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Would you have predicted this in Qatar? The gossip went into overdrive back in the desert as Ducati didn't win either of the season openers at one of their "favourite" or most successful tracks, but now the factory can enjoy its elegant silence on the matter even more. Two 1-2s in a row, with Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) on the top step in both and Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) and Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) taking a second place apiece, make quite a statement. The three are all in the top four in the standings too – something Ducati have never had before – and Bagnaia is only a point off the lead. That would be enough to grab some attention in itself but the next track up, unfortunately for the rest, is also the Autodromo Internazionale del Mugello.
At Ducati's home, can Miller produce some Mugello magic?
The Italian venue is a rider and fan favourite for a reason, a stunning enough landmark in itself even before adding the spectacle of one of MotoGP™'s most golden of eras carving its way through the Tuscan hills. Fast, flowing and fast becoming a place synonymous with Ducati glory, yes it's home turf. But it's also somewhere Borgo Panigale machinery has won the last three editions and been on the podium since 2015.
The favourite to keep the roll going must be Miller. With his win in Le Mans in tough conditions, and that despite two Long Lap penalties, he followed up his Jerez stunner in style and it seems safe to say the Australian will now read the stats about Mugello with glee rather than pressure. Miller is a key architect of the momentum behind the manufacturer and the monkey some saw on his back after the first three rounds of the season is nowhere in sight now, whichever way you want to spin it. Can he make it three in a row? Or can his teammate fight back?
Bagnaia has been impressive in 2021 and led the standings for the first time just before Le Mans, with speed at every venue and few mistakes to go with it. With less premier class experience than Miller, he could have been forgiven for a few too. His French GP was a solid statement of intent, however, as the Italian somehow found himself down in 19th just after the start... then rode back through to fourth in conditions that caught out the very best, and again, like Miller, despite two Long Lap Penalties. If there was a day to lose your head, it was leading the Championship and sinking to the bottom of the top 20 early doors. But he didn't.
REWIND - Chapter 5: On a Knife Edge
And what about Zarco? The Frenchman hunted down another podium and moved back up to third overall, so what does he have in the locker? A Pramac win on home turf would be a popular one and the number 5, like Bagnaia, hasn't yet tasted the top step in the premier class although he's been close. His teammate this weekend could also be one to watch complicating the lives of a few riders who could find themselves on the cusp of Q2 too as Michele Pirro steps in to replace the injured Jorge Martin. Pirro knows both track and machine, and has impressed aplenty on wildcards.
All that said, it's far from a foregone conclusion that Ducati will take their fourth Mugello win in a row. Three in the top four they may have, but it's Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) back on top – and the Frenchman's there despite his tough plummet down the order after arm pump in Jerez. He took a well-earned home podium at Le Mans despite coming back from surgery, and before Ducati started to assert their dominance at Mugello it was Yamaha territory. Jorge Lorenzo took the most recent wins but Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT) was on the podium in 2018 and Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) the year before that. With a dry, less chaotic weekend hopefully ahead, what can they – and Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) – do?
Dry and less chaotic will likely be a hope for Team Suzuki Ecstar too. A double DNF in France saw reigning Champion Joan Mir fall outside the top five in the standings, and left teammate Alex Rins with an even bigger hill to climb to get back into real contention. The Hamamatsu factory have form at Mugello though, with Rins only two tenths off the podium in 2019 as he hung on to the Marquez-Ducati fight and almost managed to ruin the party for all of them. The Suzuki works well around the majority of the venue and Rins will be out to show that and bounce back, as will Mir – but the reigning Champion also has a fair bit less experience of the track on premier class machinery, with MotoGP™ having not visited Mugello last year.
What went wrong for Aprilia in Le Mans?
Aprilia are another who, like Ducati, will be both optimistic and riding on home turf. The Noale factory have taken a big step forward in 2021 and their bike should prove a good fit for Mugello. It may have been heartbreak at Le Mans but Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) just keeps impressing, and teammate Lorenzo Savadori was a serious threat in the damp. Can he take another step forward, and can Aleix Espargaro pick up where he left off? Aprilia also have Andrea Dovizioso confirmed as doing more testing throughout the season, whose record at Mugello is one of the best in recent years, and he's also already ridden the RS-GP there although the weather didn't play ball...
Mugello, meanwhile, was also a place where Honda really hammered home their top speed gains in 2019 as Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) went toe to toe with the Bologna bullets and was absolutely not left in the dust. Marquez' win in 2014 at the track is the only non-Ducati win for a rider still on the grid since then too, and his 2019 battle at the front against the factory Ducati duo at the time was a stunner. The French GP saw flag-to-flag master Marc Marquez make an uncharacteristic mistake and crash out, but there were more flashes of his former self as his comeback continues. What can he do?
LCR Honda Idemitsu's Takaaki Nakagami and LCR Honda Castrol teammate Alex Marquez both took solid results in France too after a tougher start to the season, and Nakagami equalled his best ever result in Jerez too. Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) was gaining ground as well, so they can't be counted out of the increasingly tough fight for Q2 and more.
Buoyed by his P5 finish, Petrucci targeting more in Mugello
That also goes for KTM. It's been a tougher start to the season but Danilo Petrucci (Tech3 KTM Factory Racing) equalled the best result of the Austrian factory's season so far at Le Mans, and he knows the top step at Mugello although in red. Teammate Iker Lecuona also impressed in France, so can both start to cut the gap to Red Bull KTM Factory Racing's Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira? There have been flashes of speed since Binder's fifth in Portugal, but it's not all come together on race day for either since then. Can they push back towards the bigger points hauls? Binder and Lecuona have, however, not yet ridden at Mugello in MotoGP™, so that could also factor in to the weekend.
Tuscany is one of the world's most emblematic destinations, and MotoGP™ is lucky enough to have Mugello nestled right in the middle. The paddock returns to the venue in 2021 looking quite different to the last time we were there, but the track remains the same stunner for man and machine. Make sure to tune in for the Gran Premio d'Italia Oakley on Sunday the 30th of May, with lights out for the premier class at 14:00 (GMT +2).
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