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MotoGP Italian GP

10 things we learned from the 2023 MotoGP Italian GP

MotoGP’s first leg of its triple-header saw Francesco Bagnaia stake his claim on defending his world title with a dominant display at Mugello. While there was more misery for Honda and Yamaha, the current state of affairs in motorcycle grand prix racing were also laid out at the Italian Grand Prix. Here are 10 things we learned from this weekend

Francesco Bagnaia, Ducati Team

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MotoGP returned to action at the Italian Grand Prix after a three-week break, with Francesco Bagnaia delighting the home crowd with a perfect weekend.

Having been wiped out of the French GP to register his third grand prix non-score of the year, Bagnaia bounced back emphatically with pole, sprint victory and a win in the grand prix to extend his championship lead.

He was chased home on Sunday by Pramac’s Jorge Martin, who is building on the momentum of recent rounds but now needs to take the step he needs to be a grand prix winner again.

Honda’s misery continued as two of its riders suffered injuries at Mugello while Marc Marquez crashed out of the main race while battling for the podium.

Nothing got better for 2021 world champion Fabio Quartararo on his Yamaha, but team-mate Franco Morbidelli put on a good show as he bids to secure his MotoGP future.

Elsewhere, Pedro Acosta once again showed why he will be a superstar when he comes to the premier class in 2024, while Andrea Dovizioso became an official MotoGP legend at Mugello – once again raising questions about the validity of such an honour.

Here are the 10 things we learned from the 2023 MotoGP Italian Grand Prix.

1. Mugello repeats for Bagnaia will be devastating to rivals

Bagnaia was unbeatable at Mugello with pole and wins in the sprint and grand prix

Bagnaia was unbeatable at Mugello with pole and wins in the sprint and grand prix

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Flawed genius would be a fair description of Francesco Bagnaia. As he proved in his title-winning 2022 campaign, his speed is not in doubt. But his propensity to make costly errors plagues him.

Coming to round six of the 2023 season in Italy, he had already tallied up three grand prix non-scores (albeit his tangle with Maverick Vinales in France was not of his doing). Without the sprints, his championship picture would look considerably different.

But given the expectation of wins for Ducati riders at the marque’s home circuit of Mugello, it would have been easy for Bagnaia to throw it all away. Instead, he qualified on pole (with a new outright lap record at Mugello), won the sprint, eased to victory in the grand prix and set the fastest lap.

Unsurprisingly, Bagnaia branded it the “best weekend of the season”, and it’s lifted him 21 points clear in the standings.

Bagnaia’s win in the grand prix came as he opted for the medium rear tyre, but oddly to use it from the start to build a gap rather than preserve rubber for the second half of the sweltering race. As such, his tyres were “destroyed” come the last laps as he cleared off by over a second to Pramac’s Jorge Martin.

Listening to what his rivals had to say, the key to Bagnaia’s Mugello weekend was how he navigated the long left-handed final corner. According to VR46’s Luca Marini “he gains two, three tenths every lap. He brakes well, if I try to brake as him I can’t turn the bike in the middle of the corner. Then in the left corners, he doesn’t lean so much on the left side because for his riding style he stays with five degrees with the bike more up. So, he has more grip but with less lean angle he can turn better than you. So, he has a very good setting, he can ride the bike very well and makes everything correct with his bike.”

With Sachsenring up next, that will stand Bagnaia in good stead. And if he can consistently repeat what happened in Mugello, title number two in MotoGP will be all but assured.

2. Marquez’s “Plan A” is being severely tested

Marquez crashed out from a promising position yet again battling his own temperamental Honda

Marquez crashed out from a promising position yet again battling his own temperamental Honda

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Once again over the Mugello weekend, Marc Marquez was asked about his future in MotoGP. And once again – just as he did in an exclusive interview with Autosport last November – he said “Plan A” was to remain with Honda.

PLUS: Is MotoGP's comeback king ready to reclaim his throne?

