Sunday Summary at Mugello: A Race to Remember Under the Tuscan Sun

06/02/2014 @ 6:14 am, by David Emmett9 COMMENTS

Sunday Summary at Mugello: A Race to Remember Under the Tuscan Sun Sunday Mugello Italian GP MotoGP Tony Goldsmith 06 635x422

One circuit, three races, all of them utterly different in nature. The wide, flowing layout with a long straight, fast corners, and multiple combinations of turns present very different challenges to Grand Prix racing’s three different classes.

For Moto3, escape is impossible, the race coming down to tactics and the ability to pick the right slipstream. In Moto2, it is possible to get away, but it’s equally possible to chase an escaped rider down.

And in MotoGP, the fast flicks make it possible to both defend attacks and launch your own counter-attacks. Mugello is a wonderful circuit, and it served up a spectacular portion of racing on Sunday.

We had expected Moto3 to be the race of the day, as it has been every Grand Prix this season. It certainly did not disappoint, but by the time the last few laps of the MotoGP race rolled around, we had forgotten all about Moto3.

The Moto3 race was fantastic entertainment, but the MotoGP race at Mugello was one for the ages. The kind of race that fans will bring up over and over again, one to go along with Barcelona 2009, Laguna Seca 2008, even Silverstone 1979.

It took the return of the real Jorge Lorenzo to light a fire under the MotoGP race. Lorenzo had been looking stronger and stronger all weekend, and was coming to a track where he has previously dominated, and with tires which, he had been told, were identical to last year.

Lorenzo’s punishing cardio workout schedule now back on track and paying dividends. The fitness he lost when three operations during the off season forced him to abandon his normal training schedule cost him dearly.

Lorenzo’s style looks effortless, but making it look effortless consumes a vast amount of strength and energy. Keeping the bike perfectly in line and sweeping majestically through corners requires constant tiny corrections and an iron grip on the bike.

The 2014 Bridgestone rear tire has a tendency to spin more easily, which creates a more nervous feel. Added to that the increased nervousness of the Yamaha on 20 liters of fuel, rather than the 21 liters of 2013, and that’s another factor upsetting the bike. Put all these things together, and they left Jorge Lorenzo struggling for breath, quite literally.

At Mugello, things started to slot into place for Lorenzo once again. Improved fitness was one of them – so much improved, that he had to have his leathers adjusted to fit his new, stronger body – but team manager Wilco Zeelenberg insisted it was much more than that.

Adjustments to the setup made the bike a little less nervous, a tire that gave him a better feeling at the hot, grippy track of Mugello than it had at circuits with cooler track temps, and revisions to the Yamaha that have greatly improved braking performance. Even the addition of 340mm brake discs helped, though it was much more in consistency than in performance.

All that, combined with his improved fitness, gave Lorenzo the edge he had been looking for. “The control which he has with the bike now is better,” Zeelenberg said. “In Le Mans and Jerez he had quite a good bike, but he could not push the whole race and control the bike the whole race.”

And what a race it provided. Lorenzo’s start was a little wild and uncontrolled – nearly running into Dani Pedrosa on one side, then running into San Donato very hot and pushing Cal Crutchlow wide.

It put him right behind Andrea Iannone, who had got off to a brilliant start, to the delight of the crowd. If there were any doubts left about Lorenzo’s intentions after his brutal start, he dispensed with them as he passed Iannone, barging through at Scarperia on the first lap.

From there, it looked to be a classic Lorenzo performance at Mugello, the Movistar Yamaha rider pushing hard to make a break. That proved impossible, with Marc Marquez soon slotting in behind Lorenzo after dispensing with a feisty Iannone.

For a long while it looked like we were in for another Marquez masterclass, with the championship leader waiting for his moment to strike. But the attack did not come. Marquez was having trouble just matching the pace of Lorenzo, especially on new tires.

The Repsol Honda man was also wary of his experience here last year, when he crashed out during the race. He had been cautious all weekend, and did not want to risk it all in the early laps trying to get past Lorenzo. As Lorenzo pushed, Marquez was starting to have trouble, the front tire threatening to fold on him in the middle of the race.

