2014 Mugello Saturday Round Up: Signs Of Marquez' Weakness, The Importance Of Equipment, And The Rocketship Ducati

Knowing that not everyone is in a position to watch qualifying and races when they are live, we try to operate a no-spoilers policy for at least a few hours after the event. No results in headlines, nor on the MotoMatters Twitter feed. But as the mighty motorcycle racing Twitter personality SofaRacer put it today, ' I know you don't like to Tweet spoilers David. But 'Márquez on pole' and 'Márquez wins' technically, erm, aren't.' To the surprise of absolutely nobody, Marc Marquez took his sixth pole of the season, and his seventh pole in a row on Sunday. Marquez remains invincible, even at what he regards as his worst track of the year.

His advantage is rather modest, though. With just 0.180 seconds over the man in second place – the surprising Andrea Iannone – it is Marquez' smallest advantage of the season, if we discount Qatar, where he was basically riding with a broken leg. You get the sense that Marquez is holding something back, almost being cautious, after being bitten several times by the track last year, including a massive crash in free practice and then sliding out of the race. It makes him almost vulnerable for the first time. His race pace is still fast, but he has others – Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, even the Ducatis of Andrea Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso – all on roughly the same pace.

But luck plays a big part in motorcycle racing, and as ever, luck seems to be swinging Marquez' way. All the way throughout free practice, Valentino Rossi looked like a genuine threat, the Movistar Yamaha man determined to challenge Marquez for the win at his home race, and his 300th Grand Prix to boot. But a wrong tire choice on his second qualifying run left him struggling with chatter. Rossi and his crew gambled that the softer front tire would give him more grip on his time attack, but along with the grip came large amounts of chatter. Unable to improve, he dropped down to tenth on the grid. The only consolation, Rossi said, was that there are worse places to be down in tenth than Mugello. 'If you had to pick one track to start from the fourth row, Mugello is good because there are a lot of places to overtake,' Rossi said. But he needs to get past riders quickly and not get held up, and ideally, he needs someone to hold up Marquez too, if he is to challenge for victory. Rossi's real problem was the fact that the times are so close: the time he set in qualifying was just half a second off that of Marquez, pretty close for a 1'47 lap. Unfortunately for Rossi, there are eight other riders crammed between himself and the pole sitter.

Dani Pedrosa was the other rider who found pace on Saturday, and looked perhaps the strongest of Marquez' challengers. But it was bad luck that thwarted Pedrosa's shot at pole, the Repsol Honda man accidentally switching engine mapping modes to the least powerful. He did not notice it until he did his practice start at the end of the session, Pedrosa told the media, when he finally looked at his dashboard. He had seen his times were not where they should have been, but had not realized that the problem was with his engine mapping. Fourth place on the grid should be close enough for Pedrosa, though he still has to work on his starts. The change of strategy – moving the balance of the bike to be better in the latter stages of the race, instead of the early part – has robbed him of the advantage he had in earlier years.

The real surprise of the day was the return to form of Jorge Lorenzo. Overnight adjustments to his leathers by Alpinestars, to compensate for Lorenzo's added muscle mass from training, made a big improvement. The tightness was gone, he was comfortable again, and could focus on riding again. He ended up in third, a quarter of a second behind Marquez. It is his third front row start of the season, but this time, he is sounding happier and more confident than he has so far this year. His physical fitness is nearly back at 100%, very important at such a physically demanding track as Mugello. Lorenzo needs to redeem his season, and Mugello, a track where he has won for the last three years, is a good place to start.

That adjustments to gear can make such a big difference may seem surprising, but given how much focus a rider needs, even the smallest distraction – a tightness in in arms or legs, new, stiff gloves, even something as trivial as a lumpy seam – can have an impact on performance. I was given a guided tour of the Alpinestars truck-cum-workshop this afternoon, and was told the lengths the company go to make their riders comfortable. A seamstress is there ready to make whatever adjustments are necessary, as the suits are tailored to each rider's body. A change in training regime, often due to injury or illness, can cause a rider's body to change enough that their leathers don't fit perfectly. A team of assistants run back and forth to the Alpinestars truck with feedback from the riders, ready to make adjustments where needed.

Between Marquez and Lorenzo sits Andrea Iannone, the Pramac Ducati rider finally getting his first podium in MotoGP. Iannone has shown flashes of real speed this season, and is always strong at Mugello. His problem has been his consistency, with too many crashes, and a tendency to be fast one session, and slow the next. His main concern at Mugello was not to fall off in front of his home crowd, as he has done for the past two races.

