Two Italians. Two Ducatis. One point. Who can challenge them at Mugello?
Bagnaia and Bezzecchi aim for more home turf glory, with a cast of fast, fast faces looking to get in their way
Monday, 05 June 2023
So, where were we? After a stellar array of action at Le Mans, it’s going to come thick and fast in the next three weekends as the Gran Premio d’Italia Oakley kicks off the triple header. There’s just one point in it at the top between reigning Champion Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) and pretender to the throne Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team), both have form at Mugello… and it’s home turf. Here are the headlines as we head in…
THE DUEL AT THE TOP
One single point ain’t much, especially with two chances to score in every Grand Prix weekend. The lead will be on the line in the Tissot Sprint at Mugello, and plenty more besides. Winning at this venue is something special for anyone, and even more so for the likes of Bagnaia and Bezzecchi. Last year, they were also both very fast… so could we see the first real duel between the two 12 months on?
IN THE RED CORNER
The Ducati is a mighty machine at Mugello. And there are a fair few of them. Bagnaia and Bezzecchi lead the charge, but fellow home hero Luca Marini (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) will be desperate to get back in the podium fight now he’s known that rostrum-finish feeling. And Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing), arriving from a Sprint win and a podium, will want to ruin the home hero party. As will his teammate Johann Zarco, who was back on the box in France but is still seeking that maiden MotoGP™ win…
Alex Marquez (Gresini Racing MotoGP™), meanwhile, is looking for a little bit of luck having found a fair bit of speed in 2023, and teammate Fabio Di Giannantonio knows good vibes at Mugello, having taken a stunning pole position last year in a headline-grabbing qualifying.
THE BEAST IS… BACK?
We’re also expecting Enea Bastianini (Ducati Lenovo Team) to be back in action. It’s now been a little longer to recover and he’s been back out training in the meantime, so we can hope to see the Beast complete the weekend. How much of a threat will he pose? He’s playing catch up on fitness and, crucially, time on the GP23 to really get dialled in, but he’ll be one to watch.
There’s also a dark horse in play as Michele Pirro returns as a Ducati wildcard. He’s had some solid results at Mugello especially, and could well complicate, at the very least, the battle to get into Q2 on Friday. Does anyone know Mugello better than Pirro?
EVEN MORE HOME HEROES
Ducati may be intent on stealing some Mugello limelight, but the Italian GP is also a home race for Aprilia. Maverick Viñales (Aprilia Racing) has already been on the podium this season and was on a charge in France before that dramatic coming together with Bagnaia, and both he and teammate Aleix Espargaro will be expecting much – likely to fight for the podium as a minimum.
Meanwhile, their fellow Noale machinery of CryptoData RNF MotoGP™ Team’s Miguel Oliveira and Raul Fernandez are on a fitness test. Oliveira has been sidelined for a couple of rounds now and still reported some issues on the bike at the Aprilia All Stars Day, whereas Fernandez will be hoping more time to recover from his arm surgery will see him able to get back on track.
Aprilia, like Ducati, also field a wildcard for their test rider, in Noale’s case Lorenzo Savadori. After a tougher first part of the season than pre-season seemed to promise, the extra information will be welcome.
IN THE ORANGE CORNER
A little bad luck returned for KTM in France, but the Austrian factory will be reloaded as the paddock returns to Mugello. Despite that bad luck too, Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) is now third in the Championship… and only 13 points off the top. The South African was known as a Sunday rider in the best way before 2023, and now he’s also won two of the five Sprints. It’s far from difficult to imagine Binder leading the way after Mugello and spoiling the home hero party. KTM have rostrum form here too.
For teammate Jack Miller, meanwhile, the speed was very much there in France, but the Australian didn’t manage to convert it into points. We know he can though, so he can be expected in that fight near the front once again – elbows out, just like Binder, as the two are truly always ready to race.
At GASGAS Factory Racing Tech 3, so another red corner, really, there was a lot to celebrate in France as rookie Augusto Fernandez made a stunning charge up to fourth. It all clicked and he’ll want to keep that ball rolling at Mugello – with the added good news of having scored in every single Grand Prix race so far, which is no mean feat by itself. On the other side of the garage we also now know it’ll be Jonas Folger back out as Pol Espargaro continues his recovery, but the Spaniard is close to making his return, according to the team.
It’s not been the easiest start of the season for Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™), but the 2021 Champion has already been on the podium, and has scored consistently in every Grand Prix race, one of only three riders to do so. The Frenchman likely has a bit less drama and a bit more luck in the Sprint on order, and some tougher qualifyings haven’t made life easier either. Can that change at Mugello? The track traditionally suits the Yamaha more, so will that remain true in 2023?
Teammate Franco Morbidelli, meanwhile, is looking for that Argentina magic after some tougher races again thereafter. Can home turf bring another boost? He also, along with Quartararo and Augusto Fernandez, has scored in every GP race so far.
595 DAYS LATER?
The two pole positions Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) has contested so far have seen him take the first and miss out on the second by just 0.058. In Sprints he has a podium and a fifth… and he was only a few more kilometers away from a first Grand Prix podium of the season at Le Mans. All that says the number 93 cannot be counted out, as if anyone would truly dare. So what about Mugello?
It’s not a venue where Marquez has a huge roll call of wins – at Mugello it’s old rivals Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo who top the count. But he has, of course, reigned it. Given the work that continues to get Honda back to the very top though, it’s likely more fighting at the front that’s the goal this weekend… more track time, more information, more battles. Just in time for the Sachsenring? Whether that’s being acknowledged inside the box or not, it’s definitely a weekend everyone else will be eyeing as a Marquez special. Still, the count goes on. On race day at Mugello, 595 days will have gone by since he won in Emilia Romagna 2021. Germany will be 602. But counting the days also speaks to the fact that most expect that count to come to an end… so there’s seemingly a consensus that it’s when, not if.
On the other side of the Repsol Honda box, Joan Mir will want a lot more at Mugello. It’s been an exceptionally tough run so far, and the number 36 wants some points and progress. Alex Rins (LCR Honda Castrol) is also on a tough although shorter run, having failed to score in Jerez or at Le Mans after topping the table at COTA with 34 points all in. And then, for Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu), it’s a gentle opposite as the Japanese rider has now finished in the top ten in the last two GP races. Can he keep that trajectory going?
Two Italians, two Ducatis, one single point… it’s tight at the top as Mugello arrives on the horizon. And it’s very unlikely to be a two-horse race as even more than our 22-strong cast of permanent entries line up in Tuscany. Check out the schedule below and join us for the Gran Premio d’Italia Oakley!
Friday’s practice sessions decide the automatic entrants to Q2, before the MotoGP™ grid qualify on Saturday morning. The Tissot Sprint is set for lights out at 15:00 on Saturday as ever, and the Grand Prix gets going at 14:00 CEST!
Tissot Sprint: Saturday 15:00 (GMT +2)
Grand Prix Race: Sunday 14:00 (GMT +2)