This weekend MotoGP returns to one of its most dramatic venues – Mugello, home to the Italian Grand Prix – for the first time since June 2019.
Last year’s Italian GP was cancelled due to the global pandemic, so although fans will not be admitted to the 2021 event the return to Mugello is a hopeful sign for everyone.
Leading the Honda charge at this most picturesque of circuits in the foothills of the Apennine mountains will be Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V), who continues his comeback to racing following a nine-month absence through injury.
Marquez has won in all three classes at Mugello, a super-fast circuit that reliably creates some of the most thrilling MotoGP races. He won the 2010 125cc Italian GP, the 2011 Moto2 race and the 2014 MotoGP race. Last time out at the track in June 2019 he rode his RC213V to second place, just 0.043 seconds behind the winner.
The 28-year-old Spaniard returned to action at last month’s Portuguese GP, after missing 13 races last year and the first two rounds of this year’s championship, due to a broken arm sustained at Jerez last July.
He finished his comeback race in an impressive seventh place. Two weeks later he was ninth in the Spanish GP, although closer to the winner, and two weeks ago he stormed into the lead of the French GP, only to crash out in treacherous rain-soaked conditions.
Marquez is still working hard to get his right arm back to full strength. Currently some of the muscles are at little more than 50% of their usual strength, so the six-times MotoGP World Champion is aware that his return to full power is a work in progress. Mugello will be a particular challenge, because the circuit is fast and bumpy, requiring a lot of physical input from riders.
Team-mate Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) will continue his adaptation to the RC213V this weekend. The start of his first season with Honda has been conditioned by the pandemic, because pre-season testing was curtailed, with riders and teams able to test at only one circuit. Therefore the first few GPs were more like test sessions than races for the 29-year-old Spaniard.
Espargaro now stands tenth in the World Championship, with three top-ten results so far. At every race he takes further steps forward with his RC213V and he can’t wait to start work at Mugello, a circuit that rewards determined riders like the former Moto2 World Champion. In 2012 Espargaro finished second in the Mugello Moto2 race, just 0.090 seconds behind the winner.
Last time at Mugello, Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU Honda RC213V) had one of his best rides of 2019, finishing a strong fifth, only six seconds behind the lead group that included second-placed Marquez.
The 29-year-old from Chiba is currently Honda’s top-placed rider in the 2021 MotoGP championship, with an excellent fourth place at Jerez his best result so far. At Le Mans he finished seventh in the slippery conditions, after running as high as third in the mid-stages of the race. The former Moto2 race winner is still chasing his first premier-class podium, so a top-three finish will once again be his aim on Sunday.
This will be a big weekend for Nakagami’s team-mate Alex Marquez (LCR Honda CASTROL Honda RC213V), who contested his rookie MotoGP season last year, when there was no race at Mugello. Therefore the 24-year-old Spaniard will experience the epic Italian circuit for the first time on a MotoGP bike when practice gets underway on Friday morning.
The younger Marquez certainly knows the fast line around Mugello – in June 2019 he won the Moto2 race at the track on his way to that year’s Moto2 world title – but the circuit is very different on a MotoGP machine, partly because it regularly produces the highest top-speed figures of the championship.
Honda riders have enjoyed great premier-class successes over the years at Mugello. The company won its first Grand Prix at the track, during GP racing’s two-stroke era, when Randy Mamola topped an all-Honda podium in 1984. The following year Freddie Spencer won both 250cc and 500cc races at the track, on his way to a unique 250/500 world title double. From 1993 to 1998 Mick Doohan won six consecutive GPs at the venue, with Alex Barros, Loris Capirossi, Alex Criville and Valentino Rossi also winning at Mugello aboard Honda two-strokes.
Since the start of MotoGP four-stroke era, Rossi (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC211V), Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC212V) and Marquez (RC213V) have won MotoGP races at the track.
Mugello is one of MotoGP’s fastest circuits, with a layout that twists and turns its way through a verdant Tuscan valley. Its flowing high-speed curves and esses sections demand immense commitment and inch-perfect accuracy, while its 1.1km/0.7-mile start/finish straight requires plenty of horsepower.
Immediately after Sunday’s racing the MotoGP paddock heads to Spain for the following weekend’s Catalan Grand Prix at the Barcelona-Catalunya circuit.