With Cal Crutchlow in sixth – his best qualifying with Ducati – the Ducatis are looking strong. Upgraded engine parts adding more power have turned the bike into what Cal Crutchlow described as 'a rocket'. Iannone broke the official top speed record during practice, posting 349.6 km/h, and taking the record from Dani Pedrosa. His real top speed, according to Brembo, was closer to 361 km/h, the discrepancy down to the way the official speed is measured.

The problem the Ducatis have is that they cannot make their tires last. After six laps, performance starts to drop, making competing for a podium very difficult. Initial race pace would be strong, Andrea Dovizioso said, but after that it would be difficult. To an extent, this is the penalty Ducati pay for the concessions they have. With only the two softer compounds of the Open class at their disposal, they cannot experiment with a harder tire to try to make the bike last. They also still have a lot of work to do on their software, one of the reasons they are at loggerheads with Honda in the MSMA. Honda want to freeze all software development from next year, ahead of the switch to spec software in 2016. Ducati are adamant they cannot afford to stop development at the moment.

If qualifying in MotoGP was a short, intense battle, the fight was drawn out longer in Moto3. Jack Miller and Alex Rins fought over pole, with Rins coming up with a blistering lap mid session to secure pole comfortably. Jack Miller's counter attack was thwarted by traffic, with nearly twenty riders all hanging around on the line waiting for fast riders to come by. The situation has become very dangerous, and has been raised in the Safety Commission. The problem is that apportioning blame and meting out punishment is very tricky in these circumstances, though no doubt Race Direction will keep trying to find a way to put a stop to the practice.

It left Miller positively enraged, with riders both following him and getting in his way when he went for a fast lap. A couple of times he was fast in the first sections, before running into traffic later on. Whether it cost him pole position is debatable, but it certainly lost him time. Miller's talent is being noticed, however, and the Australian will be moving up to Moto2 in 2015. He will be riding for one of the top teams in the Moto2 class, with an announcement likely to come some time around Barcelona.

In Moto2, Tito Rabat's reign continues, the Spaniard taking his fourth pole of the season. Biggest surprise in the intermediate class was Sam Lowes, securing his first front row start at a track he has never raced at before. Lowes explained that he had a few new parts which dropped the bike lower at the rear, and allowed him to be a bit more comfortable. A new approach in the team, with more meetings, has created a little more harmony, and Lowes has immediately reaped the benefits. Starting from the front row, rather than mid pack, Lowes has a good shot at his podium in the class.

If the weather holds – and it should, with only a small chance of a shower on Sunday – there should be three great races at Mugello. There could be a real Italian classic coming on.

Gathering the background information for long articles such as these is an expensive and time-consuming operation. If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting MotoMatters.com. You can help by either taking out a subscription, buying the beautiful MotoMatters.com 2014 racing calendar, or by making a donation.

Back to top


Marquez will probably rocket off the start and be gone by the time they complete the first lap. He knows the rest is closer than they have been all year. He can't afford to linger now. Should be a good scrap for second, I hope.

For the sake of all that is good GIVE THE OPEN BIKES THE HARD TIRE COMPOUND. Geez Louise the middle compound is dropping off a THIRD of the way through the race! Are officials awaiting a nasty crash injury before doing this, waiting for permission from HRC, or holdimg out for adjustments from Bstone? DUMB.

Hoping for a humdinger, GO YAMAHA!

...For tires to drop off, its not a problem for safety as with the Bstones it seems to be predictable. You want each compound to last the entire race distance, best just give em one choice no? No point having different options if they all go for 30 laps.

Pirro and Iannone have already selected the open special soft rear at races this year so they must be confident they can manage it.

Not sure what ure worried about, looks like both factory and open classes have two choices at each race.

I'm only surprised they haven't been more seriously scrutinized. They are very disruptive and potentially disastrous.

Clamping it down should actually be very easy and straightforward. After FP1, FIM should easily be able to determine acceptable split times for riders to run around during practice and qualifying. Whoever slows unecessarilly and fails to meet the designated 'delta' split time should suffer any of many possible automatic panelties (with a more severe threshold reserved for qualifying). Grid penalties would make it work perfectly.

Nobody tried recklessly to get tows yesterday and the most disruptive lad out there, Barbera, has calmed his antics down quite a lot. Qualifying is a non-problem, there's no need for pussyfing this category again.

Maybe it's because I'm that age but I'm surprised that we don't see more comparison between Marquez and Saarinen. They both came into GP in a period where the fastest riders rode precise smooth arcing lines through the corners and were immediately successful with a completely different style. Both letting the bike move under them much more while being more aggressive.

