2013 Mugello MotoGP Preview: Of Yamaha's Travails, Rossi's Hopes, Ducati's Dreams And Honda's Domination

Mugello is arguably MotoGP's crowning glory. The location is stunning, in the verdant hills of Tuscany, a few miles north of Florence, one of the most beautiful ancient cities in the world. The track itself is gorgeous, and beautifully laid out, rolling round the valley in which the circuit is set. It is one of the few tracks left at which a MotoGP bike can fully stretch its legs, even a 260+ horsepower fire-breathing 1000cc Honda RC213V. At the end of the front straight, as riders drift right then left for the slight kink of the pit lane exit just before the track drops off for the spectacular first corner at San Donato, the bikes approach the magical barrier of 350 km/h. An obstacle that has not yet been cleared, but one which must surely fall in the near future. A lap of the circuit passes in under 1'48, an average of 175 km/h, or nearly 110 mph. It is verily a temple of speed.

It may seem odd, then, that the fastest bike does not necessarily win at the circuit. Of the past ten editions of the race, seven have been won by Yamahas, a bike which has never been the fastest in a straight line. While speed is not the secret to the circuit, a glance at the list of winners over the years reveals exactly what is: Valentino Rossi has won seven times at the circuit in the premier class (as well as twice more in the support classes), Mick Doohan won here six times, Jorge Lorenzo won twice, and the list of one-time winners includes Dani Pedrosa, Kevin Schwantz, Loris Capirossi and Casey Stoner. To win at Mugello is simple: it is merely a matter of being one of the very best riders in the world.

With seven victories in the last ten years, Yamaha arrives at Mugello with a clear mission: to get their 2013 season back on track. Jorge Lorenzo's lack of rear grip at Le Mans left him struggling to his worst result since his rookie year in 2008, at a track where normally he would hope to be clawing back points on Dani Pedrosa, rather than giving them away. Though there is still a very long way to go in the championship - 14 races remain, with a total of 350 points still in play - trailing Dani Pedrosa by 17 points, and Marc Marquez by 11, is not the situation Lorenzo and his team had envisioned at the start of the season. There is much work to be done.

Mugello is a good place to start. Lorenzo has won the last two races in a row here, and it is a track he loves to ride. The flowing nature of the track suits the Yamaha, Lorenzo's high corner speed style a perfect match for the layout. It suits Valentino Rossi too, the Italian having reigned here throughout the first decade of this century. After two difficult years on the Ducati, Rossi comes to Mugello - a place he regards as his real home race, despite being much further away than Misano, which is just a stone's throw from Tavullia, the village he grew up in - with vindication on his mind. He wants to get back on the podium on merit, not be invited up to wave to the crowds who came to Mugello to see him succeed, and have gone home disappointed in the last three years.

A good result at Mugello for Rossi is not just important for the Italian's many fans, but even more for Rossi himself. The race this weekend is not quite make or break, but after one strong race followed by three which have been mildly disappointing, Rossi should expect to be on the podium here. Mugello is a track which he loves, the Yamaha is a bike he can ride, and he has had full program of preseason testing and four races to get to grips with the updated bike. The pressure is on for a good result, not least from Rossi himself.

But the Yamaha is not the bike which Rossi left behind. Since his departure, Yamaha have chased an ever more nimble machine, looking to exploit Jorge Lorenzo's great strength: the ability to go through corners several kilometers an hour faster than any other man on the planet. Lorenzo's sweeping 250-style lines have brought him two world titles and a bevvy of wins, but it has also led Yamaha down an increasingly narrow performance envelope. As the bike has been made to work better and better for Lorenzo - braking early, then letting off the brakes early and carrying as much lean angle and speed as possible to fire out of the corner and onto the next straight without losing momentum - it has worked less and less well for other riders. Lorenzo's ability is unquestionable, but similar to Casey Stoner's time at Ducati, Lorenzo could be leading Yamaha down a blind alley, where one single rider becomes the crucial component to success. Once that rider is gone - through injury, retirement, or tempted away for whatever reason - that could leave Yamaha with a bike that is basically unrideable for anyone with a more conventional style.

