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22 days ago
By Matthew Birt

A day of mixed fortunes

Luck plays a big role in everyone’s life and as Mugello showed, it can be a cruel mistress.

With 21 years of experience reporting on MotoGP™, Matthew Birt knows the championship inside-out. For the 2016 season he remains with the team to bring you exclusive news and opinion from inside the paddock.

Luck is defined as a force that brings good fortune or adversity to a person’s life.

It shapes events, circumstances and opportunities over which an individual has no control.

God-given riding talent and genius engineering expertise play a pivotal role in deciding the outcome of a MotoGP™ race and ultimately a World Championship.

Sunday’s dramatic Mugello round highlighted just how luck is such a key contributing factor in shaping the destiny of a World Championship.

Valentino Rossi’s luck deserted him at a time when he looked in the strongest position to win at his spiritual home for the first time since 2008.

The hills overlooking Mugello were alive with the sound of revving engines, loud music, air horns and fans roaring themselves hoarse as a boisterous and predominantly yellow-clad crowd watched expectantly as Rossi menacingly harassed Movistar Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo.

Fans were dreaming, just as Rossi was, that he would once again be the master of Mugello.

A memorable sight in the build up to the race was yellow smoke wafting around the track. It was smoke of a different colour belching out of Rossi’s crippled YZR-M1 on lap eight that ruled him out in the cruelest manner.

A catastrophic engine failure ended his pursuit of Lorenzo, and as his motor fell silent, an eerie quiet quickly replaced the frenzied atmosphere.

Rossi was devastated but typically philosophical. He couldn’t alter what happened but he was hurting so much that he couldn’t bring himself to visit the podium to receive the adulation of his loyal but shell-shocked supporters.

The timing of his first mechanical failure since Yamaha’s brand new pneumatic valve motor gave up the ghost in Misano way back in 2007 could have seriously damaged his title aspirations.

As Rossi and Yamaha sought answers to the engine failure, he had to sit and watch a classic battle unfold between Lorenzo and Marc Marquez that saw them move 37 and 27 points respectively clear of the Italian.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I think Rossi would have won on Sunday had lady luck not slapped him in the face. He looked comfortable behind Lorenzo and was patiently waiting for the right time to pounce, with the Spaniard clearly not possessing the pace to streak away like he so often does.

Rossi’s luck contrasted completely with that of Lorenzo’s. The Spaniard had also been the victim of an incredibly rare Yamaha engine failure in the pre-race Warm Up session. But he could not have imagined what a stroke of luck that engine destroying itself would turn out to be.

He dodged a bullet on a day that Yamaha’s reputation for bulletproof reliability took a battering. Losing one engine was incredibly rare for Yamaha, so to see two let go in less than five hours was a truly unique scenario.

Luck had been on Lorenzo’s side and he fully acknowledged it. Had he done one lap less in the Warm Up then he would have started the race with the engine that was doomed and been condemned to the same fate as Rossi.

The time gap between Lorenzo and Rossi’s identical issues was too short for Yamaha to conduct a thorough investigation of the cause.

And with no clear diagnosis in Mugello, there was no cast iron assurance that a worried Rossi would not have escaped such a high profile and demoralising mechanical meltdown had he opted to run a brand new engine.

Rossi’s blown engine was fresher than the one that went pop on Lorenzo and both were short of what can be classed as top mileage, so it seems unlikely that hard wear was the cause.

Yamaha clearly could not have predicted how severe their technical woes would be. The blown motors were Rossi and Lorenzo’s third of seven in their 2016 allocation. It has since been revealed that their first two had reached double mileage of engine number three without missing a beat.

Yamaha must not only identify the source of the failure but also navigate a solution through the strict freeze on in-season engine development. Engine modifications can only be made on safety grounds and unanimously sanctioned by the Motorcycle Sport Manufacturers Association (MSMA).

One early theory in Mugello is that Rossi and Lorenzo’s engine problems could be the result of a defective batch of parts. If Yamaha can prove that was the case then it may be given room to manoeuvre.

Rossi’s exit sent many disgruntled fans heading for the exit, but those that remained were treated to a breath-taking showdown between Lorenzo and Marquez.

Lorenzo won by less than a bike length after a final lap that again buried the myth that the reigning World Champion can’t get his knuckles dirty when the combat gets close.

Crucially for his title hopes, he capitalised on the good luck that came his way.

Hopefully for the spectacle of the World Championship, then the bad luck that came Rossi’s way doesn’t mean his own title hopes have gone up in smoke.