2015 Mugello Saturday Round Up: Of Marquez' Strategy Error, And A Topsy-Turvy Grid

Over the past two years, Marc Márquez and his team have proven to be a master of strategy. They have found a number of innovations, most notably the two-stop, three-run strategy during qualifying, and the bunny hop bike swap during flag-to-flag races. Santi Hernandez has earned his reputation as a brilliant crew chief, and as a strategist capable of finding advantages in places where other teams simply haven't thought of looking.

So for Márquez to first miss out on going straight to Q2, and then make a fatal error again in Q1 leaving him in thirteenth is frankly shocking. Two major blunders in one day is unlike Márquez' side of the Repsol Honda garage, and their worst mistake since Phillip Island in 2013, where they miscounted laps for the compulsory pit stop and Márquez found himself disqualified.

What caused them to mess up like this? Concern about the championship, and then a touch of hubris. Márquez spent FP3 working on set up for used tires, looking at pace later on in the race. That meant he had little time at the end of the session to push for a fast lap, and found himself bumped out of the top ten as the pace hotted up. He missed out on Q2 by a very narrow margin: just 0.009 separated him from Maverick Viñales in tenth, and less than a hundredth of a second from Bradley Smith in a very safe eighth spot.

Trying to make good in Q1, Márquez went out late and tried to push hard, but a lack of feeling with the rear tire meant that he could not set a fast time. The plan was to use just one tire, and save an extra one for Q2 when he was through. The mistake was to assume that he would automatically go through, without much trouble from the opposition. Nobody told Yonny Hernandez about this, and putting in a blistering lap late in the session, he fired past Márquez and took top spot in Q1, bumping Márquez out of the last place in Q2. Márquez was left out in the cold.

Wanting to save a tire is understandable, but what is less understandable is the decision to wait until late in the session to make your first run. The strategy should be to go out early, post a lap, then sit in the pits waiting to see if anyone gets close. Instead, Márquez sat in the pits for a couple of minutes before going out, and by the time he had messed up a couple of laps, it was too late to come back in and try with fresh rubber. The otherwise brilliant team was felled by hubris, by the assumption that they would automatically get through to Q2. Nothing is a given in MotoGP; the level is simply too high. You always have to work, and always have to be aware of possible pitfalls. The road to hell is paved with simple assumptions.

So does starting from the fifth row of the grid mean Márquez can put any thoughts of a podium out of his mind? That, too, would be a rather rash assumption. His rivals have certainly not written him off. "Pay attention to Marc," Valentino Rossi told the media. Márquez had the race pace, and was capable of a good start, the Italian warned. Cal Crutchlow went even further. "Marc will be on the podium," the LCR Honda man confidently asserted. A peculiar prediction? Not for those who can remember what Márquez did in 2012. At Motegi he didn't put the bike into gear properly at the start, finding himself standing still as the rest of the grid fired past him at the start. He was ninth by the end of the first lap, and went on to win the race. At Valencia, he was forced to start from the back of the grid after a rather egregious bumping of Simone Corsi during practice, causing the Italian to crash. He went on to win that race too. San Donato, the first corner at Mugello, is the Repsol Honda's weakest point on the circuit, Márquez struggling to get the bike stopped and falling there during FP4. But if he gets through there and has gained a handful of positions, a podium is not beyond the bounds of possibility.

There are signs that the stress is starting to get to Márquez, though. The Spaniard flew into an uncharacteristic rage when he saw he had missed out on Q2, and would have to start from thirteenth. Then, during his media debrief with the press, he was a little less cheerful than usual, answering a couple of questions with a mix of irritation and exasperation in his voice. These are tough times indeed for the world champion.

Though the grid is fascinating in its mix of riders in unexpected positions, it is not a fair reflection of race pace. Andrea Iannone took a brilliant pole, his first in MotoGP, putting in an astounding lap to stay ahead of Jorge Lorenzo, the man who has been unstoppable all weekend. It was a record-breaking effort, the first time an Italian took pole on an Italian motorcycle at the Italian GP since Giacomo Agostino put the MV Agusta on pole at Imola in 1972. Whether Iannone can convert that into a result remains to be seen: the Ducati man is suffering with a fractured humerus, and lasting a full race will be tough. Iannone has always been a rider who is fast over a single lap, but his pace over race distance has often been found wanting.