This line of questioning returned after three-time MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo said in an interview that Marquez would leave Honda and accept a smaller contract elsewhere for a better bike.

Marquez told Autosport last November that he would explore other options if Honda can’t give him the bike he needs, and at the moment it still hasn’t. Though the Kalex-designed chassis he has been racing since France has provided a small boost, it hasn’t been enough to transform his results.

Just as he did in the French GP, in Sunday’s Mugello round Marquez crashed out while battling for the podium. He suffered locking on the front in the way into the final corner on lap six (almost identical to the moment that triggered his controversial Portugal smash) and fell as he turned on the dirty part of the track.

Stood in the gravel arms raised at his stricken RC213V as if to say ‘what more can I do?’, Honda needs to do something radical to reverse its fortunes.

Speaking after the race, Marquez admits the constant crashing is because of the risks he has to take to be fast on the Honda and that it is becoming “difficult on the mental side”. That’s a comment Honda must take to heart, given the injury and recovery hell Marquez has been through over the last three years to be able to ride competitively again.

While it’s unlikely he will break his contract with Honda for 2024, the rider market will move very quickly for 2025 as all factory contracts come up for renewal and Marquez – given the choice – would almost certainly trade a big money deal for a competitive bike.

Given how uncompetitive the rest of Honda’s stable is right now on its poor machine, HRC simply cannot afford to lose the six-time MotoGP champion.

3. Quartararo’s agent split adds to Yamaha unease

Quartararo announced he has split with his manager and taken his affairs into his own hands

Quartararo announced he has split with his manager and taken his affairs into his own hands

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Much like Marc Marquez, Fabio Quartararo’s future with his team remains uncertain as an uncompetitive bike stunts his desire for another world title.

Quartararo came to Mugello with his Yamaha running settings from 2021, as all of the development parts he has tried this year haven’t worked. Aware that it may not be the fastest way around a track, it would at least give him some consistency.

Predictably, nothing much came of it. Qualifying 15th behind team-mate Franco Morbidelli, Quartararo was 10th in the sprint and trailed the Italian in 11th in the grand prix. Now 77 points behind Bagnaia, Quartararo’s championship bid has still failed to get off the ground.

He is contracted for another year at Yamaha and isn’t likely to break this, but a split with long-time manager Eric Mahe prior to the Mugello weekend as Quartararo takes this role into his own hands suggests he feels a better deal could be out there for himself.

4. Mugello proves MotoGP’s aero era must end

Mugello failed to deliver a MotoGP spectacular this weekend - with the current aero boom being blamed

Mugello failed to deliver a MotoGP spectacular this weekend - with the current aero boom being blamed

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Coming to Mugello used to be a guarantee of a nail-biting, action-packed race for the MotoGP class. But this year’s edition was a dud.

Even a sprinkling of rain couldn’t do much to liven up a fairly tepid sprint contest, while the grand prix bordered on processional. There was a grand total of two overtakes for the lead on Sunday: Jack Miller leapfrogging Bagnaia off the line, and Bagnaia retaliating into Turn 2 on the first lap.

That proved the height of the lead battle, as Bagnaia kept a steady 0.4s-0.6s gap over Jorge Martin before pulling to over a second away.

While there were smatterings of racing down the order, it was nothing that could be considered a spectacle. Overtaking in MotoGP has gotten harder in recent years due to the development of aerodynamics, the ride height devices and sensitive front tyres.

As MotoGP looks to hook a new audience, all of these things must be addressed. As Marc Marquez has spoken about before, ride height devices are stopping riders from making the difference on their bikes. Aero fairings and wings are causing a lot of turbulence, which not only makes passing harder, but adds a danger element – as Alex Marquez demonstrated when he almost wiped out three riders into Turn 1 having been caught out by the slipstream.

MotoGP is a very competitive platform and removing these limits on racing will improve the spectacle no end.

