V for Velocità: can Ducati keep the momentum at Mugello?
Home turf beckons for the Italian manufacturer and with Miller on a roll, three Ducatis in the top four and two 1-2s in a row, it’s great reading for Borgo Panigale and a warning for the rest
Monday, 24 May 2021
Would you have predicted this in Qatar? The gossip went into overdrive back in the desert as Ducati didn’t win either of the season openers at one of their “favourite” or most successful tracks, but now the factory can enjoy its elegant silence on the matter even more. Two 1-2s in a row, with Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) on the top step in both and Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) and Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) taking a second place apiece, make quite a statement. The three are all in the top four in the standings too – something Ducati have never had before – and Bagnaia is only a point off the lead. That would be enough to grab some attention in itself but the next track up, unfortunately for the rest, is also the Autodromo Internazionale del Mugello.
The Italian venue is a rider and fan favourite for a reason, a stunning enough landmark in itself even before adding the spectacle of one of MotoGP™’s most golden of eras carving its way through the Tuscan hills. Fast, flowing and fast becoming a place synonymous with Ducati glory, yes it’s home turf. But it’s also somewhere Borgo Panigale machinery has won the last three editions and been on the podium since 2015.
The favourite to keep the roll going must be Miller. With his win in Le Mans in tough conditions, and that despite two Long Lap penalties, he followed up his Jerez stunner in style and it seems safe to say the Australian will now read the stats about Mugello with glee rather than pressure. Miller is a key architect of the momentum behind the manufacturer and the monkey some saw on his back after the first three rounds of the season is nowhere in sight now, whichever way you want to spin it. Can he make it three in a row? Or can his teammate fight back?
Bagnaia has been impressive in 2021 and led the standings for the first time just before Le Mans, with speed at every venue and few mistakes to go with it. With less premier class experience than Miller, he could have been forgiven for a few too. His French GP was a solid statement of intent, however, as the Italian somehow found himself down in 19th just after the start… then rode back through to fourth in conditions that caught out the very best, and again, like Miller, despite two Long Lap Penalties. If there was a day to lose your head, it was leading the Championship and sinking to the bottom of the top 20 early doors. But he didn’t.
And what about Zarco? The Frenchman hunted down another podium and moved back up to third overall, so what does he have in the locker? A Pramac win on home turf would be a popular one and the number 5, like Bagnaia, hasn’t yet tasted the top step in the premier class although he’s been close. His teammate this weekend could also be one to watch complicating the lives of a few riders who could find themselves on the cusp of Q2 too as Michele Pirro steps in to replace the injured Jorge Martin. Pirro knows both track and machine, and has impressed aplenty on wildcards.
All that said, it’s far from a foregone conclusion that Ducati will take their fourth Mugello win in a row. Three in the top four they may have, but it’s Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) back on top – and the Frenchman’s there despite his tough plummet down the order after arm pump in Jerez. He took a well-earned home podium at Le Mans despite coming back from surgery, and before Ducati started to assert their dominance at Mugello it was Yamaha territory. Jorge Lorenzo took the most recent wins but Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT) was on the podium in 2018 and Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) the year before that. With a dry, less chaotic weekend hopefully ahead, what can they – and Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) – do?
Dry and less chaotic will likely be a hope for Team Suzuki Ecstar too. A double DNF in France saw reigning Champion Joan Mir fall outside the top five in the standings, and left teammate Alex Rins with an even bigger hill to climb to get back into real contention. The Hamamatsu factory have form at Mugello though, with Rins only two tenths off the podium in 2019 as he hung on to the Marquez-Ducati fight and almost managed to ruin the party for all of them. The Suzuki works well around the majority of the venue and Rins will be out to show that and bounce back, as will Mir – but the reigning Champion also has a fair bit less experience of the track on premier class machinery, with MotoGP™ having not visited Mugello last year.
Aprilia are another who, like Ducati, will be both optimistic and riding on home turf. The Noale factory have taken a big step forward in 2021 and their bike should prove a good fit for Mugello. It may have been heartbreak at Le Mans but Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) just keeps impressing, and teammate Lorenzo Savadori was a serious threat in the damp. Can he take another step forward, and can Aleix Espargaro pick up where he left off? Aprilia also have Andrea Dovizioso confirmed as doing more testing throughout the season, whose record at Mugello is one of the best in recent years. He’s also already ridden the RS-GP there, although the weather didn’t play ball…
Mugello, meanwhile, was also a place where Honda really hammered home their top speed gains in 2019 as Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) went toe to toe with the Bologna bullets and was absolutely not left in the dust. Marquez’ win in 2014 at the track is the only non-Ducati win for a rider still on the grid since then too, and his 2019 battle at the front against the factory Ducati duo at the time was a stunner. The French GP saw flag-to-flag master Marquez make an uncharacteristic mistake and crash out, but there were more flashes of his former self as his comeback continues. What can he do?