With seven laps to go, as the tires started to wear, Marquez started to close on Lorenzo, but once again, thoughts of 2013 clouded his mind. This was the same point at which he crashed out last year, just after passing Pedrosa and closing on Lorenzo, and he had no intention of that happening again.

“I had the same feeling as last year, the rear felt a bit light, so I was a bit careful,” Marquez said.

Not so careful he wasn’t prepared to attack, however. Marquez got the drive out of the final corner, and slid past along the straight. He had to work hard to get it stopped, though, as Lorenzo demonstrated just how much better the braking of the Yamaha M1 had become.

Lorenzo chased Marquez down and returned the favor at the end of the next lap, drafting past Marquez along the front straight. This time it was Lorenzo’s turn to run wide, Marquez slipping underneath, but Lorenzo would not be denied, retaking the lead a few corners later.

It was the opening salvos of what turned into a full scale war. For the rest of the race, Marquez and Lorenzo swapped blows and places, neither holding the upper hand. Marquez’s aggressive passing was returned with interest, Lorenzo showing the kind of fight he had not displayed since he was in the 250’s.

It is no secret that there is little love lost between the two Spaniards, and neither man was prepared to give the other any quarter. It made for a scintillating battle: hard, vicious, but entirely clean. Lorenzo made a couple of passes that drew admiration even from men wearing Honda shirts, and seemed set to break Marquez’s victory streak.

In the end, Marquez seized control, though it took him all he had. It took him “a great last lap,” Marquez said, but in the end, he prevailed. He passed Lorenzo on the straight going into the final lap, then held off the barrage of attacks that Lorenzo flung at him.

The right line out of the final corner, and he took victory, his sixth in a row, making it a clean sweep of poles and wins so far this season. It was an impressive win, but it was very much the toughest of the year.

In the end, the win had been down to a gearing change, Marquez explained. His crew had altered sixth gear to make it run a little longer, allowing him to use the slipstream to his advantage. That speed advantage allowed him to first draft past Lorenzo, and then hold him off along the final straight.

It served as a warning to Marquez, however. Barcelona is another track where Yamahas have done well, and Lorenzo has won the last two in a row. In two weeks’ time, Lorenzo will be even fitter, and put up even more of a fight.

The prospect of yet another head-to-head battle is a mouthwatering prospect. On the evidence of Mugello, the era of total Marquez dominance is over, with the Repsol Honda man having to fight all the way from now on. Of course, that doesn’t mean he will stop winning.

At Barcelona, the fearsome twosome could be joined by their factory teammates. Both Valentino Rossi and Dani Pedrosa had their problems at Mugello which left them just short of Marquez and Lorenzo. Rossi’s problems started during qualifying, and were compounded during warm up.

Electing to try to use the soft front tire during qualifying turned out to be a mistake, as it produced more chatter than grip, dropping Rossi down to 10th on the grid in a highly competitive session. A problem with the gearbox caused him to miss a good chunk of morning warm up, and meant he couldn’t test the set up change he had wanted to for the race.

Despite his difficulties, Rossi still had a very strong race. Two brilliant laps from the start put him up into 4th, and not far off Marquez. But he arrived on the back of Marquez just as the Spaniard got past Iannone, and dumping the Pramac Ducati rider between Marquez and Rossi.

Rossi took another lap to get past Iannone, the Italian putting up a titanic fight, but by the time he was truly clear, Marquez was nearly six tenths ahead. It was just a fraction too far for Rossi to grab a slipstream and run with Lorenzo and Marquez, and the pair slowly slipped out of his grasp. Rossi was forced to settle for third.

It was still an outstanding result for the Italian, and led to emotional scenes on the podium. For the first time since 2009, Rossi was on the podium at Mugello on merit, and the track soon filled with an adoring crowd to pay tribute.

The podium at Mugello, Rossi said, was “the most emotional moment of the season.” In previous years, Rossi was called to the podium by the fans after those who had taken the podium by right had departed. Those years – especially the Ducati years – were always bittersweet. Much of the bitterness was gone, though still there was remorse over a missed opportunity during qualifying.

