MotoGP 2014 Mugello Preview
The chips are down for Team Yamaha
Mugello, one of the friendliest of the Yamaha-friendly circuits on the tour, hosts Round Six of the 2014 MotoGP world championship. In Italy, the Scarperia shrine sits just a notch below Assisi and The Sistine Chapel on the holiness scale. Since 2002, Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, the Bruise Brothers of the Movistar Yamaha team, have won 10 of the 12 races held here. If, as expected, they get pierced again on Sunday by Repsol Honda phenom Marc Marquez, the party is truly over.
Lorenzo, the struggling two-time world champion, has won the last three races at Mugello. Although the track sits a half hour from Rossi’s birthplace in Urbino, Lorenzo has treated it as his own personal playground since 2011. The first two of those wins came while Rossi was working for Ducati, one hand tied figuratively behind his back. Last year, Rossi returned to Team Yamaha and looked competitive in practice, only to get Bautista-ed on Lap 1. Last year’s race was notable, too, for being the only tilt of the year in which Marquez crashed out, leaving third place to burly Brit Cal Crutchlow on the Tech 3 Yamaha.
Neither of those two events – Marquez crashing out, and Crutchlow finishing on the podium – are in any way likely to occur this year.
One recalls how Marquez spent a good portion of his rookie season parting company with his bike, including several times during Sunday morning warm-up practices. He set an all-time MotoGP record last year at Mugello, calmly stepping off his RC213V at approximately 200 mph to avoid a close encounter with a concrete barrier on the main straight. It could be argued that the main difference between the 2013 version of Marquez and Marquez 2.0 is that he has learned how to keep his AIS – as in Ass In Seat. I don’t recall seeing him crash yet in 2014.
Whither Dani Pedrosa?
Marquez’ teammate, the Rodney Dangerfield of MotoGP, Dani Pedrosa, has evaded mention thus far. With a few notable exceptions, he has a formidable history at Mugello, with two wins, one of which came in 2010, the year Rossi went high side in practice and lost the #1 seat on Team Yamaha in the process. In eight premier class appearances at Mugello on the Repsol Honda, Pedrosa has collected the one win, three seconds, a total of five podia, and one DNF. He has finished second to Lorenzo the last two years. Although he sits in second place for the season, he is generally overlooked in most MotoGP conversations. It may not be fair, but it is what it is.
The racing media is full of stories about how Suzuki wants to feature Pedrosa as it returns to the premier class in 2015. He has allegedly asked for eight million euros to pilot their #1 machine next year, perhaps in an effort to see if they’re really serious about spending what it takes to field a competitive team. The whole thing feels kind of like high school, when a girl with a bad reputation would return, looking kind of good, from a few years in another town. You might think about asking her out, knowing your own reputation would suffer. But it might be worth it (wink wink.)
Cal Crutchlow is the current poster boy for “willing to exchange speed for a paycheck.” Now in his late 20’s with virtually no chance of winning a world championship left to him, the dignified Pedrosa can be excused for being tempted to make the same trade. Certainly, Eugene Laverty will remind no one of Kevin Schwantz or Kenny Roberts Jr., the last two world champions to wear Suzuki colors. A team comprised of Pedrosa and, say, Andrea Dovizioso, who is a free agent after this season, could put an improved Suzuki product in podium contention.
Changes on the Horizon
Colin Edwards, #2 on the NGM Forward Racing Yamaha team, will be riding a new team-built chassis this weekend, putting the bike at about 75% of what it will be next year when Yamaha reverts to supplying engines only, according to team manager Giovanni Cuzari. Edwards’ teammate Aleix Espargaro, meanwhile, is happy as a clam on the Yamaha frame, and intends to stick with it for the rest of the season. With Simone Corsi, the team’s Moto2 rider, having tested the MotoGP machine at the recent Jerez testing session, it is expected that Corsi will move up to take over Edwards’ seat in 2015.
Luigi Dall’Igna, the new Chief Cheddar at Ducati Corse, sprained his wrist this past week patting himself on the back for all the progress the team has made in 2014. He alluded to changes being made virtually every week in engine and frame, then changed gears, suggesting that Ducati might elect to design a completely new bike from the ground up. During all of this, reports continue to circulate that Dovizioso is actively shopping for a new ride next season, and that the disgruntled Crutchlow may even buy out the second year of his contract while he’s still ambulatory.
Over at the Pramac Ducati team, the early impressive progress exhibited by Andrea Iannone has been blunted of late as he has recorded DNFs in his last two races. And Yonny Hernandez, who appeared to have a world of potential when he first joined the Ducati team in mid-2013 has failed to make any notable progress this season; yet another promising racing career nipped in the bud by the nasty Desmosedici. If Dovizioso and Crutchlow get out of Dodge, the silly season will reach new heights as Ducati Corse attempts to sign high profile riders willing to set their careers on hold for two years while Dall’Igna scrambles to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Paging Casey Stoner …
Finally, in the cruelest release of the season. Honda announced that they would be making “major upgrades” in the RCV1000R, but not until 2015. Thus, the poor chumps who elected to go with Honda rather than Yamaha in the “open” category will be effectively stuck in fourth gear for the rest of 2014. Nicky Hayden must be grinding his teeth to powder, as the last few good years of his racing life circle the drain on the severely underpowered “customer” Honda. No explanation was offered as to why Honda is not actively seeking to improve the engine this year, although the rules would appear to allow such changes sooner rather than later.
Last but Not Least
As you recall, the weather at Le Mans this year was, contrary to recent history, wonderful. But Mugello, where the weather is rarely an issue, has a dicey forecast for the upcoming weekend. Rain is expected both Friday and Saturday, with skies clearing for race day. If the forecast holds, it will put major pressure on the teams to come up with dry settings on Sunday after tweaking the bikes for wet settings in practice, giving everyone something to complain about. Can Marquez go six for six? Can Team Yamaha put both riders on the podium? We’ll have all the answers right here on Sunday evening.