With three weekends away from racing, MotoGP's walking wounded have had time to rest and recover, and prepare for a return to racing. At Mugello, there should be 21 of the 22 full-time riders on the grid, and, barring ill fortune and more injuries, a full grid at either the Sachsenring or Assen.
To start with the one certainty, GasGas and the Tech3 team have confirmed that Pol Espargaro will not race at Mugello this weekend. Espargaro is still in the long process of recovering from the harsh injuries sustained in a crash during practice for the first MotoGP round of 2023 at Portimão.
Espargaro had hoped to be fit for the start of the Mugello-Sachsenring-Assen triple header, but received medical advice to miss the Italian Grand Prix. The Spaniard still has some swelling around the vertebrae he injured in the crash in Portugal, so he is waiting for that to recede before racing again.
Enea Bastianini is the next best thing to a sure thing. The factory Ducati rider attempted to return from the broken scapula he suffered in Portimão at Jerez, but his shoulder was still painful. He missed Le Mans, but with an additional five weeks to recover, he is expected to be fit for the Italian Grand Prix. Bastianini has been riding a Panigale V4 at Mugello, and is, though he will still face a fitness test on Thursday.
The RNF Aprilia team also expects to be back to full capacity. Raul Fernandez attempted to ride at Le Mans after arm pump surgery post Jerez, but that proved impossible. Fernandez should be fully fit and ready to ride in Italy. Given that arm pump has been a difficult issue for him since his switch to Aprilia, he will be hoping this removes the physical limitations which have prevented him from achieving his potential.
Miguel Oliveira will also be back, the Portuguese rider recovering from a shoulder injury sustained in a first-lap incident with Fabio Quartararo and Marco Bezzecchi during the sprint race at Jerez. That damaged the cartilage in his shoulder, which kept him out of Le Mans. Oliveira is, by his own admission, still not fully fit, but he hopes to be strong enough to race at Mugello. Oliveira also faces a fitness test on Thursday.
Even if Oliveira is passed fit, however, he faces a long road to recovery. Cartilage damage can take a long time to repair without surgery, and the Portuguese rider has opted not to have an operation as it would put him out of action until after the summer break. Just how capable of competing he will be at Mugello is another question altogether.
That makes Pol Espargaro's decision not to race look all the more sensible. With swelling around a slowly healing vertebra, another injury to the same location could be very bad indeed. But MotoGP riders face enormous pressure to come back to racing as soon as possible, not least from their own drive and ambition. The lesson of Marc Marquez, however, is that can easily go horribly wrong.
The GasGas Tech3 press release on Pol Espargaro appears below:
Pol Espargaro very close to MotoGP™ return
GASGAS Factory Racing Tech3 are anxious to welcome back Pol Espargaro to the MotoGP fray, but the crew will have to wait a little longer as the 31-year-old is still ‘on-hold’ to climb aboard the RC16 for this weekend’s Gran Premio d’Italia Oakley.
Pol has been rehabbing since his fall during the practice and quali program for the 2023 season-opener at the Algarve International Circuit in Portugal in March. The Spaniard needed to recover principally from a back injury but has been full gas to return to shape. The initial target was to re-join the team and the MotoGP grid at Mugello for round six this weekend but Pol still has a small edema issue around his vertebrae that needs treatment.
Both the rider, the team and the GASGAS factory are hopeful that the #44 will appear from a Grand Prix pitlane in the coming weeks as the date in Italy is immediately followed by a journey to Sachsenring for the Liqui Moly Motorrad Grand Prix Deutschland and then the TT Circuit Assen for the Motul TT Assen for a MotoGP ‘triple header’ before a sustained summer break in the schedule.
In the meantime, Pol’s teammate and star rookie Augusto Fernandez will be accompanied in Italy by Jonas Folger once more. The German rolled out for MotoGP action in the USA, Spain and France and will make his fourth appearance ‘in red’ this season around the fast and scenic curves of Mugello.
Pol Espargaro #44: “I was really looking forward to getting back on my bike but, as I said from the beginning, the final decision would be made for me by the doctors and they asked me to wait a few more days. My original plan was to return for one of these next three races before the summer break and this continues to be the idea. The most important thing is to be physically ready, and this call means I have a few more days to keep working at home and arrive in the best form possible and as soon as possible. I’m feeling really good and I’m really motivated. I hope to see the team and everyone in the sport, and for sure the fans, as soon as I can.”