Beside Iannone sits Jorge Lorenzo, who is looking ever more like the Terminator. Robotically regular, unstoppable, laying down a searing pace that no one else can follow. Lorenzo is clearly back on form, and at a track that he loves, he will be tough to beat. His consistency through FP3 and FP4 was devastating, his one lap pace fearsome.

The main threat to Lorenzo comes from Andrea Dovizioso, who has been running similar race pace to him. Where Iannone always looks fast on one lap, Dovizioso looks deceptively slow, until you see on the timing screens that he is the fastest man on track. For Dovizioso, only one thing counts, pace on used tires. That is where the Ducati is weakest, and so the Italian is working on a strategy for the race. The plan, he said, was to get in front of Lorenzo, prevent him from escaping, then try to use the speed of the Ducati down the front straight to control the race. It will come down to how close Dovizioso is at the start of the final straight: if he is within half a second of Lorenzo, he can close the gap using the outright ponies of the GP15. Ducati unsealed a fresh engine for each of the factory Ducati men at Mugello, said to be an evolution of the old engine with more horsepower. Dovizioso registered 361 km/h on the onboard telemetry during qualifying, a terrifying speed indeed. The Yamaha has made big steps forward in terms of top speed, Jorge Lorenzo told the press conference. But are those steps big enough to hold off the Hondas?

Cal Crutchlow was also confident of a podium at Mugello, and disappointed not to have done better than the second row of the grid. He lost a couple of tenths in one corner, he said, and that bumped him down to fourth. In terms of race pace, he felt he was close enough, and capable of challenging for a podium. Again, it comes down the start. Get off the line, and latch onto Lorenzo, and you are in with a shot.

Aleix Espargaro and Michele Pirro both made commendable efforts to finish on the second row of the grid, especially as Espargaro is suffering with a hand injury. The Suzuki is a good deal slower than the rest of the bikes – though faster than Jorge Lorenzo's bike, the Movistar Yamaha rider pointed out – and is losing several tenths on the front straight alone. Michele Pirro has proven to be a superb test rider, but he has not raced in MotoGP for some time, and must be assumed to be a little rusty.

On the third row of the grid are Dani Pedrosa and Valentino Rossi, both of whom are likely to be a factor. Pedrosa is still recovering from arm pump surgery, but feels stronger than expected. Rossi, on the other hand, is looking menacing. On race pace, he is very close to Márquez and Lorenzo, and believes there is more to come from the bike. He starts from eight on the grid: as Rossi's many fans like to point out, the last two times he started from eighth, he won the race, at Qatar and in Argentina. You cannot write Valentino Rossi off until the checkered flag drops.

The Moto2 race looks like being between Sam Lowes, Tito Rabat and Tom Luthi, with question marks over whether Johann Zarco can join the party. Lowes showed his calm today, crashing early in qualifying, getting back to the pits, the waiting patiently for the moment to go out again. That he did, and he was rewarded with his second pole of the season.

In Moto3, it is Danny Kent who once again looks invincible. The Kiefer Racing rider put three tenths over on his teammate Hiroki Ono, and three quarters of a second over on third-place man Romano Fenati. What was most impressive about Kent's lap was that he made it on his own, however. Kent will be trying to escape on Sunday, and hoping the chasing pack get tanged up with one another for long enough that they cannot close him down. If they do, then he will be practicing his runs to the line on every lap.

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"Nobody told Yonny Hernandez about this, and putting in a blistering lap late in the session, he fired past Márquez and took second in Q1, and the last place in Q2."

Hernandez was fastest in Q1, ahead of Espargaro.

One of the things that makes a great champion is how you handle adversity. Think of Rossi's grace during the nightmare years on the Ducati for an example of what makes a great champion.

Marquez is tasting some real adversity this year for the first time, and the toys are starting to go out the cot, just a little. Just hope the kid doesn't go into bulldozer mode when trying to make up those places in the first two laps like you know he's going to. it's going to be a fascinating race !

