until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


‘Stable like F1′ – Ducati MotoGP rivals’ belated reality check

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

With a bike that wasn’t flawed out of the gates like its 2022 predecessor, there was concern coming out of the pre-season about Ducati making a total whitewash of the 2023 MotoGP campaign.

But while the GP23 had proven a big hit, neither it nor the year-old version competing alongside it had proven out of reach. Ducati has won plenty of races, been quickest more often than not, and was obviously the nailed-on constructors’ champion already – but it wasn’t yet quite the Death Star.

It was maybe that slightly raggedy and exposed Death Star from Return of the Jedi – still a “fully armed and operational battle station”, but not quite the fully assembled variant from a New Hope.

But at Mugello, led by Pecco Bagnaia, it snapped the opposition in half. It was 1-2-3-4-5 in the sprint, which maybe should’ve been a top-six lockout if not for Alex Marquez falling off in lap-one contact, and 1-2-3-4 in the main race, which again maybe should’ve been a top-six lockout if not for another Marquez exit and a confusing drop-off for Marco Bezzecchi.

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And that was even without a fully-fit Enea Bastianini.

In hindsight, it’s easy to point at the track and say ‘well, there’s your answer’. Ducati is routinely great at Mugello, especially now that the bike is not just lighting fast on the straights but perfectly adept in the corners and direction changes. It likely has warehouses of data from Mugello. And so much of its line-up are Italians who know the track like the backs of their hands.

But it hadn’t even had a 1-2 at Mugello since 2018. Fabio Quartararo rode a masterpiece on his Yamaha M1 to finish a not-too-distant second to Bagnaia last year, after winning in 2021. And Marc Marquez had a very real chance to steal a win for Honda in 2019.

This time? Not a chance. For Yamaha and Honda, obviously – these are not the Yamaha and Honda you’re looking for. But KTM and Aprilia both came into the weekend expecting to go quite well, and both had to leave with a shrug of the shoulders.

“I jumped behind them at the start and I was trying to go with them, they looked like they had a little bit in the pocket,” said KTM’s Brad Binder, who salvaged a fifth place as the winner of the non-Ducati class on Sunday.

“Each race this year I’ve always felt like I can go with the guys and and be in my comfort zone. Whereas here I’ve really had to try and push it – and I wasn’t going with them either. It was a bit more tough.

Brad Binder

“But clearly this is their backyard, and they’ve got some small tricks up their sleeve here, clearly.

“It’s the first racetrack this year that I would say we’ve struggled a bit more than we’d hoped.”

“I couldn’t match them. It’s crazy. They are very fast,” said Aprilia’s Aleix Espargaro on Sunday.

“I did my lap record here in Mugello yesterday, but not enough.

“Pecco is flying, he’s the man to beat, but all his mates in different teams are following him. Alex Marquez with the Gresini, the Mooney [VR46] boys, the Pramac boys are flying as well.”

Espargaro acknowledged that seeing this as a Mugello-specific outcome is “a good point of view”.

“Right now I don’t want to turn page, I want to understand what happened here. But yes, it’s true that Mugello they did a lot of laps, they have a lot of information, [there is a] super-long straight. I want to believe that in Germany and Assen I will be closer.”

But, clearly, it wasn’t just the engine power that made the difference.

“The thing that I like the most – or that I hate the most – is how easy you see how they ride,” Espargaro added.

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“Even Pecco’s pole position lap. No movement at all. It looked like Formula 1.

“It’s crazy the stability they have, the amount of power they’re able to put on the ground. We could not match this.

“We have to improve the torque, and we have to improve the turning, a little bit the front grip. Because it looks like the Ducatis’ agility is insane. If you look at the Ducati, it’s like a Transformer, but then on track it’s super agile.”

The Ducati armada scored almost 70% of the points on offer at Mugello.

Ducati riders’ points share per weekend in 2023

Portimao – 47.3%
Termas – 59.8%
COTA – 41.4%
Jerez – 41.3%
Le Mans – 57.0%
Mugello – 69.3%

That’s not even late-2022 numbers; the comparison is skewed because of the addition of sprint races and the subtraction of Suzuki, but Ducati averaged 44.5% of the total rider points haul per weekend last year, and topped out at 63.6% at Aragon.

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Aragon is not on the calendar this year, but the Red Bull Ring still awaits, as does Sepang, as does Misano, not that there’s much of a reason to list off Ducati strongholds because any MotoGP track right now can be one.

“It’s not going to be an easy year for the others,” Espargaro acknowledged.

That may well have been the expectation coming out of the pre-season, too, but Mugello really drove it home after a slightly varied start. And without a Cassian Andor to steal Ducati’s Death Star blueprints, it’s not clear at all how the juggernaut is supposed to be stopped.

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