Mugello is a real motorcycle racing track. And on Sunday, it served up a real motorcycle race. After close games of follow-my-leader at Jerez and Le Mans, we had battles, we had passing, we had riders attacking and counterattacking, lining people up to dive underneath, or sweeping out of the slipstream to dive under the rider ahead at Turn 1.
Does this mean MotoGP's overtaking problem has been fixed? Only if we hold an entire season's worth of racing at Mugello and Phillip Island (which doesn't sound like such a terrible idea, to be honest). But it offers hope that when conditions are right, we can see the kind of spectacle which we have come to expect from MotoGP.
Even the atmosphere was good. Sure, the crowd was much thinner on the ground than in previous years – roughly half of what you might expect, making the drive into the track smooth and easy – but they brought the smoke bombs, the passion, the cheering, helped in no small part by the fact that there was an all-Italian front row, and an Italian rider won the Italian Grand Prix on an Italian bike.
It proved a memorable weekend at Mugello, with plenty to think and write about. Starting with these subscriber notes:
- Bagnaia's victory reinforces the MotoGP hierarchy
- Fabio Quartararo, Yamaha's Casey Stoner
- Why the Ducati is the best bike on the MotoGP grid
- Why overtaking is possible at Mugello, but not Le Mans
- Marc Marquez' last day of work
- Pedro Acosta gets it done at last
Pecco Bagnaia's victory was the Italian delivering what he had promised in 2021, until the untimely death of Jason Dupasquier after Moto3 qualifying, and the ill-advised moment of silence on the grid afterward. Last year, Bagnaia had unsurprisingly become distracted by the ceremony, and crashed out of the lead of a race he looked like winning. In 2022, with no distractions, he brought Ducati the win he should have got in 2021.
The way he did so was impressive. He dropped all the way down to eighth on the first lap, but set about working his way forward with a series of superbly timed passes, using the slipstream on the straight to force his way past rider after rider. The key moment was when the factory Ducati rider got past Fabio Quartararo at the start of lap 6. He could put enough space between himself and the reigning champion to allow him to deal with Marco Bezzecchi, then maintain enough of an advantage over Quartararo that the Frenchman could never attack.
It was not a rerun of Jerez, however, where Bagnaia beat Quartararo by getting ahead of him and Quartararo's overheating front tire never allowed him to try to pass. At Mugello, Bagnaia was in control, and Quartararo could just not close the gap sufficiently.
"It was a different situation but a similar result," Quartararo summed up the race afterward. "In Jerez, I knew I could do nothing because we had really similar pace and my front tire was way too hot. Today our pace was really similar but he was faster in one sector, I was faster in another one."
That was evident by the way the lead yoyoed back and forth throughout the race. Quartararo would cut Bagnaia's lead by three tenths, then Bagnaia would find another three tenths and they were back to where they started.
The fact that the podium consisted of riders who started fifth, sixth, and seventh on the grid is a sign that the chaotic opening phase of the 2022 championship is at an end. There are now three, maybe four riders who are a cut above the rest, and capable of performing week in, week out. After a rough start to the season, Pecco Bagnaia is reasserting his dominance in the Ducati camp. Fabio Quartararo is riding out of his skin on the Yamaha, outperforming the other Yamahas by an outrageous amount. And Aleix Espargaro is turning into the model of consistency, scoring his fourth third place in a row, traffic preventing him from doing much better.
The wildcard here is Enea Bastianini. The Gresini rider crashed out of the race at Turn 4, sucked into the corner in Aleix Espargaro's draft. "With Aleix in front, I braked at the same point I braked before, and I went a little bit wide, and I lost the front," the Italian explained. It is part of a wider pattern: Bastianini won at Qatar, then finished eleventh at Mandalika. He won in Texas, then crashed out at Portimão. He won his third race of the season at Le Mans, then crashed out a second time at Mugello. He is still third in the championship, but his deficit has grown to 28 points.
What are top three doing better than anyone else? Starting from pole, Fabio Di Giannantonio got a chance to study them from close quarters, until an underperforming rear tire saw him slide down the field. "They are so precise," the Gresini Ducati rider told me after the race. "When they brake also a bit later, they can also close the line perfectly, they are super smooth on the throttle, super precise on how to use the throttle to get the traction. So it was amazing honestly to be at the front and study these things from really close."
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