LCR Honda Idemitsu’s Takaaki Nakagami and LCR Honda Castrol teammate Alex Marquez both took solid results in France too after a tougher start to the season, and Nakagami equalled his best ever result in Jerez just before that. Alex Marquez won at Mugello in Moto2™ last time he rode there as well, although this is his first taste of it in the premier class. Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) was also gaining ground in France, so they can’t be counted out of the increasingly tough fight for Q2 and more.
That also goes for KTM. It’s been a tougher start to the season but Danilo Petrucci (Tech3 KTM Factory Racing) equalled the best result of the Austrian factory’s year so far at Le Mans, and he knows the top step at Mugello, although in red. Teammate Iker Lecuona also impressed in France, so can both start to cut the gap to Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira? There have been flashes of speed from them since Binder’s fifth in Portugal, but it’s not all come together on race day for either since. Binder and Lecuona have also not yet ridden at Mugello in MotoGP™ though, so that could also factor in to the weekend. Can KTM push back towards the bigger points hauls?
Tuscany is one of the world’s most emblematic destinations, and MotoGP™ is lucky enough to have Mugello nestled right in the middle. The paddock returns to the venue in 2021 looking quite different to the last time we were there, but the track remains the same stunner for man and machine. Make sure to tune in for the Gran Premio d’Italia Oakley on Sunday the 30th of May, with lights out for the premier class at 14:00 (GMT +2).
MotoGP™ Championship top five:
1 Fabio Quartararo – Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP – Yamaha – 80
2 Francesco Bagnaia – Ducati Lenovo Team – Ducati – 79
3 Johann Zarco* – Pramac Racing – Ducati – 68
4 Jack Miller – Ducati Lenovo Team – Ducati – 64
5 Maverick Viñales – Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP – Yamaha – 56
*Independent Team rider
Gardner? Fernandez? The home heroes? Moto2™ rolls into Mugello
The Australian hasn’t won yet this season, Fernandez has less laps at the venue and the home heroes want to strike back… what awaits for Moto2™?
After another stunner from Raul Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo), the Moto2™ rookie is now just a single point behind his veteran teammate atop the Moto2™ standings as the paddock heads for Mugello. But given its absence on the 2020 calendar, the Tuscan venue is one where Fernandez has quite a few fewer laps than his rivals: he’s only raced there as a Moto3™ rookie in 2019. The Spaniard came home 11th, however… already proving his CV as a fast learner. So will he be leading from the front or playing catch up this time round?
His teammate Remy Gardner will be pushing to make sure it’s the latter. The Australian is on a supreme run of form stretching back to even before the start of 2021, and that’s exactly how he finds himself at the top of the table. With his rookie teammate proving such a force to be reckoned with, already winning two races, Gardner knows he has to strike when Fernandez is on the back foot and take the maximum points when he isn’t. So far so good on both counts, but Mugello will be another test of his so far exemplary judgments on Sundays.
Waiting in the wings there are two riders with even more motivation at this particular racetrack, however: Marco Bezzecchi (Sky Racing Team VR46) and Fabio Di Giannantonio (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2). The former is on a podium run and the latter already a race winner this year, but both will want victory on home turf. Bezzecchi hasn’t had all the pieces come together perfectly so far this year but is proving super consistent since we left Qatar, whereas Diggia is somewhat the opposite. The Gresini rider created himself a new postcode in the lead at Jerez to win his first Moto2™ race in style, adding to a podium first time out in 2021, but in the other three races it’s been up and down. Can the home heroes make a push for the front again?
For Sam Lowes (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team) meanwhile, it’ll be a different challenge. The Brit bounced back well from a DNF in Portugal and said it was important to do so, with no OTT heroics and solid points. That will likely be the mission as he aims to hit back at Mugello following a crash in France: take points. Get on or near the podium. Claw back a little deficit. But the Brit is also one of the fastest men in the intermediate class on any given Sunday, so he can’t be counted out.
