2012 Mugello MotoGP Saturday Round Up: On Empty Stands, Spanish Domination And Future Superstars

Mugello is a special place, and a special race. One of the things that makes it so special is the atmosphere, the massed crowds that arrive on Thursday and Friday, and party noisily until Sunday night, filling the Tuscan skies with the sound of fireworks, engines being held against their limiters, popping exhausts, and very, very loud Italian pop music (or as was the case on Saturday night as we left the track, Jingle Bells composed entirely of fart noises).

They aren't here. The hillsides are not exactly empty, but the sparse scattering of tents that dot them are a very pale imitation of the wall of color that used to cover the grass at Mugello. The roads are relatively quiet, bikes fairly few and far between, and travelling to and from the circuit is not the nightmare that it has been in previous years.

So why haven't the crowds come? There are lots of reasons. First and foremost the state of the Italian economy, of course. As in Spain, unemployment in Italy is rising, and those who still have a job are more careful about spending money. High ticket prices don't help, of course, a general trend at racetracks around the world. Holding the race in mid-July, when the locals would rather be heading to the beach, rather than in early June was another reason. And then of course there is Valentino Rossi. The Italian legend qualified in 10th on Saturday, and realistically, his chances of battling for the podium are virtually non-existent. And it's not just Rossi, competitive Italian riders provide thin pickings for the locals to support. There is certainly a chance of seeing an Italian victory on Sunday, but the odds are stacked against it.

Nowhere was that point illustrated more clearly than in the qualifying press conference. The three riders on the MotoGP front row, and the polesitters for Moto2 and Moto3 attended: Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo, Hector Barbera, Pol Espargaro and Maverick Vinales. Five Spaniards. Even Aleix Espargaro, fastest CRT rider and included in the official press conference photo, was Spanish. Nick Harris, the man charged with leading the official press conference, joked about doing the press conference in Spanish. It was the first time ever that the entire front row of the MotoGP grid had been an all-Spanish affair, and the first time that all five riders in the press conference had been Spanish.

Where does this Spanish domination come from? "The Spanish federation are making a very good job," Pol Espargaro explained, "taking young guys to go up to the top categories." The Spanish federation has classes for kids of all ages to race in, at tracks all around the country, and regional championships providing a natural progression through to the Spanish championship and then Grand Prix. That foundation is the wellspring of Spanish talent, generating sufficient numbers of riders to ensure a plentiful supply of talent. Their example has been copied in the last couple of years in the Netherlands, with the Dutch federation KNMV working to create a progression of three classes for young riders at an affordable price. There are now the first signs of a strong generation of young Dutch riders coming up through the ranks, led by Scott Deroue in the Red Bull Rookies, after a period of drought that has lasted since the late '90s, with one or two honorable exceptions.

The Italian federation, on the other hand, has no such plan. One senior Italian journalist complained to me that the death of the Sport Production class, the series that produced talent like Valentino Rossi, Max Biaggi, Marco Melandri and many more, had also seen the stream of fast young Italians virtually dry up, with Romano Fenati and Niccolo Antonelli now the exception and not the rule. With no Italians to cheer on, the home fans have even fewer reasons to attend. And watching Valentino Rossi suffer through another painful weekend is reason to stay away, rather than to come.

Despite the domination of a single nation - which at other tracks may have been broken by an Australian such as Casey Stoner, a Swiss rider such as Thomas Luthi, or a German like Sandro Cortese - qualifying was more than worth it. In Moto3, Maverick Vinales pulled out a lap reminiscent of the epic qualifying dash by Mick Doohan at Assen, in which he deposed Simon Crafar from pole. Vinales' final shot at pole meant he had to work his way through a lot of traffic, but instead of seeing it as an obstacle, the Spaniard seized the opportunity, jumping brilliantly from slipstream to slipstream to take pole from Sandro Cortese, who had already returned to the pits confident of his time.

In Moto2, Pol Espargaro bumped Marc Marquez from the top spot, despite a nastily sprained ankle, his foot swollen severely after a crash caused by Johann Zarco during free practice in the morning. Espargaro's participation in qualifying looked in doubt after the crash, the Spaniard being taken to hospital in Florence for scans to ensure that nothing was broken. It wasn't, and Espargaro was able to qualify. And how: with under a minute left, Espargaro crossed the line just ahead of Marc Marquez, his rival for this season, and probably for many years to come as well. Marquez is heading to MotoGP next year, a path that Espargaro is unlikely to follow. "Every rider wants to race in MotoGP," Espargaro told the press conference. Right now, though, he is focused on Moto2, and trying to win as many races as he can.