5. Morbidelli doing what he needs to keep Yamaha seat… if he wants it

Frankie is relaxed about his MotoGP future

Frankie is relaxed about his MotoGP future

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

The Italian GP marked the start of a crucial triple-header phase for Franco Morbidelli in his quest to save his MotoGP future with Yamaha.

Yamaha already outlined a timeline of up to the summer break to have its 2024 line-up finalised, and Morbidelli has come under pressure as results have been lacklustre since stepping up to the marque’s factory squad last year.

Interview: Yamaha’s once leading light fighting for his MotoGP future

The Italian GP was a positive weekend. Outqualifying Quartararo strengthened claims he made to Autosport at Le Mans that he is much more evenly matched with the Frenchman this year, while beating him in the grand prix is about as big a result as you can get right now on the underpowered Yamaha.

After the grand prix, Morbidelli suggested to motogp.com that staying at Yamaha wasn’t what he wanted, stating “do I want to secure another year with Yamaha? Talk with Lin [Jarvis, team boss].”

Given the scant availability of rides for 2024, Yamaha is likely Morbidelli’s best option. And for now, he’s doing what he needs to secure that.

6. Mir’s fears of repeating Lorenzo’s Honda failure are coming true

Mir pulled out of the Italian GP weekend after a heavy practice crash on Friday

Mir pulled out of the Italian GP weekend after a heavy practice crash on Friday

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Prior to the three-week break between Le Mans and Mugello, Joan Mir was asked if he was scared about repeating the Honda failures endured by the likes of Jorge Lorenzo and Pol Espargaro.

His response: “For sure I’m scared because I want to win. It’s very difficult for a rider like me to see myself in the position that I am. My motivation is to win races, make podiums, and be in the top group, this is what gives me the fuel for it. It’s a long time that I don’t have this fuel.”

Unfortunately for the 2020 world champion, history is repeating itself. Lorenzo’s sole campaign on the Honda saw him fail to score a single top 10 and get badly beaten up by the RC213V.

Mir has so far finished a best of 11th, in the Portuguese GP. He missed the Argentina GP weekend after hurting his ankle in a sprint collision; failed to score in America, crashing out of that grand prix and the next ones in Spain and France; and pulled out of the Mugello round after a practice crash left him knocked about.

LCR’s Alex Rins badly broke his leg in a crash in the Mugello sprint and is now out for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, Marc Marquez can barely get the Honda to the finish of races.

Lorenzo’s career was effectively ended by the Honda, several big crashes in a test in Barcelona and during the Dutch GP, irreparably busting his confidence. Lorenzo wasn’t exactly a scrub, and nor is Mir.

Not only does Honda need to build a bike that can win, it needs to desperately reverse its image as a manufacturer that chews up world champions and spits them out.

7. Martin is building into his season, but next step needs to come soon

Martin has enjoyed a resurgence in MotoGP but needs to rediscover that winning feeling to make the next step

Martin has enjoyed a resurgence in MotoGP but needs to rediscover that winning feeling to make the next step

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Pramac Ducati rider Jorge Martin has been in strong form since finally gelling with the 2023 Desmosedici from the Spanish GP.

Since then, he has enjoyed back-to-back double podium weekends in France and Italy, scoring third in the sprint at Mugello and second in the grand prix.

Conceding Bagnaia was “unbeatable” in the grand prix, Martin felt he closed the pace gap to the factory Ducati team rider across the Mugello weekend.

Now just 24 points off in the championship in third, Martin must take that final step soon to return winning grands prix having gone without since the 2021 Styrian GP in his rookie campaign.

As rumours of a Yamaha switch in 2024 swirl, remaining with Ducati is his best option given the competitiveness of the M1. But he needs to start proving he is Bagnaia’s equal if he has any ambitions of becoming his team-mate at the factory squad in 2025.