So will the crowds at Mugello see the Rossi success for which they have longed these last three years? On the face of things, it is not looking good. Making things more complicated is Yamaha's engine situation. Reports are emerging from the Yamaha camp of a problem with one of Jorge Lorenzo's engines, which has forced a rethink of their strategy. Lorenzo has not used his number 1 engine since Jerez, and reliable reports put this down to a strange lack of power. Since then, the other Yamaha engines have all been throttled back a fraction, to ensure that they do not develop problems, much to the frustration of the riders.

A bike built for another rider, engines dialed back to ensure their safety, and doubts about whether he can be as competitive as he was before he left to join Ducati. All these things are what Valentino Rossi faces. The tool he has to tackle these problems is simple: desire. The desire to be back where he still feels he belongs, and the reason he left Ducati to return to Yamaha. To run at the front, and win in front of his home fans again.

The weather may play into his hands, and the hands of all of the Yamaha riders. Rain is set for Mugello for Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and the weather for race day is looking decidedly unsettled. At best, it rains all weekend, at worst it rains for practice, and the race takes place in the dry. Either way, it helps level the playing field against the Honda blitzkrieg that we have seen in MotoGP so far. A wet race would give Rossi heart, Lorenzo a chance to redeem his performance at Le Mans, and Crutchlow a shot at back-to-back podiums. This could be Yamaha's best hope for the weekend.

It would be pretty good for Ducati too, with two possible exceptions, which we shall come to later. For the factory riders, and probably for Andrea Iannone as well, a wet race would negate the biggest disadvantage which the Ducati still has, and with which it will continue to struggle until (they hope) the Misano test. The understeer which plagues the Ducati is worst in big, fast corners, and if there is one thing which Mugello has in spades, it is big, wide, fast corners. That would leave Ducati struggling at the track - despite the many laps which the bike has put in around the circuit, as it is the Italian factory's designated test track - but a wet race may well boost Ducati's fortunes. Andrea Dovizioso came close to his first podium on the bike at a soaking Le Mans; the extra motivation of riding at Mugello may get him even closer. Nicky Hayden finished a little way behind Dovizioso in France, and a could match that in the wet at Mugello.

Two Ducati men will not be wanting a wet race, however. Ben Spies returns to the Ignite Pramac after a two-race absence, muscle problems in his chest having made him decide to skip Jerez and Le Mans. Those chest problems were a result of overcompensating for his weakened shoulder, Spies having returned to testing and to racing too early from the shoulder injury he suffered at Sepang last year. Shoulder injuries are painful, difficult to repair and slow to heal, as Spies has found out to his cost. Though a wet race would place less strain on the muscles in his chest and his weakened shoulder, the risk of crashing is higher. More damage is the last thing which Spies wants.

Michele Pirro would also much prefer a dry weekend, though he will not have any choice in the matter. The Ducati tester is once again present as a wildcard, and riding the lab bike once again. To gather real data requires a dry track and the pressure of a race weekend. Pirro will get only the latter, though that may allow him to score a stronger result than he might otherwise expect. It may not necessarily provide the data which Ducati want, but a strong finish at Mugello would be a fillip for Pirro, whatever the weather.

Of course, all these presupposes that wet weather will necessarily prejudice the chances of the Repsol Hondas. Going by the results of Le Mans - and the results of a soaking Sepang last year - that may be more idle hope than realistic projection. Dani Pedrosa was just about untouchable two weeks ago in France, and his teammate Marc Marquez performed well above expectations. Pedrosa has transformed himself in the past couple of years from a rider who struggles in the wet to a man who rides with confidence, whatever the weather. Pedrosa is on a roll, having won 8 of the last 12 races, and growing progressively stronger with each event. If he hadn't struggled with rear grip on the dusty surface at Qatar, his advantage in the championship could be much, much greater than the 11 points he has over his teammate, and the 17 over Lorenzo. Even in this, the first half of the season which is supposed to favor the Yamahas, it is a foolish gambler who lays money against Pedrosa on any given Sunday.