The next two riders in the standings likely have similar goals though: Joe Roberts (Italtrans Racing Team) crashed from the front in France and Aron Canet (Kipin Energy Aspar Team) earlier than that, although they’re holding on as the next two in the standings after the fastest five so far this season. What can they do? Marcel Schrötter (Liqui Moly Intact GP) is now equal on points with Canet too, and the German will want to build momentum after a solid result.
Recent Mugello history also says Augusto Fernandez (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team) could be up there in the top five again, and he’ll want some redemption after Le Mans followed some good steps forward, but speaking of… the king of those in France must surely be Tony Arbolino (Liqui Moly Intact GP). Le Mans was a stunner from the rookie Italian, so has he got more in the locker at Mugello on home turf?
Gardner has the consistency and the experience. Raul Fernandez is a fast learner. Bezzecchia and Diggia want some home turf glory, and Sam Lowes needs some good points. Who’ll come out on top? Mugello puts plenty on the line in Moto2™, so make sure to tune in at 12:20 (GMT +2) on Sunday!
Moto2™ Championship top five:
1 Remy Gardner – Red Bull KTM Ajo – Kalex – 89
2 Raul Fernandez – Red Bull KTM Ajo – Kalex – 88
3 Marco Bezzecchi – Sky Racing Team VR46 – Kalex – 72
4 Sam Lowes – Elf Marc VDS Racing Team – Kalex – 66
5 Fabio Di Giannantonio – Federal Oil Gresini Moto2 – Kalex – 60
Moto3™ vs Mugello: Acosta leads the freight train into Tuscany
The Championship leader increased his lead significantly in France, and that despite a crash. But now, more new turf awaits at Mugello… in Moto3™ at least
The course of a Moto3™ race rarely did run smooth, but Le Mans was even more drama than normal. With Sergio Garcia (Valresa GASGAS Aspar Team) taking his first win of the year, second overall and first for GASGAS, it was a different face on the top step to the one we’d become accustomed to seeing in 2021. But Pedro Acosta (Red Bull KTM Ajo), despite taking a tumble in the difficult conditions, still got back on and took a good haul of points – and finished far ahead of those who’d previously been his closest challengers to boot. The result? An even bigger Championship lead.
For the veterans on his tail – Garcia, and Andrea Migno (Rivacold Snipers Team), Romano Fenati (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team) and Niccolo Antonelli (Avintia Esponsorama Moto3) – the good news is the experience they all have at Mugello, and for the most part, their CVs there too. The Italians will also be fired up on home turf as we return to the track for the first time since 2019. The slightly worse news is that, unlike Le Mans, Acosta does actually have a track record at Mugello: a second place in the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies race at the venue in 2019, the year he came runner up overall before going on to annihilate the competition last season. So it’s new turf on his Red Bull KTM Ajo machine… but it’s not a shot in the dark.
The Italians will be gunning hard though, as will Garcia after a good shot of confidence from his win in France. Filip Salač (Rivacold Snipers Team) too, and home hero Riccardo Rossi (BOE Owlride) after their first podiums. Both will be wanting more good points. Ayumu Sasaki (Red Bull KTM Tech3) remained on his consistent roll of top finishes too despite the different conditions in France, and John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing) got some good points on the board just ahead of his former teammate. Adrian Fernandez (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team) and fellow rookie Xavier Artigas (Leopard Racing) also took their best finishes of the season so far, and confidence goes a long way.
Darryn Binder (Petronas Sprinta Racing), meanwhile, will be on an opposite mission: bouncing back. After the South African got skittled out at Jerez through no fault of his own, a crash in France put paid to solid points and he’s now down in eighth overall. Can he fight back before summer break and get back into the upper echelons of the Championship? He’ll be aiming to start that at Mugello.
The kilometre-long straight at the Autodromo Internazionale del Mugello always provides one of the greatest Moto3™ spectacles of the season. They’ll take it on again this Sunday, with the lights out at 11:00 (GMT +2) for another incredible lightweight class challenge.
Moto3™ Championship top five:
1 Pedro Acosta – Red Bull KTM Ajo – KTM – 103
2 Sergio Garcia – Valresa GASGAS Aspar Team – GASGAS – 49
3 Andrea Migno – Rivacold Snipers Team – Honda – 47
4 Romano Fenati – Sterilgarda Max Racing Team – Husqvarna – 46
5 Niccolo Antonelli – Avintia Esponsorama Moto3 – KTM – 44