Danilo Petrucci Wins Stunning Italian Grand Prix At Mugello

“I thought many times in the past to quit my career, saying ‘This is not my world.’ ”

Danilo Petrucci, Andrea Dovizioso, and Marc Márquez
Close racing, closer finish: Danilo Petrucci, Andrea Dovizioso, and Marc Márquez were never separated by more than a few tenths of a second over the entire 23-lap Italian Grand Prix on Sunday at Mugello. Petrucci’s margin of victory over Márquez was 0.043 second.Courtesy of Dorna

Marc Márquez led from pole position on Sunday at Mugello into turn 1 in his new 2019 style of leading from flag to flag. But the Ducatis—lots of them—were too fast. Cal Crutchlow had rushed into second, Andrea Dovizioso into third, and here came a formation of Ducatis, Jack Miller jumping from fifth to third, outbraking Crutchlow and Danilo Petrucci. Soon it was Dovizioso second, Miller third, Petrucci fourth.

So began a hectic 23-lap race that brought as many as nine riders into the front group. MotoGP-class newcomers—Fabio Quartararo, Franco Morbidelli, and Francesco Bagnaia—again went to the front in practice, but they came short in race staying power. At the end, it was the cluster of Márquez, Dovizioso, and Petrucci, one of whom would win.

Petrucci leading
Ducati factory rider Petrucci (9) overcame illness to earn his maiden MotoGP victory in front of his home-country fans at the 15-turn, 3.26-mile circuit. “It’s unbelievable,” he admitted. “I cannot describe the feeling I have now. This win is for everyone who helped me.”Courtesy of Ducati

Márquez saw early that his flag-to-flag strategy would fail: “I tried in the beginning to use my pace, but I had two small moments and said, ‘Today is not the day. I will follow and try on the last lap.’ ”

Dovizioso applied his yo-yo strategy of getting into the lead then slowing to conserve his tires while playing keep-away. That also failed because of Álex Rins’ incredible climb from 13th and Petrucci’s unwillingness to fall back into the turbulence of the pack. Rins showed that his Suzuki’s midcorner grip could make up for what the media had been calling a lack of top speed. A look at the numbers shows only a 2.4-mph speed difference between the Suzuki and Petrucci’s Ducati, and one mph from Márquez’s Honda. Suzuki’s shortfall must therefore be in acceleration.

Intense action continued until on lap 12 Petrucci dropped his times. Miller met this challenge with the fastest lap of the race three laps later, then crashed out at turn 4. Crutchlow, with rubber coming off the center of his rear tire, slowed into the 1:49s. Now there were four: Petrucci, Márquez, Dovizioso, and Rins.

Mark Márquez
Márquez extended his point lead over Dovizioso to 12 heading to Catalunya for round 7 of the championship. “Today was time to defend, and we defended in the best way,” the Spaniard said. “Danilo deserved the victory; he was the toughest one today.”Courtesy of Dorna

Michelin’s Piero Taramasso had said before the race, “Here, in general, you need stability [for longer fast turns]. The soft front is not raceable here [no one used it]. The soft rear is raceable but in three or four laps it begins to move a lot. The medium rear has maybe a bit more grip than the hard.”

Márquez after the race added, “I chose the hard tire that I knew I would struggle with more and was slower, but it was the only option [for me] to finish the race.”

Petrucci’s open, good-natured face is in keeping with what he said about his win Sunday: “I thought many times in the past to quit my career, saying ‘This is not my world.’ It was Andrea who helped me, telling me not to think about the future. Think about now. Try to enjoy what you are doing. Focus on your strong points. Work hard.

“When I saw Marc and Dovi pass me [turn 1, last lap], I said ‘No! Another time leading [he had led laps 11 through 21] and I will finish third.’ Then they went a little bit wide. I saw not a door but just a window open.”

Dovizioso maximized a challenging weekend. About the summer-like conditions in which the race was held, he said, “The temperature was so high; everybody struggled with grip. We have to be happy because we fought for the victory. I’m disappointed for third; we need more points.”Courtesy of Ducati

As Dovizioso tried to come under Márquez, Petrucci slipped under and past both of them. From there, Petrucci’s victory was decided by Ducati acceleration. “I put fourth gear, fifth gear, waiting for Marc and Dovi to pass me,” he said. “Then I put sixth and, in that moment, I passed the finish line.” His margin of victory over Márquez was 0.043 second. “After the finish, I started to scream, and it was harder to do the slowdown lap because I couldn’t breathe.”

Dovizioso, who finished third, said, “The reason Marc was able to stay with us at our best track is the [Honda’s] speed in the middle of the corner. We accelerate better, we brake better, but in the middle of the corner we are too slow.”