Should such a gambler fancy a wager, he could do far, far worse than to put his cash on Marc Marquez. Expectations for the rookie were sky high when he entered the MotoGP class, and he has matched or exceeded even the most optimistic projections. Marquez has already become the youngest man to win a race in the premier class, taking over from the legendary Freddie Spencer. He was expected to struggle in the wet, having had little time on a MotoGP in the rain. At Le Mans, he struggled as expected, but only for five laps. Once he had wrapped his head around what it takes to race a MotoGP machine on a wet track, he was off, constantly among the fastest riders on track to the end of the race. Only his teammate was out of reach, having gotten away well from the very start. Marquez is now a factor, his maturity impressing as much as his speed has. If he continues as he has, then he could yet turn out to be the biggest threat to Dani Pedrosa's first world championship.

Though the rain could throw up an interesting race for the fans, conditions will also confound the hopes of the circuit. Numbers have declined steadily for the past few years, down in part to Valentino Rossi either missing the race due to injury, or failing to perform on a Ducati. The other reason was a shift of date for the race, being moved into July, when Italians prefer to head to the beach and the balmy climes of the Mediterranean, rather than the broiling heat of the interior. With the race now back where it used to be, at the beginning of June, and Rossi back on a competitive bike, the race organizers were hoping to see crowd numbers swell. The prospect of three days camping in the pouring rain may dampen any such hopes.

Rain or shine, Mugello remains one of the jewels in MotoGP's crown. Even in the pouring rain, in front of empty grandstands and muddy hillsides, the circuit remains a glorious place to go racing. If you are going to visit a MotoGP race in the rain, it might as well be at the most beautiful setting we see all year. And the racing should be good too.

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Interesting that some folks on here were writing Dani off just a couple of races ago. He is the man to beat. 8 out of the last 12 is near dominating. Have some crow.

Hadn't heard about the Yamaha engine situation, interesting. I, for one, hope this 5 engine rule blows up in oneof the factories face. It's a ludicrous rule, and even 6 for a season is insane. Someone is going to pay the price for it eventually costing them a title shot.

I suppose why a rider cannot get back to speed after having been on a bike that did not suit him is a conundrum that brooks no easy answers. What is true, however, the Rossi's return to Yamaha is beginning to look less and less authentic with each passing race. That Rossi is under tremendous pressure is very visible and the crash at Le Mans perhaps the proof of how much near the limit Rossi is having to ride. Gone are the days when he could let a few riders pass him and then play cat and mouse. Nick Harris always said in those days (while commentating) that Rossi puts tremendous pressure on riders in front of him. The same Nick Harris said at Le Mans that Rossi crashed due to the pressure that was building on him with Crutchlow already overtaking him and Nicky Hayden on the Ducati looking like he was going to overtake Rossi. Is the loss of speed attributable to the machine, Yamaha in this case, or to the rider's dented confidence, Rossi's own head is something that we will never find out for sure. But Rossi is going down and south real fast. I would like to be proven wrong by him but it now seems that he is not likely to continue on the Yamaha for 2014 unless the factory is really generous to him (which it has been already by signing him again despite his decision to leave after issuing stupid warnings).

I do not thinkit was stupid. HRC will always be the factory to beat, doesn't matter the year, nor who is riding for them. They have twice the budget and then some of Yamaha. They are the NASA of the motorcycle world.

Rossi gave them 4 titles and then he was told he would have to take a salary cut, and that money would be given to his team mate. Then they told him he is no longer the #1 and in charge of development. It would now be shared. I don't care who you could hypothetically put in that situation. They would not be pleased, not at all, not after what they had done for them.

Rossi likes the bike setup up his way so he can ride how he wants to ride. That isn't possible with this current M1, at least not yet. Crutchlow has said as much. The only way to get the lap times out of the bike is to magically turn yourself into Jorge Lorenzo and mimic his riding to a tee. Never in my many years of following motorcycle racing have I seen as many racing fans point fingers from the cheap seats. Rossi isn't going to ride like Lorenzo any more than Lorenzo is going to ride like him. The only question is whether Yamaha will help Rossi ride like he wants or if they'll leave it to JB and crew for the season to figure out.

