The MotoGP circus descended on Mugello this weekend – arguably the crown jewel of the championship calendar. Sunday's race went a long way in highlighting the sheer unpredictability of modern day MotoGP. The track, which sees the highest top speeds of the year, has recently been the stronghold of the most powerful bike on the grid – Ducati. The Italian manufacturer has won the last three races at the legendary Italian venue, flexing its muscles down the long home straight. The flipside of the coin is that its bike isn't the best-handling out there, often struggling at tighter, twistier tracks like Jerez and Le Mans.
And yet, this year, Ducati has taken the top step of the podium at Jerez and Le Mans, and failed to put a single bike on the podium at Mugello. Instead, it was Fabio Quartararo aboard a Yamaha – the manufacturer with the lowest top speed – who took top honours this time around. Here's how it went down:
Frenchman Fabio Quartararo took a dominant win aboard his Yamaha
Championship contender Francesco Bagnaia crashed out of the lead on lap 2
With Zarco 4th and Miller 6th, Ducati failed to put a bike on the podium
Well begun is half done
The Frenchman started the race from the best possible spot, taking pole position with a record-breaking lap in qualifying. But that's only half the battle won – you have to go back to 2014 for the last time the pole-sitter won at Mugello.
To execute the second-half of the battle, he then used Yamaha's newly updated holeshot device (now present on both front and rear suspension) to rocket himself towards turn 1, keeping almost all of the grid behind him. Almost, because Ducati's Francesco Bagnaia used his own excellent holeshot device, combined with the massive firepower of his bike, to steal 1st place from 2nd on the grid. But Ducati's hopes of a fifth successive win at the track took a huge hit, with the home hero using a little too much kerb on lap 3 and crashing out of the lead, unhurt.
The Italian constructor’s remaining hopes now rested on the shoulders of newly-appointed second-place man Johann Zarco in the independent Pramac team. The Frenchman duked it out with his compatriot Quartararo for the lead for a couple of laps, using his top speed advantage down the straight to counter the Yamaha’s handling supremacy throughout the rest of the circuit. But, by making a brave pass at the right section of the circuit, Quartararo managed to break free from the shackles of Zarco, and went about setting a blistering pace that the rest of the field found plainly unmatchable. In a Lorenzo-esque display, the 22-year old hammered in lap after lap with metronomic, unerring consistency, eventually going on to win the race by 2.6sec.
Best of the rest
While the win was pretty much a foregone conclusion by the first third of the race, a scintillating race unfolded behind Quartararo. Shortly before Bagnaia’s bike became part of the Tuscan countryside, Marc Marquez tangled with Brad Binder and crashed out of the race, forcing Morbidelli to take evasive action and drop down to last place. Coming off back-to-back victories in the last two rounds, Jack Miller struggled for pace in 4th place, acting as a mobile roadblock for the two Suzukis behind him. The men in blue clearly had the better pace, but struggled to make an overtake stick, thanks to Miller opening the taps on his Ducati and blasting back past them every time they came down the home straight. They did eventually get past him – first Rins and then Mir – and then set about chasing Zarco and KTM rider Miguel Oliveira for the remaining podium spots.
What followed was an exhilarating four-way battle, which then lost a member as Rins excruciatingly hit the deck with just five laps to go. This marked his fourth consecutive DNF, an unenviable stat that the Spaniard has experienced for only the first time in his Grand Prix career. His speed is unquestionable, but he’s presently unable to marry it with consistency, often losing the front-end of his Suzuki when pushing hard in the podium places.
Oliveira passed Zarco to secure 2nd place – a position he would have to defend ferociously from a hard-charging Mir. He did so admirably, holding position and taking the flag behind Quartararo, thereby giving KTM its first podium of the season. The Austrian manufacturer reaped immediate rewards for a new chassis, which it raced for the first time at Mugello, with teammate Brad Binder consolidating the improvements with a strong top-5 finish. It was even more hard-fought for the South African, considering his airbag went off after his lap 2 scuffle with Marquez, forcing him to endure a challenging couple of laps with restricted breathing.
Mir’s 3rd place pushed Zarco down to 4th, robbing Ducati of a highly sought after podium at its home race. Jack Miller eventually fading to 6th place didn’t help matters either. Further down the field, Aleix Espargaro brought his Aprilia home in 7th, after having qualified a decent 4th, which is about as good a weekend as the Italian manufacturer can hope for at the moment. Vinales paid the price for a poor qualifying, only managing 8th place and losing vital ground in the overall championship. Valentino Rossi bagged his best finish of the year, rounding out the top-10. But it’s hard to believe that the legendary Italian is satisfied with this result, especially with the number of crashes ahead of him, and retirement does seem imminent.
A dark cloud on a sunny day
It’s impossible to escape the fact that the races at Mugello took place under a blanket of mourning for the Swiss Moto3 rider Jason Dupasquier, who tragically lost his life in a freak accident during Saturday’s qualifying session. Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to his family.
Quartararo truly made hay under the shining Italian sun, picking up a maximum haul of 25 points while nearest championship rival Bagnaia left his home race empty-handed. Throw in Miller and Vinales’ relatively humble bounties of 10 and 8 points respectively, and it’s Johann Zarco who takes over 2nd place in the championship, courtesy of his 13 points for 4th place. He now also becomes the only man within a race win of Quartararo at the top.
|2021 Italian MotoGP|
|1||Fabio Quartararo||41m 16.344s|