The VROOM Blog #ItalianGP – Pecco Bagnaia scores a perfect weekend in Mugello

 In Blog, MotoGP, News

After a 3-week break that somehow felt much longer, MotoGP was back this weekend as the 2023 season rolled on into Italy with two Italians separated by only a single point at the top of the championship. Reigning world champion Pecco Bagnaia arrived at Mugello leading fellow VR46 Academy rider Marco Bezzecchi by a single point following Marco’s second win of the season back in Le Mans.

The medical centre was a busy place on Thursday with 5 MotoGP riders having to undergo fitness tests before they would be allowed to compete this weekend. Enea Bastianini, Miguel Oliveira and Raul Fernandez were declared fit to return to action having missed previous races, while Pecco Bagnaia and Luca Marini suffered injuries during the race in Le Mans. Bagnaia was declared fit on Thursday, and Marini was to be reviewed following P1 on Friday morning, when he was also declared fit.

The Tech3 team released an update on Pol Espargaro as he continues on the road to recovery following his crash back in Portugal. The team said that the initial target for Pol was to rejoin the team for this round, however he still has a “small oedema issue around his vertebrae” that requires treatment. The team are hopeful that Pol will return to action before the summer break, with trips to the Sachsenring and Assen following immediately on the back of the Italian GP.

There has long been speculation that 2021 World Superbike Champion Toprak Razgatlioğlu would be moving to MotoGP – possibly at the expense of Franky Morbidelli – but that speculation was put to bed between Le Mans and Mugello as Toprak announced that while he was going to be leaving Yamaha at the end of the season, he would remain in the World Superbike Championship with a move to BMW.

In other Yamaha rider news, Fabio Quartararo announced on Saturday that going forward he will be representing himself. He will part ways with current manager Eric Mahé and will be managing his own interests for at least the period 2025 – 2026 (he is already contracted to Yamaha for 2024) via his own management company FQ20.

It wouldn’t be an Italian GP without a few special helmets for the home riders, and they didn’t disappoint. Marco Bezzecchi, Fabio Di Giannantonio and Pecco Bagnaia all sported one-off helmets for the weekend, with Bagnaia even managing to choose something that wasn’t ill-thought-out or offensive, so that was a bonus…

Spanish riders Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales – racing for the Italian Aprilia team – both also had special helmets too, with Aleix going with a tribute to Max Biaggi, while Maverick wore a helmet highlighting Oakley as his personal sponsor was also the sponsor of the race weekend.

Pramac Ducati unveiled a one-off livery on Thursday – although we had to wait until Sunday to see it on track – and it was awesome. The bikes (and the leathers of Jorge Martin and Johann Zarco) were designed with one side representing “Hell” and the other “Heaven / Paradise,” in reference to Dante’s Devine Comedy and the idea that MotoGP can seem like either heaven or hell at times.

Michele Pirro and Lorenzo Savadori were back on track for wild card rides for Ducati and Aprilia respectively, while Jonas Folger remained at Tech3 in place of Pol Espargaro.

There was a special ceremony held on Thursday to induct Andrea Dovizioso into the Hall of Fame as a MotoGP legend. Dovizioso was 125cc World Champion in 2004, and was runner-up in the premier class in 2017, 2018 and 2019. He is the 3rd most successful Italian rider in terms of premier class race wins with 15 MotoGP wins to his name, and he is one of only 10 riders to have reached the milestone of 100 GP podiums, with 103 podiums across the 125cc, 250cc and MotoGP classes.

P1 got underway on Friday morning and Aleix Espargaro appeared to be limping to and from his bike, and that was before he crashed with 20 minutes remaining in the session. While he was not inclined to explain his injury to the media, he did concede on Saturday that he – like his friend Alex Rins had done previously – crashed his bicycle while riding around the track on Thursday evening while looking at his phone.

There was the usual flurry of activity at the end of the session as riders made their attempts at setting fast lap times, with Viñales, Martin, Quartararo, and Alex Marquez all taking turns at holding the top spot, but it was Alex Marquez who held on to set the fastest lap of the session, with Fabio Quartararo in 2nd and Brad Binder in 3rd place.
P2 on Friday afternoon saw a crash for Joan Mir. Mir injured his hand in the crash and although he wasn’t declared unfit to race, he and the Repsol Honda team took the decision to withdraw from the rest of the weekend. Upon returning to Spain, Mir has undergone further checks and will sit out the German GP next weekend too.