I agree VR isn't looking good but keep in mind pundits 2 races ago were telling us Dani isn't gonna cut it this year. I would give until the end of the Barcelona round before you write him off.

Excuses, excuses.
Lorenzo had no trouble adapting to Rossi's bike back in 2008. You'd think the 'greatest ever' could adjust his style slightly to accommodate the current Yamaha, which really cannot be all _that_ different than the bike he walked away from. The increasingly popular notion that Lorenzo and Forcada have somehow 'ruined' the once-pristine Yamaha seems pretty far fetched. I don't doubt that the bike handles differently, but keep in mind that Cal - never one to be mistaken for a subtle rider - seems to have no trouble making it go.

Point being he was FAST out of the box, scoring a whole pile of podiums and a win in his first few races. He didn't moan about the setup or demand to change the bike. He just went out and rode the hell out of the machine. Wow, what a concept! :)

No, he wasn't perfect. If you _really_ needed or wanted to, I suppose you could blame the cold tire high-sides on a certain 'deficiency.' To Jorge's credit, the crashes never slowed him down and he soon learned how to stay on. For bonus points, name the rider who high-sided on cold tires in 2010, breaking his leg and effectively ending his season. ;)

To be honest, the usage of the word stupid was perhaps on the extreme side of things. However, I sure think that there would have been ways to think of settling the issue amicably and without ruining his career. I do not want to make an argument or a debate out of this but if you look at Rossi leaving factories be it Honda, Yamaha or Ducati, the parting has always been less than amicable. Incidentally I am no Lorenzo fan and believe for sure I am a Rossi fan and one of the reasons for that is that he was the one who convincingly resurrected Yamaha to its glory days post Wayne Rainey who happens to be my all time favourite. Rossi winning on a Yamaha is what I would like to see again, but as things stand that is looking remote. But like I said in the previous post, I would like to be proven wrong.

Not for the past decade or so, that's been Yamaha. Before that it was Honda, and Yamaha before that. It goes in cycles, You can't say categorically that Honda will always be the factory to beat any more than you can say Renault will always be the factory to beat in F1 despite their size.

Pedrosa is doing well but my moneys still on Jorge over the full season. This year its Yamaha playing catch up rather than Honda though.

No Desh, Yamaha hasn't been tha factory to beat for the past decade or so, It was Honda! It was Honda in the '90 and in the '80 too. I know that you're Yamaha fan but get your facts straight. If you look at the stats you will see that there is no decade in WGP in which Yamaha has more titles than Honda in the premier class. That's the facts! Plus, Honda didn't compete in the '70 and still has more titles then any other manufacturer. Again, that's the facts, like it or not. Here is the link so you can see:


Here are the stats for the past decade or so:

Season Category Constructor
2012 MotoGP Honda
2011 MotoGP Honda
2010 MotoGP Yamaha
2009 MotoGP Yamaha
2008 MotoGP Yamaha
2007 MotoGP Ducati
2006 MotoGP Honda
2005 MotoGP Yamaha
2004 MotoGP Honda
2003 MotoGP Honda
2002 MotoGP Honda
2001 500 cc Honda
2000 500 cc Yamaha

We have already discussed this, remeber? Look, the rider title goes only to the rider as his personal achievement - not as manufacturers, and the munufacturer (or constructor) title goes only to the manufacturer as his. It seems that you're mixing this two things.

Here is the clarification:

The Riders' World Championship is awarded to the most successful rider over a season, as determined by a points system based on Grand Prix results.

The Constructors' World Championship is awarded to the most successful constructor over a season, as determined by a points system based on Grand Prix results. Only the highest-scoring rider in each race for each constructor contributing points towards the Championship. The winner of the constructor's world championship is not necessarily the bike used by the riders' world champion. For example: In 2004, Valentino Rossi who rode a Yamaha bike won the riders' world championship, but in the constructors' standings, Honda have higher points than Yamaha, therefore Honda won constructor's world championship.

