graining. It's softer, but like I said in Le Mans, we can also manage in a different way. Today we were able to manage, so tomorrow we will try to help this kind of tires with the setup."

Ducati land

The bikes which Márquez has to beat are the Ducatis, of course. Danilo Petrucci was fast throughout the day, but like Márquez, is suffering with the 'flu, so to finish top three in both practices was a bonus. Andrea Dovizioso missed out on Q2, though he has another chance on Saturday morning. Dovizioso is missing feeling from the front tire, he said, which meant he was less than happy.

"The lap time is faster than last year, but for everybody unfortunately," Dovizioso said. "Like we expected the competitors are a bit stronger than last year. We are quite fast and better than what the classification shows. I don’t have the feeling I want. So the situation is not bad but I’m not happy. The base is not how I want. I cannot ride like I want. We have to improve. We tried a different set-up in the afternoon and it was a big step. We found some positive things but the package is still not good enough. We have to find something and we have to see tomorrow morning if we can mix some of the things from the two set-ups. I’m struggling with the bike and not riding in the way I want. Not too bad, but we have the hardest practice tomorrow morning, then the race to be in the top ten."

Dovizioso is still looking for a better feeling on the front, he said, as well as some stability in changes of direction."Still I don’t have the perfect feeling on the front. This morning the conditions were quite bad compared to the afternoon. In the afternoon I felt better. But still the change of the direction, I’m not good at all. The connection with the rear when I enter the corners is not stable enough. I’m struggling but like I say, the lap time at the beginning was good. If we compare the pace we are there. But I am focused on my feeling more than the lap time."

Aero rules

Paolo Ciabatti had promised that Ducati would bring something to Mugello to help the riders on the Desmosedici GP19s to hold off the challenge of Márquez. And so a crowd gathered outside test rider Michele Pirro's garage on Friday morning, to see what Gigi Dall'Igna had cooked up. What he came up with was this, wheel covers over the rear wheel:


A better look at Ducati's rear wheel cover #ItalianGP #MotoGP #Ducati #Mugello

A post shared by David Emmett (@motomatters) on

What do these rear wheel covers do? They bear more than a passing resemblance to the front wheel covers, and almost certainly play a similar role. The front wheel covers smooth the air from the front of the bike, removing the turbulence created by the spokes spinning in the wheel. That smoother air sticks to the lower fairing, and helps feed the swingarm spoiler, which does whatever it does. The addition of these wheel covers reduces turbulence at the rear as well as the front, taking the air off the lower fairing and moving it past the bike with as little disturbance as possible.

The idea is to reduce drag, and thereby increase to speed. That they brought this update to Mugello, with its 350 km/h straight (a feature of the next race in Barcelona as well) is hardly surprising. The aerodynamic benefits increase with the square of the speed, and so small gains are amplified at the very high speeds the bikes are doing. And Ducati is taking aerodynamics very seriously, as witnessed by the special exhibition at the Ducati Museum on the subject.

Test rider Michele Pirro was the only rider to try them on Friday, and was coy when asked about them, speaking only of the difficulty in discerning details. Andrea Dovizioso said there was no plan for him to try them on Saturday, but that is something we have heard before. We will see if they make an appearance on another bike – Jack Miller, perhaps, or else Danilo Petrucci – and whether Dovizioso gives them a whirl on Sunday morning.

Whether they work or not, Gigi Dall'Igna has once again given his rivals something to think about. MotoGP never sleeps. Especially not at Mugello.

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Loving the satellite teams and Rookies this season. Talk now is less aero, and more chassis character. Rear wheel cover aside ("can we make it more ugly?") 2019 vs 2018 Ducati chassis is certainly interesting noodle right now, just as the Honda has been. Yamaha looks to have a stiff Bstone remnant. Suzuki may be ready to replicate the Honda carbon fiber overlay or some such measure to tune their softer frame further to varied tracks, tires, and even Q. Apparently KTM went carbon fiber swingarm to get chassis help, and P.Espargaro was so pleased with it that he asked to race it immediately after trying it out. And lo and behold, look at him continuing his good step forward. And, w the 2018 Duc, our Bagnaia has awoken!

(Feel free to skip the negativity paragraph. Some other Italian factory may also be out there on their underpowered not so reliable Supersuperbike w new wings after 2 yrs, 1 pink/1 yellow and 2 for some previously promising Italian rider that appears to be considering WSBK seats vs brief stints selling condoms, cheesy clothing and calendars? Eh, yep. Suppose that is the Aprilia update for now. But nice Suzuki-like chassis. Speaking of chassis and Ducati, given that well funded son Abraham is on about the same bike as Bagnaia, have we finally reached the end of the line there? Is anyone going to say that they wish for the Avintia stragglers to remain rather than a new outfit? A certain Gresini is eyeing a Suzuki 2nd team. Zook FINALLY reorganized to have the racing team financially autonomous so the kid can finally move out of their basement. Hats off to Avintia, but anyone else saying YES PLEASE?). Next up, major factory sponsor.

Love the Pramac Yellow, like last yr. So much black though?! We need more of that on GP bikes right now like we need headlight stickers. Pramac has made the best livery improvements this year in my opinion. But black, schmack

Can anyone confirm the exact chassis that our kid Quartararo is on? Brick Top quoted (Neil Spalding, or was it Morrison?) as saying it was a Zarco/Tech3 2016 parts bin special. Everyone else, including official press releases from mid Feb until a month ago said 2019. Lower series forks. 500 less rpm's. Quartararo is doing the business consistently, despite inconsistencies (yes, think three times). Yamaha is surely looking at upping his kit as per the usual manner, starting w engine tune and revs. Likely forks.

