Morbidelli produces Misano magic for maiden MotoGP™ win

The Italian dominates a drama-filled San Marino GP which sees the Championship leader crash, with Ducati and Suzuki claiming podiums

Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT), take a bow! The Italian on home soil produced 27 inch-perfect laps to secure his maiden MotoGP™ victory in a dramatic Gran Premio Lenovo di San Marino e della Riviera di Rimini. Morbidelli took the chequered flag 2.217 ahead of compatriot Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing), who celebrates his first premier class podium, with Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) getting the better of home hero Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) on the last lap to claim another podium finish. Meanwhile, now former Championship leader Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) crashed out twice at the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli.

From the middle of the front row, Morbidelli out-dragged both Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) and Quartararo off the line and headed into Turn 1 leading, with fourth place Rossi getting a superb start to slot into second ahead of the equally fast starting Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) on the second row. Viñales slipped to P4, with Quartararo slotting into P5 as Morbidelli and Rossi sent the Italian fans into raptures on the opening lap.

Looking eager, Rossi got a good run down into Turn 8 on Lap 1 and showed a wheel to Morbidelli, but the latter was late on the brakes and closed the door. The numbers 21 and 46 then started to create a bit of a gap to third place Miller, with Viñales holding off Quartararo and the two Team Suzuki Ecstar machines of Alex Rins and Joan Mir. Viñales was the only rider on the grid to select the hard Michelin rear tyre, and it was clear that the lap record holder was just taking his time to get heat into the rear – with Quartararo looking impatient behind.

The riders then settled into their rhythm with Miller just hauling in the leading duo to sit a couple of tenths behind them, with Viñales and co just over half a second back from the Australian. Talking of the Aussie, his teammate Bagnaia was setting fastest lap after fastest lap, and the injured Italian had soon latched himself onto the back of the Viñales, Quartararo, Rins and Mir gaggle. On Lap 7, Quartararo then made his move past Viñales at Turn 14 – eyes now firmly set on the podium trio just a stone's throw up the road.

However, Quartararo’s progress was then halted moments later. El Diablo was in a little hot into Turn 4, and it proved costly. The Championship leader tucked the front and crashed out of fourth place in another 2020 MotoGP™ title twist. Quartararo remounted but was down in P20, over 15 seconds down on Stefan Bradl (Repsol Honda Team).

Back up front, Quartararo’s teammate Morbidelli was sitting comfortably at the front with Rossi keeping his protégé close – for the time being. Miller was also holding firm in P3 but Pecco was on the move, the Italian was through on Viñales down the back straight into Turn 11, that superior Ducati grunt being put to good use.  

Now, Morbidelli was starting to pull away from The Doctor. On Lap 12 the gap was creeping up towards a second as Bagnaia and Rins continued to make formidable progress. Miller was clearly starting to struggle and the rapid duo was swarming all over the tailpipes of the GP20, as Rins produced the classic Turn 2 Misano move to grab 4th from the number 43. Then, heading down into Turn 8, Pecco was through on his teammate. Now, Rins and Pecco had Rossi 1.8 seconds up the road, with The Doctor, in turn, losing touch with Morbidelli. The gap between the Italians was 1.1 seconds – and rising – with Mir now the fastest man on track. With 12 laps to go, Morbidelli slammed in a 1:32.7 to see his lead rise to 1.7 seconds over Rossi, with the latter seeing his gap to Rins and Pecco come down lap by lap. 11 laps to go and the gap was down to below a second as the podium scrap started to bubble up in the San Marino sun, and a lap later Rins and Pecco were just half a second down on the nine-time World Champion.

Into the last 10 laps the riders went, and Mir had got the better of Miller. The sophomore was 1.9 seconds back from the podium scrap, with Rins and Pecco now right on the back of Rossi. It’s not that Rossi had a bad pace, Rins and Pecco were just that little bit quicker each lap but once they latched themselves onto the back of the 46, they didn’t find it easy to pass. However, what did look like an easy pass was Pecco slicing underneath Rins into the scintillatingly quick Turn 11 – that GP20 grunt leaving the Suzuki behind. And on the next lap, Bagnaia was at it again. This time his good friend Rossi felt the wrath of the Ducati power and Pecco – who fractured his leg just over a month ago – was up into second.