If that decides the championship I will extremely disappointed and asking who drove that 'rule' through. Was it HRC?
It just shows that any rule limiting what a factory can do to develop their machinery/technology is anti-competitive. Limits are necessary, but I don't understand why engine-use limits are necessary.
Teams should be allowed to spend their budget where it works for them. If that's an allegedly Aprilia-like 30-odd engines a season then so be it.
Hopefully Yamaha/Burgess still have their development notes and can back-track to where the M1 was before it became JLo'd.
Has anyone seen Furusawa lately?

... that thankfully addresses what's been on my mind; that the M1 is very clearly Lorenzo's bike now, and it isn't suiting Rossi (or Cal) as much as they'd like it too, both riders who'd like to brake deep into the corners and need a package that allows that. It doesn't hurt the show to see Rossi's luck thinning at the end of his career (the Ducati disaster, Yamaha being clearly overtaken by Honda as soon as he switches teams), but I'd much rather have him go out with a bang. Let's see what this weekend brings, perhaps he and Jerry can find an exploitable set-up this weekend afterall.

Had the same thoughts about Yamaha. Could it be that the development direction taken to suit Lorenzo's style has reached its full potential?
I'm just talking technology and bike setting philosophy, I'm in no way blaming it on the excellent Lorenzo.
Maybe Rossi could request a 2010 chassis and see how it goes but I suspect that it won't be so simple.
Good Mugello to all!

... development that skewed towards Jorge's style and away from Rossi's, I'd expect Val & Co to overcome that and find a set-up. But the Yamaha is also suffering from a substantial acceleration deficit compared to Honda, not mention top-speed and overall rear grip on corner exit. So essentially Jorge, Cal and Rossi are all in the same boat regarding outright power and acceleration compared to Honda, but Jorge has the advantage amongst them because the chassis is his baby.

I really dislike this rule. I understand the need/reason for restricting the quantity, but five?

The factories always say that they want an engineering challenge to keep their interest in MotoGP. They find that in both the engine allocation and the fuel limit. It is madness, in terms of costs, but it is the way in which the factories sell MotoGP to their boards, as an R&D exercise.

I think if we are honest their boards know it's horse poo. Without these ridiculous fuel limits and engine limits, the budget for a season would be heaps less, by millions of dollars, many millions. They could easily sell that to their board as well.

R&D as an excuse is tom foolery. Prod bikes don't have pneumatic valves, carbon discs, gas forks, the myriad of sensors, Honda doesn't make a V4 sportbike (that will change soon but due to price, irrelevant), Ducati doesn't make a production V4 any more either. Only Yamaha, out of the three, actually offer a crossplane engined R1. And it doesn't have pneumatic valves.

What sells the boards, is advertising for their brand. It's, as you pointed out, why Suzuki is trying to come back into the sport. Honda can say it's R&D as much as they want. Repeating something doesn't make it true. Honda has the money, and their own test tracks to test any MPG saving technology, Traction control, you name it, that they could dream up, now and in the future. They do not need Grand Prix to do it.

Honda's only goal, in this sport, is domination of it, so they can show their superiority over other brands which leads to sales on showroom floors.

That R&D excuse is about like Traction Control. They can test their TC systems on their own tracks 24/7 365 in any weather condition. Like Noyes has said over the last decade.....The 4 stroke powerband, for the most part, ended the nasty high sides. TC isn't needed, and it merely shaves tenths off lap times instead of how they market it, as a safety device. It hasn't prevented a myriad of GP riders serious injury to include, Dani Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo, Marco Simoncelli, Cal Crutchlow, you name it. The only reason it is required now is because the bikes are completely built around it.