Dani Pedrosa’s problems came not from qualifying, but from the surgery he had to cure arm pump after Jerez. The arm is taking longer to heal that Pedrosa had anticipated, making it hard for Pedrosa to ride as he wanted. That meant that he found it hard to get past the group he got stuck in, and when he did, he did not have the pace to match the front runners.

Pedrosa continues to struggle with the early part of the race, the team having switched strategies. Instead of trying to be fast early on and make a break, sacrificing pace at the end of the race, Pedrosa’s team have rejigged the bike to be faster later in the race, giving up the rocket start and fast early laps, which were always his trademark.

It may be time to change strategies, Pedrosa hinted. “It has been like this for six races,” he said.

Behind the top four, Pol Espargaro put in another solid performance to come home fifth. Espargaro was only partially satisfied, despite the fact that he was the first satellite machine and ahead of the Factory Ducati of Andrea Dovizioso. The younger Espargaro has made excellent progress in his first year, but is still lacking experience.

At Mugello, he found himself in trouble trying to follow both the Ducati of Andrea Iannone and the Honda of Dani Pedrosa, running in too deep and then being way too slow in the middle of the corner, the point at which the Yamaha is strongest. Trying to copy the styles of totally different bikes had made him “crazy,” he said. It was another valuable lesson in his rookie year.

The Ducatis had a mixed day of it, making inroads on their performance from last year, but unable to maintain the pace all race. Andrea Iannone elicited the biggest cheers from the crowd, as he led the way early on in the race.

He dropped down the field once his tire went off, eventually finishing in seventh, behind Andrea Dovizioso. Dovizioso was disappointed to be further back than he had hoped, his disappointment tempered only by the fact that they were over 3 seconds closer to the front than they were last year.

All of the Ducatis suffered grip problems, which Andrea Dovizioso put down to rubber laid down during the Moto2 race. It meant they didn’t have the grip they had expected, making turning the bike more difficult than expected. The new engine parts, giving more power at the top end, had clearly been useful in the early laps, but the underlying problem remains, which is turning the bike.

Cal Crutchlow was less fortunate than his teammate, but not nearly as unfortunate as LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl. Crutchlow had had an issue with his front tire, with the tire pressure rising much faster than the other Ducati riders, despite starting with the same pressure.

It mean the tire was rolling through corners, and eventually it caused him to lose the front and crash out. It was at a very unfortunate point, between Materassi and Borgo San Lorenzo, the bike coming back onto the track and taking out Bradl. That sent Bradl flying in a massive highside.

It was the second he had on Sunday, after a similarly huge crash during the warm up. Bradl was battered and bruised, but most of all relieved to come away without injury. Crutchlow had immediately apologized to Bradl for the incident, but there was not a lot he could do about it.

When the Moto3 race was done, we had not expected it to be bettered, the race turning into a classic Mugello slipstreaming battle. Romano Fenati came out top, following Alex Rins into the last corner and forcing the Spaniard to take the lead.

It is a rule set in stone that the Moto3 rider who leads out of Bucine on the last lap is not going to win, as he can expect to have a mass of riders slip past him. Rins was lucky that it was only Fenati and Isaac Viñales, the Estrella Galicia rider still taking third. The result was close, just 0.011 separating the top three, and Viñales taking second on the basis of having posted a faster lap.

The biggest loser in Moto3 was Jack Miller, the Australian pulling too aggressive a move at Correntaio on the last lap. He tried to over take too many riders in one go, to make up for being swamped earlier in the lap.

Unfortunately for Miller, Miguel Oliveira closed the line, leaving Miller nowhere to go. He stood the bike up, and as he did so he was hit by Alex Marquez, meaning that Miller, Marquez and Enea Bastianini all went down.

Miller was handed two penalty points for his sins, a situation with which he was absolutely furious, despite accepting full blame. It was a big blow to Miller, who sees his lead in the championship cut to just five points. But it was also a blow to Bastianini, the Italian having had an excellent race in his rookie year.

The Moto2 race, by comparison, was a bit of a snoozer, despite Tito Rabat’s fantastic recovery. He lost a lot of ground in the first couple of laps, but was soon hunting the two rookies, Jonas Folger and Luis Salom, down. There was an air of inevitability about Rabat’s victory, and the 25 points he scored allowed him to extend his lead over teammate Mika Kallio.

