Jorge Lorenzo believes Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales are repeatedly using one another's tow in MotoGP qualifying to gain an advantage, and wryly commented “if it's a coincidence, it's a coincidence which has been repeated five or six times.”
The reigning world champion uncharacteristically qualified off the front row of the grid around Mugello – one of his favourite tracks – for the first time since 2011 on Saturday, and found himself pursued by Andrea Iannone throughout the 15-minute Q2 session.
Speaking on Saturday evening, a relaxed Lorenzo explained that, because of his two-stop strategy he could not slow down to let Iannone past, while including a pointed remark in his team-mate's direction.
“Well I needed to start first, because I did not have so much time to be calm,” said the 29-year old, whose fifth fastest time was 0.378s off Rossi's pole lap.
“I needed to start first and try to go as fast as possible from the first corner to make the strategy of three tyres as we wanted to change the front tyre for the third run, and we did not have very much time. I know I did not have any chance to do different. I would like to have a chance to avoid giving a tow to somebody, but I did not have time.
“It's my strategy, to be alone and to be as fast as possible. Some other riders are good to search or to wait for somebody, and it looks like in the case of Rossi and Viñales, it's not just a coincidence, it's some strategy that they have.”
Asked to clarify his final remark, Lorenzo impishly added: “Well if it's a coincidence, it's a coincidence which has been repeated five or six times. So to have repeated so many coincidences ... But it could be. Who knows?”
The number 99 was not the only man to share this view.
Marc Marquez also made mention of a potential strategy between the 2017 team-mates, saying: “Yeah, I was watching the practice and I saw that Viñales did the time behind Valentino and then the opposite. It looks like they speak and they organise. In the end everyone do his strategy.”
Iannone has benefited from a Lorenzo tow before, most notably in qualifying at Phillip Island, 2015. Then Lorenzo told the Italian that doing so once was OK. To do it again would be a different matter.
Yet at Mugello the Majorcan said there was no problem with the Ducati rider, as he expected Iannone to be a contender coming into the weekend.
“I already knew he was going to be fast this weekend, with a tow or without a tow because his pace is good and he is very fast with a new tyre. I know I did not care so much if he followed me, because I already knew that he was going to be fast. Not like in Phillip Island, where he got maybe three, four tenths less than the fast riders, know this tow helped so much. And finally, he stayed in front of me.”
Commenting on his weekend until now, Lorenzo continued, “For the first practice yesterday, we decided to start with the Le Mans setting that is quite different from the settings that we used here in the last years with the Bridgestones. The bike compared to the others was not bad, we made a good practice, a good pace.
“But in the morning, everyone improved the lap times so much, and we did not improve the same, so we decided to try some different settings to improve the stability, because the bike in general is very nervous. But with these settings, we did not improve it.
“So finally, for the qualifying, we came back to yesterday's settings which is the best we got. And I tried to make a good lap time with these three runs with these three tires. We were not very slow, we made quite a good lap time, but probably not as fast or as explosive as the first four riders, so I stay in the second row.
“I still need to try something in the warm-up, to feel better, especially in the braking. I'm braking a little bit too early in most of the braking areas, so I can not in any place still have some benefits Compared to the other riders, like in other tracks.
“But we will try something in the warm-up, if we improve the bike, we will be very ready for the race. If we do not improve the bike, the pace of the four or five riders of today are very similar, and it's going to be a close race tomorrow all the way to the end. I'm hoping to improve the bike in the warm up, and I think we can do it.”