MotoGP Mugello: Race weekend preview

05/26/2021 |

Image: GeeBee Images

The gossip about Ducati’s competitiveness went into high gear in the desert as the Bologna squad didn’t win any of the season openers on any of their favorite or most successful circuits, but now the factory can enjoy its elegant silence on the matter even more.

Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) is at the top, and Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) and Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) each take second place. The three are also all in the top four in the overall standings – something Ducati has never had before – and Bagnaia is just one point off the lead. That would be enough to get some attention, but the next track, unfortunately for the rest, is also the Autodromo Internazionale del Mugello.

The Italian venue is a rider and fan favorite for a reason, a stunning landmark in itself even before the spectacle was added to one of MotoGP’s most golden eras as it makes its way through the hills of Tuscany. Quick, fluid and quick to become a place synonymous with Ducati fame. But it’s also somewhere where Borgo Panigale machines have won the last three editions and have been on the podium since 2015.

The favorite to keep the role going has to be Miller. With his Le Mans win under difficult conditions and the fact that he followed his Jerez stunner in style despite two penalties in the long lap, it is safe to say that the Australian is now more joyful than pressure at the statistics on Mugello will read.

Miller is a key architect in the dynamics behind the maker, and the monkey some have seen on his back after the first three rounds of the season is nowhere in sight no matter which way you choose to shoot it. Can he do three in a row? Or can his teammate defend himself?

Bagnaia was impressive in 2021, leading the overall standings for the first time just before Le Mans, with speed at each venue and few mistakes. With less first-rate experience than Miller, he could have been forgiven for a few. His French GP was a solid statement of intent, however, as the Italian somehow ended up in 19th place shortly after the start… and then in conditions that got the most out of it and went back to fourth like Miller despite two long lap penalties. If there was a day to lose your head, he would lead the championship and sink to the bottom of the top 20 early doors. But he did not do it.

And what about Zarco? The Frenchman chased another podium and moved back to third place overall. So what does he have in the locker? A Pramac win on home turf would be very popular, and number 5, like Bagnaia, has not yet cost the top step in the premier class, even though he was close.

His teammate this weekend could also be one to complicate the lives of some drivers who could also be in the second quarter when Michele Pirro steps in to replace the injured Jorge Martin. Pirro knows both the track and the machine and has impressed Wildcards very much.

All in all, it is far from natural that Ducati will claim their fourth Mugello victory in a row. Three in the top four they might have, but it’s Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) back on top – and the Frenchman is there, despite falling hard in order after the arm pump at Jerez.

He took a well-deserved home podium at Le Mans despite having returned from surgery, and before Ducati began to assert their dominance at Mugello it was Yamaha territory. Jorge Lorenzo took the last wins, but Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT) was on the podium in 2018 and Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) the year before. What can you – and Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) – do with what will hopefully be a dry, less chaotic weekend?

Dry and less chaotic is likely to be a hope for the Suzuki Ecstar team too. At a double DNF in France, the reigning champion Joan Mir dropped out of the top 5 in the overall standings and left teammate Alex Rins an even bigger hill to get back into real competition.

The Hamamatsu factory is in Mugello shape, however, and Rins was only two-tenths off the podium in 2019 as he stuck to the Marquez-Ducati battle and almost managed to ruin the party for everyone. The Suzuki works well around the majority of the venue, and Rins will show that and bounce back, as will Mir – but the reigning champion also has a bit less track experience on top of the line machines since MotoGP didn’t attend Mugello last year.

Aprilia is another who, like Ducati, is both optimistic and drives on home turf. The Noale factory took a big step forward in 2021 and their bike should prove to be good for Mugello. It may have been a heartache at Le Mans, but Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) 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 has also confirmed to Andrea Dovizioso that she has carried out more tests throughout the season, the Mugello record of which is one of the best in recent years. He has already driven the RS-GP there, although the weather didn’t play a ball …

Mugello, meanwhile, was also a place where Honda brought home its top speed gains in 2019 when Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) went head to toe with the Bologna balls and was absolutely not in the dust. Marquez’s 2014 win on the track is the only non-Ducati win for a rider who has also competed since, and his battle at the top in 2019 against the Ducati factory duo was insane at the time. The French GP saw flag-to-flag champion Marquez make an unusual mistake and retire, but there were more flashes of his former self as his comeback went on. What can he do?

LCR Honda Idemitsu’s Takaaki Nakagami and LCR Honda Castrol team-mate Alex Marquez also had solid results in France after a tougher start to the season, with Nakagami just before his best-ever result in Jerez. Alex Marquez last won Moto2 ™ at Mugello, although this is his first foretaste in the premier class. Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) also gained ground in France so they can’t be counted out of the increasingly tougher battle for the second quarter and beyond.

This also applies to KTM. It was a harder start to the season, but Danilo Petrucci (Tech3 KTM Factory Racing) achieved the best result of the Austrian factory year so far in Le Mans and knows the top step in Mugello, albeit in red. Teammate Iker Lecuona also impressed in France. Can they both start to bridge the gap with Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira from Red Bull KTM Factory Racing? Since Binder’s fifth appearance in Portugal, there have been speed boosts from them, but not everything has come together on race day since then. Binder and Lecuona have not yet competed in Mugello in MotoGP ™ either, so the weekend could also be taken into account. Can KTM push back on the bigger points?