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After a Moto2™ race at Mugello that no one predicted – a phrase becoming ever more familiar in the intermediate class – there’s a lot to digest from the first third of the 2019 season. First it was Lorenzo Baldassarri (Flexbox HP 40) who looked unbeatable, then it looked like veteran campaigner Tom Lüthi (Dynavolt Intact GP) had hit another gear. After two demolition jobs from Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) at Le Mans and Mugello, it’s even harder to predict than ever. So where are we now?
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The Italian started the year looking imperious, and then came COTA. But still, looking at his record at the track – no previous points – it could have been expected as the place for a blip. And Jerez, where he recovered from a rough Friday affected by a few mechanical issues, seemed to suggest it had been just that – a blip. Then came Le Mans, another crash out of another race, and Mugello became the litmus test. Was this how the Italian’s season was going to go? Everything or nothing? He said in the pre-event Press Conference he wanted to make sure it didn’t, concentrating on staying on the bike and taking points when a win wasn’t possible. But surely that wouldn’t be necessary at Mugello, where his record has seen him perilously close to a win?
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He was 18th on Friday, went through Q1 and qualified in P15. From there he managed an impressive ride back to P4, but it didn’t follow the pattern we’d seen so far. And where was compatriot Mattia Pasini at the venue that had seen him reign? Previous records got ripped up again.
The new era of Moto2™ started with a seventh, and that seemed like pretty bad news for the 2014 Moto3™ World Champion. It perked up in Argentina where he took his first podium of the season, but he wasn’t on terms with Baldassarri; no one was. At COTA, it was a lowly P5 nearly eight seconds off the win, this at a venue that saw him in a fierce battle with the eventual Champion the year before. Then came Jerez, where he won from pole in another postcode in 2017, and it seemed like it could be a good place for that first victory of the year. But then all hell broke loose and Marquez was left just making the restart, riding around at the back. Not his fault or one to read anything into, but certainly one to bear in mind when looking at the number 73’s gap to the top: he’s only two points down on Baldassarri. Would he have scored more than two points in Spain? Could he have been leading the Championship by as many as 23 points?
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Le Mans and Mugello, meanwhile, proved the old adage that there are no points on Saturday. Third on the grid at both races, Saturday was a solid day. But both Sundays were sublime at tracks where he only had one previous podium. What changed? A good decision on the race day tyre for which Marquez gave a nod to his team? Or have those little adjustments in riding style he’s been talking about since testing come together to make Baldassarri sweat?
Tom Lüthi may have had a tough season in the premier class last year, but that didn’t stop him announcing his return to Moto2™ in Qatar in some style. The master of the intermediate class was back in business with a bang…and then he went uncharacteristically AWOL in Argentina. Then came COTA – a venue Lüthi had never particularly shone that – and the Swiss rider romped off from his teammate to win with more than two seconds in his pocket. Spain was more in keeping with his record at Jerez with a fourth, and then Le Mans – the circuit at which he has the most wins – saw him plummet from second on the grid to the latter half of the top ten, more than nine seconds off winner Marquez by the flag. That wasn’t in the script.
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Was it a bad day at the office? Reportedly Lüthi struggled with the newer tyre. At Mugello a P2 became a third place on race day, so that was more in the style of the consistent frontrunner: if you can’t beat them, score as many points as possible. That’s how you stay third in the standings and only four points off the top despite one bad day at the Moto2™ office and that Argentina DNF.
One man who was supposed to be alongside the men at the top of the standings in 2019 is Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46) and, if his post-Mugello comments are anything to go by, we may expect to see a lot more of him from now on. His home Grand Prix was his first podium of the year – a dream come true after watching a certain older member of the family reign Mugello – but the Italian had some serious reasoning.
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“At the test I got the chance to ride Nicolo’s bike,” says the number 10. And that changed everything. Since the start of the season, Marini had been convinced something wasn’t quite right with his machine and a spin on his rookie teammate’s bike confirmed it for him. He trusts his team, who said they couldn’t find anything, but the team also trusted the rider – and so they changed “everything”.
Marini says the difference is incredible; “I have the same feeling I did at the end of last year.” That would be the one that saw him take four podiums between Germany and Buriram and then win his first Grand Prix in Malaysia – the one that had pencilled his name into the frontrunners this year. Was Mugello a turning point?
Next up it’s the Gran Premi Monster Energy de Catalunya and with only four points separating three riders, there’s a lot at stake. So can we tell anything at all from the past in this new era? Will Marquez be the favourite on track as well as in the stats? Or is another rewrite just around the corner…
1 year ago