Mugello (Italy), June 2: This week was supposed to be different.
Marc Marquez has not tasted victory at Mugello since 2014, and a circuit well suited to Ducati machines had produced a win for the home Italian team in each of the last two years.
But the five-time world champion will start the Italian Grand Prix on pole position, with nearest title rival Andrea Dovizioso down in ninth and home hero Valentino Rossi, who started last year's race in first place, back in 18th on the grid.
Marquez's fourth pole in six races this season puts him in an excellent position to extend his lead in the riders' standings, with his other main title rival Alex Rins joining Rossi in failing to make it out of Q1.
Impressive rookie Fabio Quartararo and Danilo Petrucci join Marquez, who has been unwell this week, on the front row for Sunday's race.
Petrucci, therefore, is Italy's main hope for a triumph at a time that is pivotal in his MotoGP career.
Under pressure from Jack Miller for his seat with the factory Ducati team, Petrucci collected his first podium of the campaign last time out in Le Mans and has shown excellent pace again this weekend.
The 28-year-old, who has hinted he could quit MotoGP if he does not retain his Ducati spot in 2020, finished in the top three in FP1, FP2 and FP3, before following that up with another strong showing in qualifying, even as he, like Marquez has, battled illness.
"I'm very happy for this first row, because it was really important for us to make the most of our potential even during qualifying," said Petrucci.
"I don't know how my body will be . I have felt weak since Wednesday so it is not Marc's fault – I tried to give it to him but it was not enough!
"But jokes aside, Marc this year always tries to create a gap at the beginning of the race. I don't know what his plan is for this race but I will try to stay at the front as much as possible and then for sure I have to care about my physical condition."
Ahead of his 300th race in all categories, a frustrated Dovizioso added: "We are competitive in terms of race pace but unfortunately we struggled on the single lap, which has slightly complicated our plans."
Franco Morbidelli is another Italian hope in fourth, with Petronas Yamaha holding two of the top four positions on the grid and outshining the factory team, while Miller is fifth and Cal Crutchlow completes the second row.
But Marquez, who leads Dovizioso by eight points in the championship, is once again the man to beat. His sole premier class success at the circuit five years ago came when he was also on pole.
ROSSI LOOKS TO SALVAGE POINTS
Rossi acknowledged he made a mistake which cost him an automatic place in Q2. Admitting his Yamaha is lacking pace this weekend, the 40-year-old is simply targeting a points finish as he prepares to start from the sixth row.
"This morning was quite a good practice - at the end I was on a good lap to get inside the top 10, but unfortunately I made a mistake in the last corner," said Rossi.
"After that I had to go into Q1. In the afternoon, in FP4, I used a used tyre but, sincerely, I wasn't very fast, so that's when I realised it would be difficult to try to get into Q2. In Q1 I was too slow, unfortunately.
"In the race we will try something different, because though we already improved the pace a lot compared to Friday it's not enough. In the warm-up it will be very interesting to try to find something better.
"After that, the race will be hard, because I will start far towards the back and my pace is not fantastic. We need to stay concentrated, give the maximum, and try to take some points."
THE GRID 1. Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) 2. Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha) 3. Danilo Petrucci (Ducati) 4. Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha) 5. Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) 6. Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) 7. Maverick Vinales (Monster Energy Yamaha) 8. Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) 9. Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati) 10. Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda) 11. Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) 12. Michele Pirro (Ducati)
PREVIOUS WINNERS 2018: Jorge Lorenzo (for Ducati) 2017: Andrea Dovizioso 2016: Jorge Lorenzo (for Yamaha)
Riders 1. Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) 95 2. Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati) 87 (-8) 3. Alex Rins (Suzuki Ecstar) 75 (-20) 4. Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha) 72 (-23) 5. Danilo Petrucci 57 (-38) Teams
1. Ducati 144 2. Repsol Honda 111 (-33) 3. Monster Energy Yamaha 102 (-42) 4. Suzuki Ecstar 83 (-61) 5. LCR Honda 63 (-81)
WEATHER FORECAST The weather should not cause too many problems for the race, with warm and dry conditions expected and any winds due to be of the light variety.