Moto GP - Gran Premio D'Italia Preview
Another chapter in the fascinating 2022 MotoGP season will be written this weekend at the iconic venue of Mugello, home of the Italian Grand Prix.
With Italian icon Valentino Rossi now retired, the weekend will no longer be just adoration of the Doctor, and the good news for the fans is that a number of home riders and bikes should be in contention for the win.
Title race still taking shape
First, let's take a look at the situation in the world championship after the first seven races of the 20-round season.
No rider has yet been able to put their stamp on the title race, or even really be able to claim to be a contender every week, with teams being at the front in one race and back in the back in the next event, and five riders have won races already this season.
However, three men have managed to break 25 points clear of the field, with world champion Fabio Quartararo leading the pack on 102 points after finishing first, second and fourth in the last three races.
The Frenchman is 1.50 for the championship, but is just four points ahead of Aleix Espargaro (5.00) of Aprilia, who has found the secret of consistency that has eluded most of the field and finished on the podium at the last three races in addition to his earlier win in Argentina.
Bastianini has ups and downs
Third place seems like an unusual ranking for the only man to win multiple races this season, but it has been a real feast-or-famine campaign for Ducati's Enea Bastianini (51.00), who has won in Qatar, the United States and last time out in France.
However, he has not finished higher than eighth in the other four races, leaving him four points behind Espargaro.
Suzuki's Alex Rins (401.00) has fallen off the pace by failing to score in the last two races, with his team-mate Joan Mir (751.00) also blighted by a pair of DNFs when he has finished in the top six each time otherwise.
Mugello suits Ducati and Yamaha
Looking at this weekend's race, the best strategy should be to focus on a Yamaha or Ducati rider, as those teams have won eight of the last nine Mugello races, with Yamaha taking five of them.
This year's Yamaha machine has proved to be a real beast, though, with Quartararo the only man able to tame it most weekends.
That leaves Ducati in great shape to land a home win to send the Italian crowd wild, although Aprilia and Suzuki will hope to be a factor too.
The chance of an Italian rider winning on an Italian bike looks very real, with Bastianini and also Francesco 'Pecco' Bagnaia major contenders - the latter could easily be a lot higher up the championship standings as his championship odds of just 3.75 suggest.
Neither rider has had much luck when racing at Mugello so far, though, with Bastianini managing to crash both on the warm-up lap and the first lap of the race last year.
He has never been on the podium in his home race in any category, but his form this season makes him tough to rule out of any race. His three wins have come from second on the grid once and fifth twice, so his race pace is hard to fault.
Bagnaia fancied to shine
Even so, preference for this race is for a bet on Bagnaia, who has looked lightning fast in recent races. He could easily be seeking a third successive victory this week as, after taking pole, fastest lap and the win in the Spanish Grand Prix, he was on course for a repeat at Le Mans two weeks ago.
However, after taking pole, and working his way back into the lead after dropping to third early on, he felt the pressure when challenged for the lead by Bastianini, first making a mistake to lose the lead, then crashing out of second place with seven laps left.
Maybe the weight of expectation will be too much again, but if not, Bagnaia looks to have the speed and motivation to be a real force at Mugello this weekend.
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