Espargaro is badly needed in MotoGP. Nobody doubts the talent of Marc Marquez, but he is another polite, restrained and carefully coached and protected rider. His ability promises much on track, but once his helmet comes off he is as mild-mannered as you like. Espargaro, on the other hand, shines. He has the intelligence and charisma, the cheeky and charming personality to win over the casual fans, and the speed, fierceness and ability to match Marquez on track. Espargaro is a superstar waiting to happen, and just the kind of personality needed to help soften the blow when Rossi leaves the sport.

Jorge Lorenzo has grown in that role, showing wit and intelligence in his public appearances, and often knowing when to joke and when to offer a serious answer. He has matured well, both on and off the track. Off the track, Lorenzo has gained some charm, while on track, he has become utterly devastating. The Spaniard had dominated free practice, and was tearing up qualifying as well, until his final attempt at pole. An electronics problem saw him losing power as he got further around the lap, eventually cruising in to the pits, his lap ruined. Lorenzo and his team manager were suitably vague about the problem, saying only that the ECU had flipped into the wrong state and stopped working correctly.

That was half the story. The reason the ECU had entered its error mode is because Jorge Lorenzo had aborted one attempt at a fast lap because of traffic. In an attempt to make up time, Lorenzo cut across the middle section of the track from one side to the other, cutting out the entire section of the circuit, and set off for a final assault on pole. Lorenzo may have been prepared, but his ECU wasn't: the complex algorithms which the on-bike electronics use to calculate its precise position on the track had become confused, and shut down. With GPS banned, the electronics calculate position based on speed, gear selection, distance traveled and lean angle. It is stunningly precise, though as we saw with Nicky Hayden at Estoril, also easily confused if the bike receives some kind of erroneous input. At Mugello, Lorenzo provided the erroneous input himself, but cutting off half the course and a whole swathe of corners the ECU was expecting. Lost, it went into some kind of fail mode, not providing the power when Lorenzo needed it.

The problem left Lorenzo second on the grid, but from there, he looks nigh on unbeatable. The Factory Yamaha rider's race pace looks to be in the high 1'47s and low 1'48s, some two to three tenths faster than anyone else on the track. Unless someone else finds a way to stop him, Lorenzo could be putting on another display of the fastest, smoothest riding you will see in a long time.

Dani Pedrosa sits ahead of Lorenzo, but the Repsol Honda man is not perfectly happy with his race pace. Yet he is close, while his teammate Casey Stoner is miles off the pace. The Australian and his crew have failed to make the hard tire work at Mugello - either of the two hard choices, which are identical except for an extra layer of rubber to dissipate heat - and with Bridgestone having told the teams that they cannot race the soft tire, Stoner will be hoping for Cristian Gabarrini to work some magic in the morning.

Stoner's problem is heat in the tires, or rather the lack of it. Honda had been working on reducing the operating temperature of the tires for a couple of years now, with some success. Unfortunately, that was working against them at Mugello, and though they had some ideas to work on in the morning, the race was going to be tough.

A similar situation existed at Ducati. Nicky Hayden came very close to qualifying on the front row of the grid, pipped at the post by Hector Barbera on the satellite Pramac machine. Barbera has faced a lot of criticism in the past about his tendency to get a fast lap by following riders, but at Mugello, his laps were his own. The Spaniard was fast everywhere, later explaining that Mugello was one of his favorite tracks, and so he did not need to follow another rider around to gain the speed.

Hayden was a little disappointed not to be on the front row, but overall was pleased with his position. His goal - to lap in the mid 1'47s and get in the top 5 on the grid - had been achieved, but most telling of all was his improvement from last year, lapping almost 2 seconds faster than 2011. He would be aiming for his best result of the year, he said.

He also had a few words about his future, denying that had any plans to switch to World Superbikes and race the Ducati Panigale there. "I have spoken to Ducati zero times about World Superbikes, it's never even been mentioned" Hayden said. "It's a rumor which people say like they know something, which makes me laugh, because then it just shows that journalists really don't know. The rumors and what you write in the paper, it's why you don't believe nothing you read, or believe half of what you see, because that rumor is absolutely 100% negative."

With Ducatis in 3rd and 4th, seeing Valentino Rossi down in 10th came as a surprise. Like his arch rival Casey Stoner, Rossi had trouble with tires. In Rossi's case, it was the soft tire for qualifying, the softer compound generating chatter rather than grip and preventing him from improving his time. Why this should be was mystifying, the Italian having no explanation for why he was unable to improve his times while his teammate and Barbera on the satellite bike had no such problem.