Despite the slight lull during Moto2, Mugello served up a fantastic day’s racing. The MotoGP race here promises much for the future, especially given that the next race is at Barcelona, a track with similar characteristics to Mugello. Every MotoGP fan in the world will have their fingers crossed for a repeat. Odds are good that they will get it.

Photo: © 2014 Tony Goldsmith / TGF Photos – All Rights Reserved

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.

Comment:

  1. Jimbo says:

    Thanks David, great summary as always. Think morally that race was Lorenzo’s. The honda is the better machine so to give the show he did is truely impressive.

    I was at Mugello in 2012 and the crowds reception for Lorenzo was very much one of boos. This year (at least what it seemed from the TV) he was met with huge cheers. A testament not only to his performance that race, but also to the maturing process he has gone through I think since Assen last year. I used to hate him (i am a commited VR/DP fan) but he has stopped being a little brat and really grown up. His face when he got of the bike in Assen last year (showing how much pain he was in) changed my opinon of him.

    Anyway i waffle. Great race want to see a four way battle for the front in two weeks!

  2. smiler says:

    Three best performances of the day, Ianone, Lorenzo, Rossi.

    Moto 3 was epic. Never bothered to watch before but seeing a swarm of angry bees racing round that circuit, lead changing, jossling for position and a near photo finish. Brilliant.

    Marquez was having trouble just matching the pace of Lorenzo, especially on new tires.
    In the end, Marquez seized control, though it took him all he had

    Hyperbole me thinks. MM qualified 0.25 secs faster than JL. When clear it took him no time to catch JL. There he sat for a number of laps with ease.

    When he did go past, JL was forced out of his usual and amazing consistency and gave chase. You could see however that JL was on the edge and the less than impressive MM was making mistakes. He made one again whilst behind JL. The repeated over run at the end of the straight into the first corner being one example.

    It seems the possibility of JL moving to Honda has disappeared so for the past 2 seasons and likely the next one, MM does not even have a competitor in his team. So it will either be Pedro yet again to maintain the Spanish team or Pol.

    Yamahaha clearly doing better are still the underdogs and weaker in top speed, fuel consumption and tyre wear. JL’s bike moving about more than MM’s at the end of the race.

    Also worth pointing out the level of competition in MotoGP for the pst two years is almost at an all time low. Before Doohan took his first title there were 3 manufactuers in the top 3, 4 factory Honda’s & Rainey, Schwantz, Beatie and Criville providing some real competition.

    Star of the day: Rossi yet again.

  3. Frank says:

    @ smiler – I think it’s a bit generous to say that Iannone had one of the best 3 performances of the day. It is a fun shake up that he gets his extra soft qualifying tire and seems to have mastered the tow during a QP hot lap in order to set one blazing fast lap and qualify on the front row. It was interesting that he chose to stay away from Marc this time round in qualifying after he nearly ran right into him trying to keep up in Le Mans Q2. Instead he stalked Rossi and Lorenzo for his two hot qualifying laps. It’s only a matter of time before a much less patient Lorenzo takes issue with Iannone’s admittedly smart tactics.

    And he did well to give some of the faster riders fits early in the race, battling hard even after he got passed. But in the end, he finished 7th and more notably Dovi caught him. Dovi knows the limits of his bike and refuses to ignore them. He saves his energy and almost always gains positions late in the race. That might be a quieter approach to the race as we usually never see the late battles in the middle of the pack, but he is racing with his head and maximizing his points given the state of the Ducati.

    And as you mentioned- MM did appear to have some trouble keeping up with JL’s pace at a few points in the race, but I think that is relative to what we all expected to see given the results of the previous races this season. Yes, it is true that it seemed to take everything from Marc to win the race but I think that this result is more ominous for the rest of the field than any other race so far this season. Mostly because Marc set his second fastest lap of the race on the last lap. You can look at that two ways- he was pushing the absolute limits to keep Jorge at bay and it took ‘everything that MM has’ for him to win. Well, are we then taking for granted that Jorge himself was not riding at the very edge to win the race…?? The other way to look at it, and why I think the result is so ominous – is that Marc had an extra bit left that Jorge didn’t. He had something more for him when he needed to have it. And he won. Part of me feels like maybe Marc is revelling in the opportunity to battle with another world class rider and knows that providing a great show for the audience is part of the gig. And then, when he needs to go to that next level to win, he does. I kept waiting for Jorge to dive up under him on the last lap, and he really just wasn’t close enough to do so. Great battle for sure. Marc had more for him. He has mentioned that he regrets the races are ‘boring’ for the fans when he runs away from the field. Are we seeing Marc approach his races as Rossi used to? Toying with his opponents and then breaking them when he decides to?