8. Aprilia becoming MotoGP 2023’s perennial underachievers

After a breakthrough 2022, this season hasn't lived up to expectation for Aprilia

After a breakthrough 2022, this season hasn't lived up to expectation for Aprilia

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

After its breakthrough 2022 in which it became MotoGP winners for the first time and embarked on a solid title tilt with Aleix Espargaro, Aprilia was expected to take a step in 2023.

Throughout the winter both Espargaro and Maverick Vinales gushed about how good the 2023 RS-GP was. But since then, nothing has really come of that.

Vinales found himself on the podium in the Portuguese GP, but that has so far been the only rostrum appearance for either of Aprilia’s factory riders.

At Mugello, Espargaro battled to sixth with a damaged heel from a cycling incident during the weekend. But that was “no excuse” as the RS-GP simply didn’t have the pace of the Ducati, with Espargaro conceding he “hates” seeing how easy the Desmosedici appears to ride.

Vinales blamed bad tyres for his struggles all weekend, having finished without points in the sprint and struggled to 12th in the grand prix.

Given the Aprilia is clearly a better bike than the Yamaha, Espargaro really shouldn’t be on the same amount of points as Fabio Quartararo in the standings, while Vinales shouldn’t be trailing.

9. Acosta will be the superstar MotoGP needs to hook its new audience

Acosta is MotoGP-bound in 2024 and looks set to add some fun to the top class

Acosta is MotoGP-bound in 2024 and looks set to add some fun to the top class

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

MotoGP’s hunt for the next-generation superstar won’t go on for much longer as all signs point to that position being filled by Pedro Acosta.

The 19-year-old Spaniard winning the Moto3 championship in his rookie season in 2021 marked him out as the next big thing, as did winning his first Moto2 race eight rounds into the 2022 campaign.

Scoring his third win of the season in Mugello, the KTM protégé is now just 20 points off championship leader Tony Arbolino.

After the race, Acosta picked up an Alpinestars-branded backpack on his way back to parc ferme. Once back with his team, he revealed the bag contained special Acosta-branded pizza boxes. Cheekily, he handed one to Arbolino’s Marc VDS team.

Already a showman in Moto3, Acosta’s stunt (a subtle suggestion that Arbolino, who was 6.1s adrift in the race, had been served) brings a bit of much-needed fun to the MotoGP paddock that will either mark him out as hero or villain when he comes to the premier class.

Admitting during the Mugello weekend that he has until the end of the month to decide on whether his MotoGP future lies with KTM (likely at Tech3 on a factory contract) or another brand, we won’t be waiting long to see how he shakes things up in the world championship.

10. MotoGP has a big ‘legend’ problem

Dovizioso was made a MotoGP legend at Mugello

Dovizioso was made a MotoGP legend at Mugello

Photo by: MotoGP

The pre-event celebrations for the Italian GP were kicked off by Andrea Dovizioso being inducted as an official MotoGP legend.

While at one time Dorna’s initiative was probably quite a good idea, the overuse of the honour has somewhat nullified it. Dovizioso was a great MotoGP rider and world champion at 125cc level, winner of 15 premier class GPs and three times a runner-up in the standings.

But does that honestly qualify him as a legend, alongside riders like Valentino Rossi, Giacomo Agostini and Mick Doohan, to name but a few?

Then begs the question, what should the criteria be? Dani Pedrosa doesn’t have any MotoGP titles, but has one in 125s and two in 250s, has won 33 premier class races and was on the same level of that Lorenzo/Rossi/Stoner era. He is also an official legend. As is the late Marco Simoncelli, who scored just two podiums in MotoGP and one 250cc title before his tragic death in 2011.

Again, though, does that equate to what Kenny Roberts Sr achieved? It doesn’t, therefore if he is there as an official legend Pedrosa shouldn’t be. And so Dovizioso definitely doesn’t belong.

What really needs to happen is MotoGP scraps the meaningless legends initiations, and open a proper hall of fame busting at the seams with pieces from the series’ history.

MotoGP heads from Mugello to the Sachsenring next weekend

MotoGP heads from Mugello to the Sachsenring next weekend

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

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