On the plus side, his race pace was strong, Rossi said, expecting to be able to chase down the second group. Cal Crutchlow was only a little faster, and Hayden and Barbera should be manageable, Rossi told the media. But, Rossi said, "this is my position." Without radical changes to the bike, this is where Rossi is destined to be racing.

A new engine spec is to be tested on Monday, to help with power delivery and engine driveability. That is one of Ducati's two biggest problems, the other being the tendency to understeer. If the engine driveabililty package works, then Rossi should be able to take a big step towards at least keeping the podium contenders in sight.

That is unlikely to be the case on Sunday, though. With Jorge Lorenzo looking unstoppable, and Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso running a strong pace behind, the podium seems pretty much settled. Cal Crutchlow could get close, and Ben Spies remains a huge question mark, bad luck once again dogging the American, this time in the form of a vibration in his brake disk caused by something sticking to the disk. Maybe he's fast enough, maybe he's not, but Valentino Rossi does not look like being close enough to get on to the podium. The hillsides were strangely quiet on Saturday, and will likely stay that way again tomorrow. It is a genuine Italian tragedy.

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Who can beat ianonne on his day aπϑ when he's not crashing? He may not be winning the moto2 title but his riding is something special. He should be in motogp next season...alongside marquez aπϑ espargaro

It looks like I picked the wrong year to try to get into Mugello. Last year I tried to get in as luck would have it I had a spare day day on the Sunday of the race, but could not get a ticket. The thing is Mugello is not my local circuit as I live in Australia. In Florence on the Friday I met some South African fans in the same predicament, even though the weather was bucketing down. Now this year the place is empty. Wonder if Phillip Island will be like that in 2013?

That's exactly what im thinking these couple of days, i want to go to PI this year but my work didn't permitted me to attend because this is casey's last year i will try to bend my schedule on october just to see casey and the rest of motogp. The question is next yr, just like david said because rossi is nowhere to be seen in the front thats why italians doesn't want to watch. Like in australia no stoner next yr then expect the decline viewers and spectators big time.

Not a Jorge-Fan in the least but damn... he's showing to be a Spanish Dragon in 2012... the nightmare of the entire field. Spies, Stoner, and Rossi- what the heck has happened to them this season!? Spies has nothing but issues plaguing him. Stoner is having a mental breakdown/tantrum now that his RCV has tire problems. The once great Rossi is now reduced to a mere shadow of who he once was! Sad. So now I will cheer for the underdogs and former team-mates... Hayden and Dani. I hope Dani can give Jorge a real fight tomorrow so he pulls some points back and tighten up the championship. Hayden? Nicky really needs a good result tomorrow to show Audi his worth. Any word on what Nicky's meeting(s) were actully about with the Audi bosses regarding his future with the Motogp Team? Cal hasn't signed a Ducati contract yet...

Stoner's problem is heat in the tires, or rather the lack of it.

Wasn't the claim about Stoner on the Ducati that he was able to get heat in the tires (quickly) while others were/are unable to?

On a Ducati. Breaking news, he's on a Honda now, with a (relatively) superior chassis... :-) Like comparing Red Apples to Repsol Oranges.

And those Bridgestone tyres were during the era where they are hard to warm up and last the whole race. This era of Bridgestone tyres warms up quick and wear much faster. Different carcass.

He put in a lot of laps on the hard tyres, so perhaps he was concentrating on gathering data to build a set-up that will allow good race pace and maximum tyre endurace - as opposed to slapping on the softs and taking pole. Everyone is going to be on hards in the race it seems.

I wonder if the firm statement from Hayden and the apparent stall of Crutchlow's contract isn't related to some talks with Audi? Maybe Audi thinks that Hayden would be a better rider to provide feedback to new Audi engineers(haven't heard Crutchlow being talked about in that way). Hayden is a known workaholic and great with feedback. And he works well with Rossi and Rossi knows it.

i was hoping until a few weeks ago that pol espargaro would be offered a position in motogp next season, even though i couldnt see any practical chances of that happening. i'd like to see him go to the tech 3 yamaha team in 2014 and subsequently to factory yamaha. would be killer to watch him and marquez battle it out a few years from now in the premier class, with hopefully redding and iannone in the mix too..thats assuming of course that they will hold their candles in motogp unlike many talented moto2 riders in the past who couldnt manage doing well in motogp. redding etc are really good as well but at the moment only pol seems to be the one who can challenge marquez in many races.

somehow i am reminded of lorenzo and simoncelli in their 250 days by the way pol and marquez ride their moto2 races. not necessarily saying that they have the same styles or anything.

