Sunday Summary at Mugello: Lorenzo’s Persistence, Cruchlow’s Fierceness, & Honda’s Hidden Weakness

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Qualifying doesn’t tell you the whole story. Which is a good thing, as otherwise they could just hand out the trophies after qualifying and be done with it. A lot of things change in the 24 hours between qualifying and the race – weather, temperature, set up – but most of all, qualifying is just a couple of laps, while the race means spending a long time on the track. Mugello turned out to be a perfect example of this.

Dani Pedrosa had been getting faster every session, especially as the temperatures rose and the grip of the track improved. The Repsol Honda man blasted to pole, just pipping Jorge Lorenzo at the end of qualifying and setting a new lap record in the process. With race day looking warmer, and the track cleaning up every session, Pedrosa looked the hot favorite to dominate at the Italian track.

It turned out Pedrosa had been bluffing. He and his team had worked out early on that the new tires Bridgestone had brought did not quite work for them. “We have a modified shoulder on the rear, so at this track with this tire, we couldn’t really get the grip.

You are a long time on the edge on this track, so I couldn’t really open well, and get drive out of corners,” Pedrosa told the press conference after finishing second to Jorge Lorenzo.

Lorenzo’s victory had been hard to predict from his qualifying performance, the Yamaha man going well, but seemingly easily outdone by Pedrosa once the Repsol rider was up to speed. On Sunday morning, Lorenzo showed some of his true colors, laying down a punishing pace which boded well for the race.

Once the flag dropped, Lorenzo was away, and after a move on Pedrosa he himself branded as ‘too aggressive’, he led the trio at the head of the championship as they pulled a gap on the chasing riders.

It looked for 10 laps like we might get a repeat of Brno 2012, with Pedrosa sticking right on Lorenzo’s tail throughout. But unseen to the spectators, two factors were at play: Jorge Lorenzo’s fuel tank was emptying, and Dani Pedrosa’s tires were wearing. The gap which Lorenzo opened up on lap 13 was a combination of both factors.

Pedrosa started losing edge grip and was struggling to follow, while Lorenzo, who had been holding back while waiting for the fuel load to drop, upped the pace to put pressure on Pedrosa. Within a couple of laps, the race was done, and Lorenzo went on to take his second imperious victory of the season.

The key to Lorenzo’s – and indeed Cal Crutchlow’s – race is the design of the Yamaha fuel tank. They have moved their tank further back and a fraction lower to create more stability on the brakes.

While the top section of the tank – in reality a large, oddly-shaped fuel cell which sits largely under the seat – still contains fuel, the bike needs to be handled with care, but once the fuel falls under a certain level, the Yamaha M1 is transformed.

The fuel tank is the biggest difference between the factory and the satellite machines, and one of the reasons why Crutchlow struggles a little more in the first few laps than Lorenzo does.

Crutchlow was in the same boat as Lorenzo. He had to wait for the fuel load to drop before he could really start to push on. He had also been hampered at the start by Andrea Dovizioso, as the Italian had had a huge moment at the start with failing electronics on his Ducati GP13.

For whatever reason, the anti-wheelie system had failed to kick in on Dovizioso’s Desmosedici, and when he pulled off the line, the bike tried to rear up very fast. The Italian had had trouble controlling the ensuing wheelie, and had nearly hit Crutchlow in the process.

Once he had got past Dovizioso and the halfway mark had been passed, Crutchlow started chasing down Pedrosa, and looked like he might have gotten close. But Pedrosa upped his pace after Marc Marquez crashed out, and Crutchlow settled for the podium, rather than risk it all to get second.

The man who made Crutchlow’s podium possible – though Crutchlow would argue that this is not the case – had a pretty remarkable race. Marc Marquez set a new lap record early in the race, and was chasing Lorenzo after he got by his teammate. But his race weekend ended in the gravel, when he lost both wheels simultaneously at the downhill right hander of Savelli.

Just why he had crashed was a mystery to Marquez, as when he and his crew examined the data, they saw that both speed and lean angle at the time of the crash had been identical to the lap before. This is perhaps a lesson in tire management, with Marquez lacking the experience to recognize the symptoms of a rapidly fading Bridgestone tire.

That Marquez was even riding was frankly remarkable, given his very high speed off on Friday afternoon. That crash was the fastest ever in Grand Prix racing, Marquez losing the front at 340 km/h, and laying the bike down at the thick end of 300 km/h.

A cracked bone in his arm, a huge bruise on his leg, and a badly swollen chin – arguments raged in the paddock over whether Marquez looked most like Michael Schumacher, Jay Leno or Bruce Forsyth – meant that Marquez should not have been capable of running at the front, yet he not only chased Lorenzo and Pedrosa, he stuffed it past Pedrosa and was chasing Jorge Lorenzo.

This won’t be the last crash of Marc Marquez, but with each passing day, he learns more and grows quicker.

A crash also blighted the race of Valentino Rossi. The Italian had qualified relatively poorly, and when his clutch overheated – a relatively common occurrence in MotoGP – he had also lost drive off the line.

That left him way down the order after the start, and as anyone who has seen a start live, the middle of the pack is where danger lives. This time, danger was in the shape of Alvaro Bautista, the Spaniard colliding with Rossi between turns 2 and 3, and taking them both out.

So whose fault was it? Race Direction called it as a racing incident, a verdict with which both Bautista and Rossi seemed to agree, though Rossi was still fuming that he was collected and dumped in the kitty litter. He did his best to not blame Bautista, while all the time blaming Bautista.

What appears to have happened is that Bautista hugged the inside line round turn 2, which Rossi used to his advantage, passing around the outside. When the track flicked back, they were two men on different bikes headed for the same piece of tarmac, and a collision was inevitable.

Was Bautista to blame? Only insofar as he didn’t look right when trying to close the gap. Was Rossi to blame? Well if you don’t want to get caught up on traffic at the start, you want to ensure first and foremost that you are not mid-pack with the pychos when the red flag drops.

Rossi’s poor qualifying is making it very hard for him to get anywhere near the front runners, and if he’s not near, he will find it hard to battle for a podium.

This was a racing incident. It wasn’t a pretty one, and it definitely wrecked any chance Rossi may have had of scoring a podium – Rossi was adamant that he could have gotten a podium, if he hadn’t been dumped in the gravel by Bautista.

But Rossi knows what to do: elbows out, goggles on, and go fight for the front two – preferably, front one – row during qualifying. Until that starts happening, things won’t start to come together. More later.

Photo: © 2013 Scott Jones / Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved

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