Back on track, as the session was heading into the crucial final 10 minutes, Marco Bezzecchi was leading the way ahead of Martin, Bagnaia, Binder and Raul Fernandez. Marc Marquez did his usual and waited atop his Honda in pitlane for a faster rider to tag onto for a tow to a fast lap – Viñales was the rider of choice this time, and it did the trick as Maverick crossed the line in 2nd place only to be bumped down to 3rd as Marc shot to the top of the times thanks to Maverick’s tow.

Marc then ran into the gravel at turn 1, bringing out the yellow flags under which Fabio Di Giannantonio crashed. Meanwhile, Rins and Pecco had both spent some time at the top of the times, before Quartararo had his fastest lap of the session cancelled due to yellow flags. As the chequered flag came out, Aleix jumped to 9th place and bumped team mate Viñales out of the top 10.

Pecco Bagnaia was the rider leading the charge straight through to Q2, and he would be joined by Bezzecchi, Rins, Binder, Martin, Bastianini, Zarco, Marc, Aleix and Marini as Fabio Quartararo was once again left sitting in his garage with his head in his hands having failed to secure direct passage to Q2.

FP on Saturday morning started with a crash for Raul Fernandez, and was red-flagged towards the end of the session following a crash for Augusto Fernandez. While Augusto was thankfully okay and able to walk away from the crash, his GASGAS KTM was not so lucky, having destroyed itself all over the track. With just over 5 minutes left on the clock, the session was restarted once the debris had been cleared.

Bagnaia topped the session from Marini, Quartararo, and Morbidelli.

Hot on the heels of the FP session was Q1, and after the first set of runs, things were looking up for Franky Morbidelli as he sat in 2nd place behind Alex Marquez. It wasn’t to be for Franky though, as both Miller and Viñales were able to set faster laps than him, meaning that he wouldn’t be advancing to Q2. He did outpace team mate Quartararo though, with the Yamaha pair lining up in 14th and 15th on the grid.

Alex Marquez and Jack Miller headed through to Q2, where after the first runs, Jorge Martin, Bezzecchi and Marc were holding the top 3 positions. Marc sat in pitlane waiting once again, and this time tagged on the back of Bezzecchi. As they headed out of the pits, Pecco was coming round to begin a lap so Marc slowed and moved out of his way. Cue Bagnaia losing his shit – waving and gesturing at Marc like a child.

Now, you’re probably aware by now that I’m not a fan of Marc Marquez – and particularly his reliance on a tow at the moment – but I don’t think Marc was in the wrong here. He gave Bagnaia the space he needed to continue his lap, but the Italian was already going wide when Marc came onto the track. Bagnaia should have just got his head down and carried on, but instead he directed abuse at Marc as they made their way around the track, and when he finally started to pick up speed again, he provided the perfect tow for Marc who just tucked in behind him!

I actually laughed when Marc explained in his parc ferme interview that he wasn’t looking for Bagnaia, he was looking for Bezzecchi, but Bagnaia’s antics allowed him to follow him anyway.

It was Bagnaia who claimed pole position, with Marc in 2nd and Alex Marquez in 3rd place – although Alex had a 3-place grid penalty to serve following his “irresponsible riding” in France, meaning that he would start 3rd for the Sprint and 6th for Sunday’s feature race.

The Sprint race kicked off with Bagnaia leading into turn 1, as Zarco ran way wide and Alex Marquez crashed out of the race before it had even got going following contact with Brad Binder in the first corner. I would call it a racing incident, typical of the first turn of a race, but the stewards disagreed and handed Binder a long lap penalty.

As they headed into the second lap, Jorge Martin passed Marc Marquez for 2nd place, and the marshals were waving the white flag, meaning that due to falling rain – there were spots of rain falling, nothing heavy enough to require a bike swap – riders were now permitted to change to their second bike should they wish to.

The first few laps were frantic, with riders swapping positions all over the place, and Alex Rins crashing out of the race, but by lap 5 (of 11) things had started to settle down, with Bagnaia and Bezzecchi having a bit of a buffer to the chasing pack of Martin, Zarco, Miller, and Marini.

As the rain looked to have stopped falling, Brad Binder set a new all-time speed record for MotoGP, hitting a whopping 366.1 KMH (227.4) MPH on his KTM. Meanwhile, Johann Zarco was swarming all over the back of his team mate, but Jorge Martin held on to take 3rd place behind Marco Bezzecchi and Sprint race winner Pecco Bagnaia.

Finishing the race off the podium-not-podium, but in the points were Zarco, Marini, Miller, Marc, Aleix and Bastianini, while Quartararo was just outside of the points in 10th place.