By this point, Mir had closed the gap to the trio ahead of him and was doing so at a significant rate of knots. The gap was 1.4 to his teammate, but it seemed the fight for victory was between Morbidelli and only Morbidelli. A dream debut premier class win was in sight as the number 21 was 2.8 seconds up the road, with Bagnaia creeping clear of Rossi. With six to go at Turn 8, things got uber close between Rins and Rossi. Rins got the run down the straight and showed a wheel up the inside, but Rossi closed the door – no way through for Rins, with Mir now just one second back.

Into the last five laps the riders went, with Rossi holding strong in third place as himself as he continued to ride an impressive defensive display – especially at Turn 2 where Rins looked superb. With three to go, Morbidelli was 3.2 clear but Rossi was 0.4 faster than Bagnaia – what looked like a guaranteed second for the former Moto2™ World Champion now became a proper dog fight for second and third.

Coming around the final sector on the penultimate lap, Rins was out the saddle on the exit of Turn 15, then ran slightly wide at Turn 16 to allow Mir to get the run on him down into Turn 1. Mir was then on a mission as a second podium of the season stood right in front of him on the last lap. Rossi himself was aiming to grab P2 back from Pecco and it was as you were heading out of Turn 8. However, Mir then mugged Rossi. The Spaniard produced an absolutely sublime move up the inside at Turn 10 to climb into third. Rossi tried to set up a move coming into the Turn 14 hairpin but he was slightly wide at Turn 13, ending his hopes of a dream 200th podium in his backyard.

Meanwhile, it was ecstasy for Morbidelli. The Italian simply didn’t put a foot wrong at Misano and led from start to finish to propel himself right into the 2020 title fight after two disastrous couple of weekends at the Red Bull Ring. In addition, Morbidelli becomes the fourth rider in six races to win their first MotoGP™ race – how’s that for excitement and unpredictability?

Bagnaia’s return from a big injury couldn’t have gone much better, the sophomore by far and away the fastest Ducati rider at Misano to claim his first MotoGP™ podium. Mir produced an astonishing second half of the race to out-do Rossi on the last lap at Misano – not many riders can say that. With Bagnaia claiming the rostrum, that’s 12 different podium finishers in the six 2020 races – simply astonishing.

For Rossi, there is bound to be some disappointment for missing out on a home Grand Prix podium by just three tenths. Nevertheless, it was a magnificent performance from the 41-year-old who will now be as determined as ever to pick up his 200th GP podium in seven days’ time. However, Rossi is just 18 points from Championship leader Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team).

Rins’ error on the penultimate lap cost him a chance of a podium that looked nailed on for much of the second half of the race. P5 is no disgrace though for the Spaniard who is 12th in the overall standings – but just 36 points from top spot. After looking so strong throughout Free Practice and qualifying, Viñales’ race just didn’t materialise. The Spaniard eventually found his rhythm at the end of the race on the hard rear tyre, but it was far too late as Viñales had to settle for a disappointing P6.

Seventh went the way of Dovizioso who, despite having a very quiet weekend, now leads the Championship after Quartararo’s misfortunes. The Italian got the better of Miller in the closing stages to take some crucial points from the first or two Misano races, but there’s work to do. Miller’s early pace didn’t last, the Aussie slipped down the order to cross the line in ninth, but Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) was handed a one-place penalty for exceeding track limits on the final lap. P8 for Miller, P9 and the leading Honda accolade for Nakagami, with Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) winning the KTM battle for P10. Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech3), Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing), Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini), Iker Lecuona (Red Bull KTM Tech3) and Johann Zarco (Esponsorama Racing) rounding out the points.

Blimey, what a race – again! 2020 really is unpredictable and the Championship has taken an almighty twist. Quartararo’s DNF is his first since the 2019 Australian GP – and he loses the title lead for the first time in 2020 after crashing twice on Sunday. A day to forget for the Frenchman. Dovizioso now takes charge, but it’s so close. 28 points separate the top 10 riders, with Bagnaia’s second place seeing him 47 points off in P14.

The riders will be out for a test on Tuesday, before we go again at the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli – bring it on.

Top 10:
1. Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT)
2. Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) + 2.217
3. Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) + 2.290
4. Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) + 2.643
5. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) + 4.044
6. Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) + 5.383
7. Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) + 10.358
8. Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) + 11.155
9. Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) + 10.839
10. Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) + 12.030

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