Better to use himself as a spacer between the Ducatis to reduce Dovizioso’s haul of championship points.

Márquez acted strategically to the end: “When I saw Danilo was first, me second, and Dovi third [with most of a lap to go] I said, ‘Okay, I will not try. I will just defend.’ ”

In other words, trying for a last-instant draft past Petrucci might push them both wide at the next corner, letting Dovizioso through to 25 points. Better to use himself as a spacer between the Ducatis to reduce Dovizioso’s haul of championship points.

By lap 21, the heroic Rins had slipped back 0.4 second from the leaders. He said, “I tried to pass Dovizioso on the last corner, but he had a bit more traction than me.” His midrace cut and thrust left him just enough tire to finish a distinguished fourth. What will happen when Suzuki’s acceleration improves?

Álex Rins
Álex Rins stormed from his 13th qualifying spot to the race lead before finishing fourth. “I don’t think I could have had a better result with a better grid position,” the COTA winner said. “I recovered a lot of places on the first lap, but I was losing a lot of time on the straight.”Courtesy of Suzuki

Where were the Yamahas? Maverick Viñales was sixth, Quartararo in 10th, Morbidelli and Valentino Rossi in the gravel, the latter after a weekend to forget. Rossi said, “Gone are the days when the M1 was the quickest bike midcorner. We haven’t been able to make the difference there for three or four years.” A mistake in a corner earlier in the weekend put Rossi into Qualifying 1, and the resulting downfield start plunged him into the hazards of heavy traffic.

Yamaha's golden age in MotoGP flowed from a creative partnership between an engineer capable of original thought and a highly intelligent rider who could understand and report the machine's behavior on the track. In 2004, the engineer was Masao Furusawa and the rider was Valentino Rossi. Furusawa has now been retired for some years and his rider is 40 years old. What now operates in their place?

Pol Espargaró
Pol Espargaró was ninth, his fourth top-10 finish this season on the factory KTM. “We weren’t expecting these temperatures,” he admitted. “With the medium tire, we were in a very low-grip situation, but we were 14 seconds faster in total race time than in 2018. We can be happy.”Courtesy of KTM

Organizations are deeply suspicious of key personnel. Given their preference, like former US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, they regard personnel (military officers, engineers, civil servants) as a species of interchangeable middle managers. All middle managers have had the same training, so when a vacancy opens, Human Resources sends over whichever firm-handshake Bill or Bob is at the top of the eligible list.

Why shouldn’t this work? Remember American Honda’s successful racing manager, Gary Mathers? When asked about engineers in racing, he replied, “Engineers? The closest we let those boys come is the loading dock. Here’s the real question: The hay has been cut but the sky is darkening and the baler is broken. If you don’t get that dry hay into the barn before it rains, you’ll lose it all. Who’s going to fix the baler? An engineer? He’ll study the problem and write a report in six months. No, you get a farmer. He lives with that baler and will improvise a way to get it working—or there’ll be no hay next winter."

Individuals, especially those with novel ideas, are dangerous because they change things. Change is disturbing.

This is why, in times past, Yamaha had ex-250cc Grand Prix champion Kel Carruthers working with Kenny Roberts. When the chassis didn’t handle, Kel sawed the steering head out and welded it back at a better angle. When a new engine’s ports were too high, Kel corrected them on a lathe. Furusawa boldly switched the Yamaha M1 from a flat crank to a 90-degree and from five valves per cylinder to four. He had ideas and, like Winston Churchill, he wanted “action this day.”

Valentino Rossi
Valentino Rossi, a seven-time MotoGP winner at Mugello, had a miserable weekend, qualifying 18th and crashing out of the race. Maverick Viñales was the top Yamaha in sixth, followed by 10th-place Fabio Quartararo, who once again earned a front-row start.Courtesy of Yamaha

Study committees and advisory groups are too slow for the surprise problems of MotoGP. Yet every maker in the series has spent time in the wilderness because they’d put racing in the hands of committees. Committees are safe because they dilute blame and avoid upset. Individuals, especially those with novel ideas, are dangerous because they change things. Change is disturbing.

Honda preferred committee inaction from 2004 to mid-2010 (with Hayden’s ’06 title as relief). Ducati, after Stoner’s 2007 title, made its bike slower every year until Stoner took Honda’s 2011 offer. Finally, Ducati gave MotoGP control to someone willing to act, Gianluigi Dall’Igna. Yamaha appears to be in a committee period right now, and higher management evidently prefers becoming number four after Honda, Ducati, and now Suzuki to the upset and risk of change.

For the moment, Marc Márquez has the last word. With his Honda closer to having a round suite of qualities—more power than in 2018, more midcorner grip, etc.—and now working well even on Ducati’s best track, the current championship point leader said, “We are there all the time in all the conditions.”