Much talk and consideration of Miller vs Pettucci of course. Here comes Bagnaia finally. Surely Quartararo is rising into #46 seat contention before our eyes. Of course the weightiness and emotional charge of Vale exiting the track towards managing a Sky46/Yamaha/_____ team has us hesitant to speak up. The new SIC/Petronas garage w the 2019 bike is exceeding ALL expectations such that it is decreasingly of issue to get on the factory squad. Right Zarco? A bit of a vacuum follows Vinales' showing. Quartararo is in that draft. What is happening on track and off is shaping a more immediate future at Yamaha. We will soon be hearing of the Euro test team doings w Folger, and can expect mid season updates in addition to the unseen electronics and setup work underway. Softer "less al dente" chassis?

Lorenzo may still be coming forth tomorrow. Marquez either ate Suzuki Mitsubishi cooked meats again (24hrs) or has a flu bug (48+hrs), and isn't at his best...will be well ish Sun. He continues his shift to more measured riding. Menacingly continuing focus on race pace work early. Not ruling him out as per usual. Of winning, of riding calmly again, or even of crashing out while chasing and swapping spots.

Yes Mugello favors Moto2 style, but don't also underappreciate the relevance of a rider feeling the experience of success on a bike. Belief after experience, not before, is real. My favorite example was when Marc started from the back of the grid in Moto2 and ran the whole grid to win. He knew. So did we. Alien. Not saying Bagnaia is comparable at this time, but this FP may well signal his moment of arrival on the scene. Nice to see you Buddy! (Dovi, see if he has a bit to share w you too?).

Pol Espargaro's interview at the end of the day was revealing re the KTM. He says the main focus now is on grip and feel from the rear after turn in at brake release. Chassis. Not just swingarm. And he thinks the new engine is way ahead of Yamaha and approaching Ducati in grunt (no mention of Suzuki since they took last weekend as a bogey). Asked does he feel the benefit of the carbon fibre swingarm here as he did at
LeMans? “At this race I don't think we are gaining as much before with it,” he said. “We need much more info with the one we have for these kinds of places where the speed is so high and there are small bumps the carbon swingarm is more reactive, more aggressive.

“When you have a small shaking it becomes more aggressive and we need to improve that more for tomorrow.

“This is one of our main problems for tomorrow but we knew we’d be testing all the new stuff that is coming during the race weekends so it can happen that you arrive in one place and you have some problems that you don't expect and you need to improve.”

And the engine? “I’m pleased with it,” he said. “In Le Mans it was good and fast on the straight, maybe not in second or third gear like the Honda during the weekend but closer to the Ducati and better than Yamaha which was nice.

“Today I have overtaken Valentino like he had stopped – I felt a little bit bad because their bike is not so fast on the straight – and our bike is going super good there. I’m happy. It is what you need here: a fast bike that is also fast in the corner”

Where does KTM go next? “We still have a problem where we release the brakes. For example Petrucci overtook me in the last race, Morbidelli tried many times and I was hitting him, also Valentino in exactly the same corner.

“It is with the way to release brakes and they are all turning a bit better than me. If we don't have a good grip on the rear we cannot turn with it. So, we are still not amazing there and in second and third gear we need to have some more power.”

Would much prefer to hear "Rins gets his tires." Or Dovi. And then that Yamaha makes that tire work with their midseason updates. Marc "getting his tire" is something we need like another black bike with a set of headlight, tail light, indicator signal, and side reflector stickers. Love the kid, but with Dovi uncomfortable and Rins in a sag, Marquez may be challenging the front Sunday at a bogey track at which he was struggling with influenza. Damn tires.

I also recall hearing on the race commentary (most likely Simon Crafer) that Pol was running an engine update at Le Mans in addition to the new swing arm and now at Mugello Zarco also has the engine updates. 

Saturday is fine & warm. Enjoying the vibe at autodromo Mugello. Not the doof door "music" or the smoke flares.

KTM or at least Pol Espargaro going very well. I am impressed!

Don't care how ugly the Ducati aero is if they can do the business. Imagine the bedlam if Dovizioso gets a good result, double that if Petrucci does well. Judging by the reactions in tribuna Ducati if Pecco Bagnaia has a good race half of Italy will fall in love!

Aprilia underachieving again, on the track at least. Disappointing for A Espargaro. The maniac burning bridges because he thinks he is hot & wants to get hotter?

Go Fan Q awesome performance for a rookie! What's wrong with the M1 again?

Qualifying should be fun.

Saturday is fine & warm. Enjoying the vibe at autodromo Mugello. Not the doof door "music" or the smoke flares.

KTM or at least Pol Espargaro going very well. I am impressed!

Don't care how ugly the Ducati aero is if they can do the business. Imagine the bedlam if Dovizioso gets a good result, double that if Petrucci does well. Judging by the reactions in tribuna Ducati if Pecco Bagnaia has a good race half of Italy will fall in love!

Aprilia underachieving again, on the track at least. Disappointing for A Espargaro. The maniac burning bridges because he thinks he is hot & wants to get hotter?

Go Fan Q awesome performance for a rookie! What's wrong with the M1 again?

Qualifying should be fun.