The third practice session for the premier class was a slow cooker with a soap opera climax. Ten minutes it, it was business as usual, with a flu-ridden Marc Marquez attacking the combined timesheets and waiting for challengers. And he found an unusual one in Takaaki Nakagami, the LCR man flying in sector 3 on his way to the top of the timesheets. Mid session entertainment was provided by Fabio Quartararo who was keen to grab some headlines but all his good work was forgotten as fresh soft rubber hit the track for the final ten minutes.
Another warm morning in Mugello and with no worries about the weather the lightweight class really took its time to warm up the timesheets. It wasn’t until halfway through the session that Aron Canet bettered Friday’s best time and left the opposition with over half a second to find. And again, they were not in much of a hurry until the final couple of minutes kickstarted the assault for direct Q2 positions.
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.
The final session of the day was more of a post-credits scene than a dramatic climax as the intermediate class was in no hurry to improve on their morning benchmarks but eventually they got the job done. The fastest man of the day ended up being Luca Marini, the Italian leading both Friday sessions, this time by only eight thousandths of a second from Tom Luthi – with both riders dropping down into the 1:51s. Mattia Pasini also led the way for a significant amount of time before the veteran Moto2 rider settled for third, this weekend back on the Petronas machine.
Action was hotting up on Friday afternoon and it wasn’t just down to the lovely weather that Mugello has been spoiling us with. It was business as usual for much of the session, Marc Marquez setting camp at the top of the timesheets until an early shootout ensued for the final five minutes. That was when Pramac’s new Lamborghini livery stole the limelight not just because it’s pretty cool looking but also because rookie Pecco Bagnaia attacked the top of the timesheets and finished the day as the fastest man on track.
The second outing of the day ended in a bit of a shootout for the lightweight class and the improved conditions mixed with new rubber and copious amounts of slipstream turned the classification on his head somewhat. Regardless, the SIC58 squad continued to show strong form, following up on Niccolo Antonelli’s top performance in FP1 with Tatsuki Suzuki’s name in the lead this time around.
Resplendent Mugello welcomed the intermediate class for the final FP1 session and it was a prolific playground for many of the usual contenders. Alex Marquez was an early leader, riding the wave of his victory in Le Mans but eventually it was Luca Marini’s turn to save homeland honour and lead the way in the morning session by four hundredths of a second. Compatriot Fabio di Giannantonio joined the top three, while Tom Luthi slowly snuck his way into the top positions.
It was perfect conditions in a perfect setting to ride a bike in Italy and Honda laid down the gauntlet in Ducati territory by helping Marc Marquez rodeo his way to the top of the timesheets. The first challenger from the red corner was Danilo Petrucci, the Italian making a late jump into second position, but it was Michele Pirro who proved once again that he’s more than Ducati’s guinea pig.
It was a glorious welcome to the Tuscan hills for the world championship and the lightweight class were the first to clear away the cobwebs. They did a reasonably good job too, with few off track excursions and plenty of the usual suspects crowding the top of the timesheets. To the delight of the locals, it was an Italian taking the first headline of the day, Jerez winner Niccolo Antonelli back into the limelight after an unfortunate weekend in France. Gabriel Rodrigo led the way for a while before getting demoted to second by a tenth of a second, ahead of Le Mans victor John McPhee.
"Mugello is a fantastic track," Valentino Rossi told the pre-event press conference at Mugello, a sentiment echoed by every single rider and just about everyone in the paddock. "When you ride the feeling is great." It really is a magical place, and a magical experience.
But it is not without its dangers, chief among them the brow of the hill the riders take at over 350 km/h just before they have to brake. "It's also an old style track," Rossi said "So in some points it's also dangerous because you are very fast, not a lot of space around and the braking for the first corner is at the limit. It's very good to ride, but if you arrive at 340 or 350 km/h, it starts to be dangerous because of the jump, the hill. So maybe we have to modify a little bit, but I think it's not very easy. Maybe we try to arrive at little bit slower. Or we try to cut a little bit the jump and make it a bit more flat, if it’s possible."
It is a constant topic in the Safety Commission, where the riders meet with FIM and Dorna officials to discuss how to make the racing safer and better. Marc Márquez explained that the end of the straight, where the track snakes right and left up a slight incline, until reaching the brow of the hill before plunging down towards San Donato, the first corner, was something under continuous discussion. The wall on the left is too close, the crest itself is dangerous, and speeds generally are very high at that point of the track.