The smoke and mirrors of the reasoning the MSMA uses for justification of x,y, z needs to end and the truth be told. Honda wanted 6 engines in the beginning then when they were finishing the season only using 5, they wanted it moved to 5 for the season. Cut the fuel allotment? Honda's are a little more efficient, another advantage. All of these things require millions and millions of dollars in R&D, and Honda has more 2 commas then anyone else which is why you see so little manus on the grid. Marlboro yanks their chain, you could see Ducati leave as well.

It certainly is #1 on my hit list. An absolutely awesome circuit. Thank goodness Le Mans is out of the way. Yamaha/HRC/Ducati. Most angles covered aptly David. I look forward to a cliff hanger of a race wet or dry and hope a Ducati wins. After all the pain they have endured over the past several seasons, they need a break. No doubt,should they win in Mugello it will be by default. Although it is their home track HRC/Yamaha and their current rider line ups own this place.
Dani Pedrosa. Just my opinion. He was and still is a brilliant protaganist,but something changed in 2011 within his psyche when Casey joined HRC. Complacent top Honda rider was no longer good enough. The signing of Marc has kept the pressure on him to his benefit. Dani is showing a side of himself as a racer I have not seen since his 250 days. Makes me think the little bloke is digging into untapped reserves. Long may it continue. Yamaha and Valentino. Sure the bike has a George edge to it and so what? The Ducati's have a Valentino edge to them. Outside of George , Dani and Nick there really is no continuity within the factory ranks.

Mugello is one gorgeous circuit with beautifully flowing lines for the bikes to battle on. Excellent.

Yamaha. I do not feel like the bike is so bad. Rossi was just on the worst Factory bike in the series and was able to pull off a second place at the other Italian circuit last year. He may need to concentrate more on what he needs to change about the way he is riding. Looking too deeply into the bike will leave him stuck behind bike issues that may or may not be insurmountable, (compared to Ducati, nothing about the bike is insurmountable)

In the press conference today he said it was hard for an older rider like him to make changes, to adapt. I believe that, but he has no choice at this point. He has to adapt or move on. Because the bike he is on is no where near the problem the Ducati was. And everyone knows it. Cal Crutchlow, who is talented and more than that DRIVEN, is proving with a lower spec bike that the Yamaha is sound in design.

At the beginning of the year I said I would not say anything doubting Rossi until after the first 5 races. Well, this is the 5th. If he does not get a good result here at this track, his track..... he may have lost that final step. All champions fall and this just might be his fall.

I hope he does well because I want to see a few more Rossi wins! Rossi mixing it up is still fun to watch. Not being young anymore I am pulling for him. Pulling for the ancient to come back from the dead and have some type of resurrection.

Bucine... final corner, final lap. It's Pedrosa ahead of Marquez, Rossi and Crutchlow. About a second back are Lorenzo and Dovi. I can't remember how long ago we've seen a group this size heading into the last corner of a MotoGP race... so tight, so close, so driven. The last laps have provided us with a number of aggressive overtaking maneuvers already... now it's all coming together in the final corner.

Marquez only wants one thing; to get past his teammate. Pedrosa, who has been leading for most of the race, knows what's going on behind him; a pack of hungry wolves hot on his heels... he needs to focus. What the #$@&??? All of a sudden a fairing similar to his appears in the corner of his eye. For a fraction of a second he's stumped. This is physically impossible... there's contact. Marquez muscles his way forward and the two Repsol Hondas drift slightly wide just before the apex of the corner.

Time slows down to an almost standstill... the crowd is completely silent... there's a break in the dark clouds that have been hanging over the circuit all day... a single ray of sunshine comes down and hits the tarmac of Bucine. Are those angles? Do I hear Muses sing?

After breaking ridiculously late, the smallest of gaps appears ahead of Rossi. The two Honda riders only seem to have eyes for each other and Rossi punches his front wheel right between the bike of Marquez and the curb stones... three abreast... I swear I can see the shock on the faces of Pedrosa and Marquez through their visors. Rossi has momentum on his side and is on the best possible line. He hits the final straight first while the Honda's are desperately trying to stay upright. Tucked in deep behind his fairing he knows he's about to take what is rightfully his...