I thought that Yamaha PR would have blamed the solar flare that struck Earth on Saturday for the electrical fault on Lorenzo's bike on that aborted last lap.!!!!

I hadn't thought about it before but sounds like software techs are tailoring the engine management/traction control/anti-wheely/fuel map/engine braking etc etc for each corner on the track using the GPS system. Obviously then each team would be trying to employ the best software techs that money can buy. I guess the less cashed teams would be struggling to match this technology (plus get the manpower) and to match the resulting on-track performance it gives.

Maybe a control ECU should be introduced.

"With GPS banned, the electronics calculate position based on speed, gear selection, distance traveled and lean angle." What GPS sytem do you talk of?

Poor attendance, obviously a national reaction to not wanting to be anywhere near such an uncouth, miserable, unappealing person. Tyre problems, have to be directly a result of Stoner's influence on Bridgestone in 2007 as their lead rider. Rossi's problems are without doubt a legacy of the secret impediments Stoner included in his later designs of the Ducati. The ascendancy of Spanish riders throughout the series can be attributed solely to the fact that there are enough Spanish riders who have survived the horrendous physical attacks Stoner employs to cripple and maim other riders.

I'm not sure it's possible to attribute the Italian economic situation directly to Stoner, but that may just be a failure on my part to link the dots correctly. However, there can be no doubt that Dorna's financial situation is absolutely caused by Stoner's attitude problems, and high track ticket prices are a product of the ridiculous costs of security necessary to ensure public safety from a ravening Stoner.

Oh, and the weather problems (be they flooding rain or crippling heat) besetting motoGp can be mathematically proven to be a product of the Stoner Quantum Butterfly effect.

I'm pretty sure I have missed out a number of other things for which the blame can be laid at Stoner's feet - and I'm even more sure that my omission(s) will be rapidly corrected.

It's a sad day indeed for motoGp when even a new Rossi helmet design can't fill those stands. Roll on a bright, Stoner-free 2013 and the crowds will come flocking back, proper racing will magically return to the track and every weekend will be a bright, fun-filled event, full of close but entirely fair competition, sparkling humour from all, and balmy days.

You seems to be a stoner hater eh? Enjoy his masterclass riding skills not his personality. Everyone had a laugh in you post. Enjoy the race later.

Actually, Veronica, I never thought of myself as that - I just sit here in my Castle and go with the vibe of the comments lately. And if that doesn't tell you where my allegiance lies, then maybe this will: I'm about to light the fire, put on a Thai Green Curry and decant a decent Coonawarra cab. merlot, ready to watch the races.

You may find it illuminating to investigate the dictionary meaning of the word 'satire'. It's an ancient literary technique, dating back to the Tablets from the Mount.

I realise you're being sarcastic Oscar, it's the only way your comment makes sense. But I didn't feel there was that much Stoner hating going on. I get the feeling I'm just not quite smart enough. Is there something I am missing? I feel like I'm back in English classes and everyone else but me perfectly understands what T.S. Elliot is on about. Anyone else for some Tea and Sympathy?

One of the joys of being a long-time old lag at motomatters has been the quality of commentary on the site. If you go to the forum, you'll find the 'Ducati goings on' thread now has nearly 2500 posts, some of which contain bloody brilliant technical analysis of various aspects of the 'Ducati saga' as it has developed since 2011. People care.

What currently disappoints me is that there has been , for some months now, an overflow of the sort of tribal warfare that exists on Crash and MCN into this site - by the same protagonists as we see on those sites. Their language is somewhat more restrained, but the underlying theme that they have a deeply personal need to grind their axe at the expense of everybody else's quiet appreciation of a place where 'intelligent debate' is the raison d'etre of the site, is frankly rather offensive.

As a motorcyclist I hugely enjoy the fact that a common interest brings together a vastly disparate community. You might be a senior barrister or a plumber, but at the end of a day's ride you'll sit down in the pub, share a beer, and discuss tyres or the stupidity of car drivers and your background doesn't mean sod-all to anybody.

Whether it's 'Stoner hating' or 'Rossi hating' is pretty much immaterial to me. I am a fan of both riders, and I respect every damn rider - they do things on a bike that raises the hair on the back of my neck when I watch. If I could ride like that, I'd be so proud of myself I'd be insufferable.

My motorcycle racing appreciation goes back to Hailwood - I saw him ride, in the flesh. I have never witnessed a degree of visceral hatred expressed towards any rider than happens to Stoner, and I remember vividly, for instance, the reaction to Sheene saying that the IoM was too dangerous. He was called a coward - a guy who had crashed at 180 mph at Daytona, woke up in hospital with more pipes in his body than you'd find at a petrol refinery and was riding again soon afterwards.