    He for sure hasn’t broken Lorenzo and JL will be back for more at every race this season. He seems happy again. Seeing him smile in the press conference was great. And the fact that he is no longer taking issue with the close racing tells me that we will see him happily dish it with Marc for the rest of the season. That was some excellent control displayed by both riders. Hard, viscous racing but clean the whole way.

    Such a high level of skill to race like that and smiler, if you really feel like the level of MotoGP is at an all time low then maybe it has something to do with the fact that you think Iannone had one of the best performances of the weekend. You don’t like Marquez. That is clear. By taking him out of the equation it probably does indeed make it easier to believe that the level of competition in GP is at an all time low. But that would be to completely refuse to believe the new level of moto racing that we have arrived at in GP. The ascendancy of Marc Marquez and his ragged, physics-defying riding style is a joyous phenomenon. If you could just overcome your ambivalence towards him you would probably be able to find more pleasure in watching MotoGP. You don’t need to like him, but if you simply stop dismissing his performances you might be a happier person on Sundays. Just a thought.

    And yeah – I think Rossi deserved the podium and I am not one to put JL ahead of him given one single performace. Putting Lorenzo’s recent history at Mugello into context, a not so distant 3rd for Rossi is not a bad result. So many will be quick to jump to conclusions about the rest of the season. ‘Jorge’s BACK and Rossi is washed up!’ So silly. Just a week ago Jorge was ‘lost’ and Rossi was the ‘best of the rest.’

  4. Alclab says:

    Excellent review of the race weekend! perfectly described what we saw on our screens and had us screaming, griping our seats and jumping in emotion, to any motorsport fan, let alone motorcycling, it was a hell of an event, one that I will remember very fondly for years to come as one the best (if not THE best) race I’ve ever seen!

    It was sucha a joy, that after such a bad start of the season, Lorenzo showed that MM93 is not unbeatable, that he has the level to challenge him and to see such sportmanship and recognition of a rival that gave everything just as they themselves did.

    One can only hope the rivalry and the championship keeps on giving us these kind of races (catalunya should be one of them!). In an age where Formula 1 has become so boring, with tyre management, fuel saving, one brand dominating and no significant battles and overtakes, MotoGP just continues to blows my mind and provide such a great spectacle!

    Great job to Marquez and Honda, but specially Lorenzo and Yamaha for taking the battle to Honda instead of giving up, we all knew it could be done and they proved it admirably!

    The mind wonders with the kind of racing we may see ahead…

  5. Alclab says:

    @Frank:

    I have to completely agree with what you say about Marquez. Sure enough no one likes to see a single rider dominating the whole season, but watching Marquez is such a spectacle. His style has permeated to other riders, he has raised the bar so high it shouws on the championship and is setting a new standard. As the other riders catch up to him and reach that “new bar” we will be treated to some excellent racing and motorcycle riding.

  6. Jw says:

    Best performance of the day goes to MM. MM won the race without any problems, if there was a problem he would have lost the race. Who cares about race pace when in the end MM won. Beating the rider who won the last 3 speaks volumes.

  7. HateUK says:

    I thought the MotoGP race was good, then I watched the Moto3 race. Oh the anguished cries from the English commentators as their orgasmic excitement turned to despair. Champagne comedy.

  8. L2C says:

    Best performance of the day definitely goes to Romano Fenati. He’s an Italian who won the Italian Grand Prix for an Italian team. Can’t get any better than that, except his performance was better than that. Fenati gave a world class performance on Sunday. He was graceful right to the win.

  9. Jw says:

    Yes L2C you are correct for the race day, I meant my remarks to be for the big class. and I agree Fenati was the race to watch