Winning when nobody else has tires (or bikes) that work is one thing. Winning when others are on comparable rides is another. Yes, this year will show what MM is made of.

Noting for the record that many have commented (here and other websites) about the totally foreseeable possibility that Marquez barges into the first corner trying to make up as many spots as possible. Given this potential danger is obvious to so many already, Race Direction MUST be prepared for this. If Marquez (particularly given his aggressive history - not to mention dangerous 1st corner moves in Le Mans and Qatar) takes anyone out tomorrow, they need to come down HARD to ensure the lesson is learned. I have nothing against Marquez, but I think he's been given too much "benefit of the doubt" when, at this point, it should be going the other way. I hope everyone makes it through 1st corner cleanly tomorrow.

"Ducati unsealed a fresh engine for each of the factory Ducati men at Mugello, said to be an evolution of the old engine with more horsepower."

Might not be long before Hernandez and Petrucci get the "old" motors and new GP15 frames. If MM was upset when Yonny bounced him today, I think he'll be even less happy to see those two on GP15's.....

Rossi fans would probably point out that the last three times he started from eight, he won. Iy might seem meaningless but it prevents any third time charm issues.

Bradl said he will use the softest available tyre for the race - it will be interesting to see if Ducati will do the same with Pirro to be able to fight Rossi, Pedrosa and Marquez in the first half of the race and thereby slow them down and secure a podium at least for the other two factory guys.

why is it that a bunch of readers of this magnificent site tend to give David a hard time about insignificant things such as a typo?

This is by far one of the best sources of motoGP knowledge and we have David who seems to blog, tweet or text every day for about 18 hours straight and people give him a hard time for something like that...


Actually, I really appreciate them. It gives me a chance to correct errors I make when trying to write long articles at 2am!

I seem to recall Nicky Hayden saying that it is useless to make it into P2 as a result of a top two P1 finish because you have no tyres left. Then there was some proposal to allow those two riders to have an extra tyre and that Honda blocked this proposal. I searched but cannot find a reference. If true, then this is Karma indeed.

So many comments here often praise the high quality of David Emmett's always insightful articles. Absolutely right: this site is undoubtedly the best of all for in-depth, mature discussion of MotoGP and other classes. I think we all recognise it is a cut above the rest, and once you discover Motomatters it becomes a compulsion to return again and again.

What is interesting is that much of that praise comes from people quite happy to enjoy the benefits of David's hard research, brilliant writing and the best comments area on the web, without bothering to do the decent thing in return: become a Site Supporter.

We had another one today (Spelling Bee), defending David over a small typo, yet failing to do what would be far more useful to him and all of us by REALLY assisting him in his labour of love so he can keep doing it for many years to come: coughing up a small amount of cash to become a Site Supporter.

Shame on all of you others who likewise take without giving. C'mon, do the right thing and support this man who gives us all so much pleasure! Besides being the ethical thing to do, it will pay off for us. With the financial security we his fans give him to keep feeding us the inside line on MotoGP we crave, David can go the extra mile to do it even better, for longer. It's a small price to pay for this amazing service, so stump up fellas! You'll be gład you did.

David, you are the man. I have spent more time on your site over the last 10 days than with my newborn son!

. . . I was thinking of doing something similar (again) on David's Sunday wrap-up article but you did a stellar job. Step up folks and go sign up as a site supporter. Support the source of this great site : David, Scott and all the others. Just getting Scott's desktop shots are worth more than an annual subscription, let alone everything else you get. It's a great deal to keep it all coming.

Given that the Honda's braking is less than perfect and MM will have the red mist down at he start, turn one will be very interesting, expect a big Bautista moment ! I still expect Vale to be there or thereabouts if the Ducatis can mix it with JL for a couple of laps. It will be a very long and interesting race. From Danny Kent's time this morning, looks like he will led start to finish. And if Sam can remain attached o his bike for the whole race, he is in with a good chance.

Very true. But watch the next few hundred too - 90% of that first corner risk will still be there for whomever is in front of him! He brings so much to each race, and his /HRC's 'problems' are predictable. His recent accidents might just be bringing a tad more caution to his race strategy though - he knows he needs points and a finish is as important to him as everyone else. It will be fun to watch.