Stoner may well be, with regard to his PR presentation, the nearest thing we have witnessed to an idiot savant: almost supernaturally capable of certain things and blindingly innocent of understanding of other matters. When I see evidence of, say, Stephen Fry superbly drifting a bike at 260 kph plus, then I'll happily acknowledge that Stoner doesn't offer anything special for us to watch and that his apparent personality 'defects' are an unacceptable blemish.

So yes, I am expressing a peeved reaction to some of the stuff that has recently appeared on this site. Mea culpa - and is there still some jam for tea?

I try to keep it clean, but it's hard on race weekends, and finding a balance between moderation and censorship is difficult. I continue to do my best.

"Stephen Fry drifting a bike at 260kph plus"
classic, i love it!
I can hardly call myself an old hand here but i've been reading since before the site changed names and i have to agree that a lot of the kids that love to insult each other on other sites have found this one. The great posts/comments are still all there, but theres just more crap in between now.

I think david does his best to keep things intelligent, but unfortunately this is the internet, it comes with the territory

After his comeback he raced in NZ and Oz, and I clearly recall Croz (Graeme Crosby, in his day the best right hand going round) passing Mike on the bowl section of Adelaide International raceway during a 3-hour production race and taking a hand off the bars to waver to the clapping crowd, who were in fact clapping Mike as Cros well knew.
I know in our section of the track I applauded Mike every time he went past us, even as a callow youth I knew we were in the presence of true greatness, having been raised on the annuals and books shared with me by my uncle that charted the careers of Geoff Duke, Ago, Mike et al.

Am I the only one able to spot the satire.
Yes, I'm sure it's all his fault, just as over here our former Prime Minister claimed all the responsibility for Australia's strong economic situation during the GFC. Apparently strong commodities demand from China and us being able to dig large quantities of iron ore and copper and natural gas out of the ground had nothing to do with it.
Best chuckle I've had all day.

Maybe the lack of crowds has something to do with the state of MotoGP in general, the pathetic sequence of rule changes, the ongoing dumbing down of the bikes, the manipulations of the rules to get Spanish riders on to Factory bikes and the fact that the next 2 years will rarely see any nationality other than Spanish fill the podium in any of the categories.

We the fans are not stupid. We see what is happening and we don't like it. My MotoGP.com subscription is up at the end of this season and there is no way I will be renewing.

Have never been overly interested in the lower classes. Watched about 20min of Moto3 this season. I have watched most of Moto2 but the blatant bias going on there just disappoints me. Also I keep watching to see this brilliance that is Marquez. Must be missing something because I would have thought an alien with by far the best funded and technical team in paddock should be killing it. Now Pol is a real talent.

For me it is or was about MotoGP. Since Ezpeleta started changing rules so the 'right' riders have a better chance the less I have been able to stomach it.

If you've only watched 20 minutes of Moto3 then you need to change that. Some of those guys are the ones who will be in MotoGP in years to come. Also if you can't see the brilliance that is Marquez then maybe you should just go watch some NASCAR or something.

Motogp has become a circus with full of clowns...Rule changes and politics are the main reason. Motogp is going backwards in my opinion but thanks to wsbk for giving us the real bike racing.



Just curious if anyone has done a comparison of sponsors. How many Spanish sponsors vs Italian in moto3, moto2 and MotoGP. etc..

The Spanish are absolute fanatics and support the sport. Fans going to races, 4 spanish rounds.. being a Spanish owned series, maybe spanish tracks get sweetheart deals? Dunno.

But there are plenty of racers out there with talent to move up but no real funding to do so. Heck, Yonny Hernandez is on the easy payment plan to cover the 250,000 Euros for his CRT ride. Sad.

So wear are these sponsors coming from?

US companies are FAR too interested in sponsoring NASCAR than any form of motorcycle racing. :(

Funnily enough the success of the Spanish system is the reason Stoner is where he is today after leaving Australia at 14 where under 16 year olds have raced on full size tracks for only 2 or 3 years. Wayne Gardiner now lives in Spain where his son races. It is the European entry point for international riders trying to get noticed.

I'm glad my question, gave platform for such a response Oscar. With only oblique references to this issue, you were only ever preaching to the converted.

And yes, if I'm preparing tea, it will be with jam. I'm comfortable with that. But I really enjoy eating well when someone more capable is cooking. That's why I enjoy reading the comments on this site so much.