As a young racer I saw Saarinen win at Daytona, and along with everyone else immediately tried to copy his style.

While I would love to see a three or four way battle for the lead every week it's still a treat just to watch what Marquez can do. And to watch the joy he takes in racing.

Looking forward to seeing Redding, Aoyama and Hayden on RC213Vs. I hope Dorna layeth the smacketh downeth upon HRC on the software decision. Ducati needs to call on Suzuki for support- they will need more than a year to develop the bike around the software.

Or they can just do away with all the tricks... do away with traction control and track maps... give em ignition/fuel on each cylinder and leave it at that.

It is really tiring to see the endless controversies around electronics. Dorna wants a controlled ECU, Honda wants to freeze development, Ducati want to continue development; I think the problem with all motor racing is that it is being regulated a bit too much. If people really want to cut down costs then just give the same bike to all racers (a la Red Bull rookies cup). Formula 1 for all practical purposes has alienated most fans. Those who still see the races are doing so out of habit. Perpetually saying that costs are killing the sport and then to save it framing rules that are killing it anyway is a contradiction in itself. So let there by very little in terms of rules and regulations and give factories the scope for innovation. If they spend their monies and go broke and therefore resort to withdrawing from the sport and killing it, that is too bad. But the good thing as that at least, as long as it lasts it will be fun. Right now it is like a terminally ill patient being given a morphine drip with slowly increased dosages so as to kill the patient slowly. I would hate to see MotoGP becoming a sport like F1 where engineers do more with the car than the driver. Just listen to the sound of the new F1 cars. Horrible is the word to describe it. I would rather have no motorsports than have this apology of it. This must be the only sport where one cannot practice, one cannot innovate and have tiers within where only four people have a chance to win. The rest are there to try and make the four look good.

"the problem with all motor racing is that it is being regulated a bit too much."

You think ? Really? :)

The towing in moto3 is borderline farcical. Hangers on even followed jack through the pits and out again! Any wonder he's incensed at the lack of attention to this problem.

Marquez, Pedrosa, Lorenzo then maybe Rossi if he takes enough Geritol. Then the Ducatis where they've been for three years...........20-30 seconds in arrears from the leader. Ducatis have no chance of wining or getting on the podium unless some of the top bikes/riders drive off course in a big way or like the last race, go wide any number of times letting others get past 'em.

If the Ducatis had use of the HARD tire they'd be even further back at the end of the race. I've nothing against Ducati. Just being real.

Thanks for the info on Pedrosa's mistake. I was wondering just why he didn't end up second on the grid. His arm pump surgery should be just about healed by now.

and will read this when I get to the track. The sun was really strong yeaterday, and looking to be stronger today ... Except for the light showers forecast for 2PM :-/

Thanks for the report, David.


I´m thinking about a couple of scenarios at the moment:

#1)MM93 does his thing and wins Mugello.End of story...maybe VR46 becomes second,third or his late time favourite 4th position, depending on how he overcomes the 9 guys in front of him.The most realistic script I think.

#2)Given the fact that everything can happen in 2wheeled motorsport, somebody could shoot MM93 off of his Honda during start or the first couple of laps.
That has happened a bunch of times before, also to VR46.Bautista would be candidate #1, as was Toni Elias in earlier days.Than Vale could finally battle it out with Lorenzo.

#3)Also a realistic scenario -given the pressure VR46 has put himself under(Mugello beeing a question of honor...), is that Vale will crash out of the race at a later stage of the race and MM93 will win Mugello without anyone harassing him.Later Vale will claim wrong tire choice or else for the crash...blablabla.

I´m a huge VR46 fan, but I´m so at the edge I can´t watch the race without a pulse of 120bpm anymore...desperately wanting a miracle to happen by Vale winning against Marc.

But Vale is only human and MM93 is just so head and shoulders above the rest, its cruel to watch Vale beeing defeated by Marc and himself when his mouth hands out checks that his body can´t cash anymore.

I´m going to watch the race, wanting Vale to beat Marc and I will bite the couch crying when it does not happen....and you don´t have to be a rocket scientist to judge the chances....they are frigging slim for Vale.

Don't write off the old bugger yet - he did come through the pack at Qatar, a track which is not particularly his favorite, one with less passing points, and finally one where he was not particularly fast during free practices. So technically, the changes are very high that he will join the front runners within a few laps.

However, I can't shake off the nagging feeling that he'll get it all wrong somehow with or without external help :)