It will be a very different round of the MotoGP title at Mugello in Italy this weekend (May 27-29), primarily as a function of who’s not competing.

It’s of course recently retired Italian icon Valentino Rossi, who was a constant at the sacred 5.245km tree-lined Tuscan circuit – located 30km north-east of Florence – from 1994 until 2021.

For the partisan and boisterous Italian crowd it was an annual pilgrimage to watch their hero, and Rossi repaid the adoration in spades with seven victories in the premier class.

Mind you, Rossi will still be at the 2022 Italian GP to oversee his MotoGP outfit – Mooney VR46 Racing Team – and to officially ‘retire’ the iconic number 46 from competition.

Rossi’s appearance comes at a critical juncture in this year’s championship. After seven of 20 rounds, reigning world champion and 2021 Mugello winner Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha) leads by 4pts (102 to 98) over Aprilia’ Racing’s Aleix Espargaro, with Italian Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing Ducati, 94pts) the other rider pushing hard at the pointy end.

Aussie Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo) is among the next block of contenders, in a 2022 MotoGP roster where 10 riders have already finished on the podium.

That figure alone throws up all sorts of potential Mugello possibilities, but Ducati still shapes as the dominant marque thanks to the outrageous top speed of the Bologna bullets. There’s no doubt that friendly weather conditions could see a Ducati break MotoGP’s current 362.4km/h top speed record on the circuit’s long start/finish straight.

After his last-start victory at Le Mans in France, which took his season’s winning tally to three, home glory would be something special for Bastianini.

Based on current form, the 24-year-old from Rimini deserves to start as slight favourite, but his countryman Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo) will obviously have other thoughts – as will the likes of Quartararo, Miller, Pramac Ducati duo Jorge Martin and Johann Zarco, the inimitable Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) and Suzuki Ecstar pairing Alex Rins and Joan Mir.

Rins for one believes Mugello could be “Ducati land”, based on the marque’s straight line brawn, braking and inch-perfect turning qualities. With a record nine Desmosedicis on the grid, most of them likely to qualify well and win the drag race to turn one, it could create the biggest roadblock in MotoGP history!

However, MotoGP often reads from an unpredictable script and, as one of the most challenging circuits on the MotoGP calendar, it’s no surprise the supremely gifted Quartararo won at Mugello in 2021.

Quartararo is also one of only two riders to have scored points in all the seven MotoGP races so far this season, alongside Espargaro, so unerring consistency is also one of his calling cards.

Fresh from a second place in France, Miller’s now functioning as one with his Desmosedici GP.

“The Italian Grand Prix is always very special, as it’s my team’s home race. The atmosphere is incredible, and I can’t wait to race in front of all the Ducati fans,” said Miller.

“During the last few GPs, I’ve developed a good feeling with my Desmosedici GP, and I hope I can find these sensations again here at Mugello, a track I like a lot. Overall, I’m positive, and I feel I can have another good weekend here in Italy.”

Meanwhile, Suzuki and Honda have also won premier class races at Mugello, while ultimate success has been elusive for KTM and Aprilia – although Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM) was a close second to Quartararo in 2021, with Mir third.

It’s been a tough year for KTM so far, but Binder has a habit of wringing every last drop out of his Austrian machine on race day.

Aussie rookie Remy Gardner (Tech 3 KTM) continues his MotoGP apprenticeship at Mugello, where he won in Moto2 last year en route to championship success.

A fascinating MotoGP race at Mugello awaits, with spice and intrigue at every angle – and that’s without the myriad sub-plots of who’ll be racing where in 2023, compounded by Suzuki’s imminent departure.

Miller’s front and centre in the ‘where to’ discussions, too, with Martin and Bastianini also in the mix for the second Ducati factory seat alongside Bagnaia.

Aprilia has fired the first shot in the roster wars, though, announcing that Espargaro and his current teammate Maverick Vinales will remain with the factory team until 2024.

Joel Kelso will be the third Aussie competing at Mugello, in the Moto3 class. He has shown promising form in his maiden campaign, but has been cruelled by bouts of bad luck – the nadir getting pole-axed by an errant bike in the warm-up lap at Jerez. His best result has been ninth in Portugal.

2022 MotoGP standings (after seven of 20 rounds):

1. Fabio Quartararo – Yamaha – 102pts
2. Alexi Espargaro – Aprilia – 98pts
3. Enea Bastianini – Ducati – 94pts
4. Alex Rins – Suzuki – 69pts
5. Jack Miller – Ducati – 62pts
5. Johann Zarco – Ducati – 62pts
7. Francesco Bagnaia – Ducati – 56pts
7. Brad Binder – KTM – 56pts
7. Joan Mir – Suzuki – 56pts
10. Marc Marquez – Honda – 54pts
23. Remy Gardner – KTM – 3pts

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