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Maverick Vinales may have won three of the first five races, but he hasn’t reached his full potential on the Yamaha yet.

There was more to come, he said before the race at Mugello. “We have improved the bike since Le Mans. But I can still improve my riding style.

“Sometimes I am too hard on the brakes,” he explained.

He was working on changing his style, and continued: “When I improve, I will make another step … so I happy about that, because then we will be able to use a softer tyre.”

Another early contract: second Monster Yamaha rider Jonas Folger has been signed up to stay next year, alongside star team-mate Johann Zarco, whose contract had already been renewed.

Zarco has grabbed the headlines with a series of stunning performances including second place last time out at his home GP in France. But German 125, Moto3 and Moto2 GP winner Folger hasn’t been that far behind, though his results have suffered with relatively poor qualifying and a lack of speed in the early laps.

All the same he has finished out of the top ten only once, with a best of sixth in Argentina … and is the only MotoGP rider to have scored points in every race this year.

“It’s a great relief to have a signed contract for next year already – but I’m aware more must come from my side,” he said.

Team chief Hervé Poncharal said: “Zarco doing so well has put Jonas a little in the shadow, but he feels good with us and we feel good with him. We have a lot of confidence that he can improve a lot.”

The loss of MotoGP wings has had less effect on top speed than many expected, with the difference from last year’s event best just 2.6 km/h, after the first day of practice.

Counter-intuitively, the difference is in the wrong direction. The wings imposed drag, but losing them has slowed the bikes down.

Andrea Dovizioso was the fastest on Friday this year, at 352.3 km/h; heading a pack of high-speed Ducatis with only Iannone’s Suzuki nosing into the top five. Last year, Iannone’s Ducati set a benchmark of 354.9.

Dovi explained the loss of speed. “We cannot accelerate as fast without wings, and also we have to do the jump on the straight in a different way, because the wings helped us there.”

With the wings, he continued, the back wheel would leave the ground. “This year you do a wheelie, so you have to be careful with your line.”

There was no consensus on fairings on Friday. Both factory Yamaha riders used the fat-flank fairing, but in the afternoon both of Vinales’s bikes did not have the internal downforce ducts, and only one of Rossi’s had them.

Lorenzo, Italian MotoGP 2017

One of Sam Lowes’s Aprilias had a ducted fairing, and the KTMs both used their stubby-winged fairings, now the standard issue for riders Smith and Pol Espargaro. But none of the Hondas had them; while Ducati’s version has yet to be finalised and homologated.

The circuit was replete with memories of Nicky Hayden, and tributes to the late World Champion.

One highlight was a display of his racing bikes, from the factory Honda RC211V on which he beat Rossi to the title to the Honda Superbike he was racing this year. In between, one of his Ducati Desmosedicis, and an Aspar production MotoGP RCV213-RS.

The Ducatis all carried his trademark number 69 below the seat; in the Repsol Honda pit staff wore black ribbons on their sleeves, the EG-VDS bikes used black rather than coloured numbers – among a large number of different references.

Andrea Iannone is waiting on a new chassis from Suzuki, hoping to cure his main problem … “my feeling on the bike”.

It would not arrive for two or so races, he said, “but Suzuki is working very hard.

“We don’t know if it will work or not, but I think we understand the direction we need.”

Current runaway Moto2 leader Franco Morbidelli has his sights set on MotoGP next year, with former Moto2 champion Tito Rabat’s seat under threat from the Italian.

Both ride for the EG-Marc VDS team, the later alongside Jack Miller in MotoGP. But while the Australian has improved steadily to score an almost uninterrupted string of top ten finishes this year, Rabat continues to struggle with the bigger bikes.

Morbidelli is one of Rossi’s protégés from the VR46 Academy.

LCR Honda rider Cal Crutchlow scorched to the top of the timesheets at Mugello on the first day of practice for Sunday’s Italian GP – one of four riders to go faster in the hotter afternoon conditions, and promising he had more in his pocket for qualifying tomorrow.

“If it was a bit cooler I feel I could have gone a second faster,” the Briton said. His time of 1m47.365 was inside the fast and scenic circuit’s race lap record, but some seven tenths slower than the circuit’s best lap.

Points leader Maverick Vinales (Movistar Yamaha) had been third in the morning, but a heavy crash after running onto the kerb at the fast Arrabbiata 2 corner left him battered, and he didn’t improve his time, ending up fifth.

As always, tyres were hugely influential, and Vinales blamed difficulty in getting the measure of the “medium” front Michelin – the only one of three that it asymmetric – for the fall.

Ahead of him were two Ducatis, both on the strength of morning times, with Andrea Dovizioso second, less than three hundredths slower than Crutchlow; and wild card Michele Pirro, the official factory tester, fourth.

In between, class rookie Jonas Folger (Monster Yamaha) slashed almost half a second off his morning time to slot into third. His ranking team-mate Johann Zarco was sixth behind Vinales, after also failing to improve.

Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) was seventh, with three more Ducatis filling the top ten – Barbera, Bautista and factory rider Lorenzo.

Marquez was 13th, the defending problem admitting that in spite of the stiffer construction, the front tyre allocation meant: “the Hondas are suffering.” With the asymmetric medium front, “the right side is harder than the hard, but the left side is softer.”

Jack Miller was 17th, still below full strength after his heavy Le Mans crash.

Qualifying could be a lot different, when all riders are likely to fit soft tyres and concentrate on just one fast lap.

Will Valentino Rossi race on Sunday? The question remained open, but with the likelihood veering towards the positive, after he managed 34 laps (compared with 43 for Marquez) and placed 14th, just over six tenths off provisional pole

He needed painkillers in the afternoon after struggling in the morning – the worst problem being unexpected: “a lot of pain in my arm holding on to the handlebar in acceleration.” But they had not been strong painkillers, he said, and they had been enough.

“It has been a difficult day. This track is really difficult if you are not physically 100 percent,” he said.

“It was difficult to make one long run … but today is only Friday,” he concluded.

Rossi suffered a heavy crash while motocross training last Thursday, slamming into the handlebar with his stomach and then a big impact with the ground, after landing off the track from a jump in soft ground that stopped the bike dead. He was held overnight in hospital for observation, but a week later was passed fit to ride at Mugello.

In Moto2, EG-Marc VDS Kalex riders Alex Marquez and points leader Franco Morbidelli first and third, three tenths of a second and Japan’s Taka Nakagami (Idemitsu Kalex) between them.

Mattia Pasini (Italtrans Kalex) was a close fourth, then Simone Corsi (Speed Up) on the first non-Kalex, ahead of dazzling rookie Pecco Bagnaia (SKY VR46 Kalex).

Reigning Moto3 champion Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM) was back after missing three races for further surgery on a troubling arm injury, placed an impressive seventh, less than a tenth behind fellow-rookie Bagnaia, and a few hundredths ahead of team-mate Miguel Oliveira.

Australian hopeful Remy Gardner was 14th, three places ahead of his fancied Tech 3 team-mate Xavi Vierge.

Almost all the best Moto3 times came in the afternoon session, with the top eight within a second of Gresini Honda rider Fabio Di Giannantonio, but some hope for rival marques after Honda have held the high ground until now.

KTM-mounted Nicolo Bulega (SKY VR46) was second, and Aspar Mahindra rider Lorenzo Dalla Porta third.

John McPhee led an all-Honda provisional second row from points leader Joan Mir and Jorge Martin. Then came the KTM of J Guevara and Fenati’s Honda.

by Michael Scott