Italian MotoGP: Petrucci’s Ballsy Move On Marquez & Dovizioso

Ducati riders Danilo Petrucci and Andrea Dovizioso ride in Mugello for the Italian MotoGP

A few days before the Italian MotoGP, Ducati rider Danilo Petrucci admitted that his MotoGP career could be over if Ducati did not renew his contract for 2020, saying, “I don’t have a contract for next year. I’m trying to earn it and doing my best, calmly. There are physically no other places on the MotoGP grid.”

Petrucci’s so-called drive to survive (or in this case, ride to survive) took him all the way to the top step of the Italian MotoGP podium – an unexpected and emotional first-ever victory in MotoGP. Petrucci rode with grit and deftness to overcome several challengers through the race and give his home fans the joy of witnessing a win by an Italian rider for an Italian team at the Italian MotoGP. Given how Ferrari has been failing to deliver in Formula 1, Italian racing fans will be grateful for the good news. Coincidentally, Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc was present to cheer the riders on.

Joining Petrucci on the podium at Mugello were Marc Marquez for Honda and Andrea Dovizioso in the other Ducati. We feel this way every time we watch a MotoGP race, but it was an absolute classic with drama, action and a thrilling last lap!

Marquez takes pole, sets new lap record

The qualifying session was eventful as reigning champion Marquez made a statement by creating a new lap record at Mugello. Marquez was able to position himself strategically to receive a tow from Dovizioso in the final lap, which immensely helped his timing. Marquez clinched pole ahead of Yamaha SRT rookie Fabio Quartararo, who continued his impressive qualifying runs after grabbing the title of MotoGP’s youngest-ever pole sitter at Jerez last month. Petrucci lined up third on the grid beside them. Marquez’s closest championship challenger Dovizioso could only manage P9.

Marquez Equals Rossi’s Qualifying Record, What’s Next?

The biggest disappointment of qualifying was home hero Valentino Rossi, who was last year’s pole sitter. Rossi had a dismal qualifying session and could only manage P18 on the grid due to an unsatisfactory flying lap. This was his worst qualifying result since the Aragon MotoGP in September 2018.

Petrucci holds off Marquez and Dovi for a maiden win

It is no secret that Petrucci has been under serious pressure ever since he joined the Ducati factory team at the start of the season, replacing Jorge Lorenzo who moved to Honda. Ducati took Petrucci on in an unusual one-year contract, putting the onus on him to show them that he is deserving of the ride. With teammate Dovizioso putting in some stellar performances this season, the benchmark only got higher for Petrucci.

The 2019 MotoGP has been known for its utterly unexpected results, and Petrucci’s maiden win is yet another outcome that nobody could have seen coming – probably not Petrucci himself. The Ducati rider did not put a foot wrong all through, and led most of the second half of the race. Admittedly, many expected Petrucci to crack in the face of far more experienced riders like Marquez and Dovizioso, but he seemed to soak up the pressure and only deliver more. Petrucci rode the race of his life like he had nothing to lose, although the reality of his Ducati seat could not be farther from the truth. Petrucci crossed the finish line a mere 0.043 seconds ahead of second place rider Marquez.

“It’s unbelievable, in the best place in the world. I start to go on track and it’s unbelievable because in front of my fans, in my hometown, it’s unbelievable. Was a fantastic race. I cannot describe the feeling I have now because I have not recognised that I have won,” said an emotional and visibly teary Petrucci after the race.

Petrucci has had a long wait for his first win – it comes after 125 starts.

Petrucci’s Ducati teammate Dovizioso slipped in and out of the lead several times during the race, but could never quite make it stick and eventually finished third. He shared, “Disappointed for the third position because we need more points, but am happy for Danilo because he deserves, he did a lot of effort in training, I’m happy for him and Ducati.”

Although Marquez reigned supreme on Saturday, Mugello has not conventionally been one of his stronger tracks. The only time Marquez won here was five years ago in 2014. His younger brother Alex (who races in Moto2) dominated the race, unlike a fortnight ago, it was not to be a double celebration for the Marquez brothers. Despite putting on a spirited battle against the Ducati riders, Marquez was no match for Petrucci’s masterclass on Monday. “When I saw at the start that I couldn’t pull clear I said to myself that today isn’t the day,” revealed Marquez after the race.

Rins charges up the order, disappointment for Rossi

Another rider who had an eventful race was Alex Rins of Suzuki who charged his way from a lowly P13 start to finishing just off the podium in P4 – half a second behind Petrucci. Rins’ opening lap was an absolute treat to watch as he blazed his way up to P7 and then continued to work his way up the order. Rins has often been hailed as the dark horse of this season and performances like this tell us why he’s comeback king of the grid.

Despite a low qualifying position, everyone knows that you can never write off Rossi – especially in front of an adoring home crowd with grandstands literally painted in the bright Rossi yellow colour. Unfortunately, the promise of a comeback was short-lived as he had an incident with the Suzuki of Johan Mir on Lap 8 and then dropped back before crashing out soon after. Interestingly, Rossi had some rather biting things to say about the Yamaha bike – “The problem is that the Yamaha has always been the same for 3 years. I’m not looking for miracles. They continue work in Japan, but I don’t know what to expect regarding development.”

Rossi’s teammate Maverick Vinales once again had a poor opening to the race, spiralling down the order once again (something he has become infamous for this season). Luckily, he was able to redeem himself and fought back to a P6 finish. Although it may not be the blockbuster result he would have liked, Vinales needs to consistently bring some strong results for the team.

It was a special race for Takaaki Nakagami of LCR Honda, who finished in P5 and bagged his best MotoGP finish ever. He even passed his more-experienced teammate Cal Crutchlow on the way to his result.

Jorge Lorenzo had yet another disappointing race, finishing P13. Our hearts go out to the rider, who has been relegated to being little more than Marquez’s struggling teammate. Lorenzo recently made an interesting statement that Honda is reluctant to change due to Marquez’s success – “Obviously he’s winning, five from six [titles], so they [Honda] don’t let you change so much, no? They keep winning with Marc.” How much longer before Lorenzo finally managed to come to his own, or at least keep up with his talented teammate? Will Honda lose patience before that happens?

Championship standings

As the season progresses, the theme of the year seems to be ‘expect the unexpected.’ Although Marquez continues to lead the championship and has in fact extended his advantage over Dovizioso to 12 points, the battle is far from decided. Dovizioso may not have dominated races like Marquez, but has been consistently pulling out strong finishes. Rins waits in the wings in third place, while thanks to his victory, Petrucci leaped up to fourth in the standings. Among the teams, Honda are only six points clear of Ducati. Yamaha and Suzuki are tied for third, making that another interesting battle to watch. Next, the action shifts to the French MotoGP – and given how unpredictable the season has been until now, expect the unexpected once again.

This post was first published on Firstpost

Kunal Shah is an FIA-accredited Formula 1 journalist who has been reporting on Formula 1 for nearly two decades. He worked with the Force India Formula 1 Team for 6 seasons in Marketing, Sponsorship and Commercial roles. As a former single-seater racer, he was responsible for Force India's grassroots talent program, One from a Billion Hunt. Presently, he co-writes a regular Formula 1 column for Firstpost, speaks on Inside Line F1 Podcast & Pits to Podium and produces broadcast/OTT content for NENT Group (Viasport & Viaplay).

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