It was confirmed on Saturday evening that Alex Rins had broken his tibia and fibula and had already had surgery to fit an external fixator. Alex has since given an update on social media to say that his ankle is also broken, and that once the swelling goes down on his leg, he will have a further surgery in Madrid. The team have confirmed he will miss the next two GPs, and while his fellow racers were all out on track for morning warm up on Sunday, Rins’ bike remained in the LCR garage, covered in messages from well wishers that the team had printed out and stuck onto the bike, which I thought was a lovely touch.

Talking of morning warm up, it was topped by Bezzecchi from Zarco and Binder.

The grid for the main race on Sunday was a little different than the Sprint, with Luca Marini lining up on the front row thanks to Alex Marquez’ 3-place grid penalty, and we were missing Joan Mir and Alex Rins following their crashes earlier in the weekend.

Jack Miller made a cracking start from 4th on the grid as he sailed past Bagnaia into turn 1, only for Bagnaia to pass him for the lead into turn 2. Jorge Martin made his way through on Luca Marini for 3rd place, as Bagnaia started to pull away at the front of the race. Jorge Martin passed Jack Miller to take 2nd place at the beginning of lap 2, and to be honest that’s when the race became a race for 3rd place as Martin immediately started pulling away from Miller.

Miller and Marini battled for 3rd place, before an out-of-control Alex Marquez sailed through the pair of them somehow not colliding with either of them. Marini took advantage of the move and passed Jack for 3rd, while Marc Marquez also moved past Jack demoting him to 5th place, just ahead of team mate Binder and Alex Marquez.

Franky Morbidelli and Enea Bastianini were battling further back for 11th place, with Fabio Quartararo behind them in 13th. Marc Marquez crashed out of the race on lap 6, followed by Miguel Oliveira on lap 11, while Alex Marquez was trying everything he could think of to take 3rd place from Luca Marini. By lap 13, he had made a move on the Italian stick, but Marini wasn’t giving up that easily and continued to apply pressure to the younger Marquez. Whether it was the pressure from Marini or some other reason, Alex Marquez crashed out of the race on lap 15.

The podium wasn’t guaranteed for Marini though, because having seen off Alex Marquez, he now had Johann Zarco doing what Johann Zarco does – closing very quickly on the podium positions at the end of a race. Imagine how many races he could have won if he was as fast in the first half of races as he is in the second!

Zarco and Marini had a bit of back and forth, but in the end Zarco was able to take 3rd place from Marini. The Aprilias were on the move in the later stages of the race, and as Aleix passed Jack for 6th place, Maverick was further back than he’d like to be passing Taka Nakagami for 12th place.

Bagnaia continued his 2023 win it or bin it strategy – this time taking a race win – ahead of the Pramac duo of Jorge Martin and Johann Zarco. Luca Marini finished in 4th place to record Ducati’s first ever 1-2-3-4 finish in a premier class GP. Ducati are the first manufacturer to achieve this since Honda back in 2011 at the Australian GP.

Behind the 4 Ducatis were Binder, Aleix, Miller, Bezzecchi, and Bastianini, with Morbidelli rounding out the top 10 ahead of Quartararo.

Franky was asked post-race whether he thought that performances like this weekend (where he has out-scored his team mate) are good for his chances of securing another year with Yamaha, and in true Franky fashion he replied “do I want to secure another year with Yamaha?” Dorna’s Jack Appleyard asked Franky “do you?” and he simply said “talk with Lin (Jarvis),” and honestly, I love that Franky is throwing curveballs like that. Everyone is assuming that he is fighting to keep his ride at Yamaha, but nobody is asking if that is even what he wants. For all we know he could be looking elsewhere for a ride – I’d love to see him given a chance at Ducati or Aprilia.

There has been lots of talk about Jorge Martin moving to Yamaha in place of Franky, but Paolo Ciabatti told the BT Sport team that Jorge has a contract for next season with Ducati. He said there is a clause where if Jorge is offered Factory ride with another team, they will either match the offer or he will be free to leave, but he didn’t see why Jorge would want to walk away from a ride on the championship winning bike to ride something else. Which seems fair enough to me.

Next up is the German GP next weekend, where no doubt all of the talk will be about Marc Marquez and his stellar record at the Sachsenring. Bagnaia heads to Germany having extended his championship lead over Bezzecchi to 21 points. Jorge Martin is 3 points behind Bezzecchi, with Brad Binder a further 15 points back in 4th place.

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