Will there be a backlash against Ducati for compromising the glittering career of Valentino Rossi? Money now seems more important than talent in the top echelons of motorcycle racing. Misano, Italy. 4th September 2011
I have just returned from a 10 day trip with my Swiss ‘sister’ Anouk Marchand, personal manager to a number of MotoGP riders. Our most important mission Involved going to the San Marino GP at Misano to follow-up various emails and Skype calls and find a world class ride for one of Thailand’s most exciting young riders, ‘Stamp’ Apiwath Wongthananon. While the final outcome is yet to be decided, the good news is that we found a lot of enthusiasm for the project and, by race day last Sunday, were beating interested Moto3 teams off with a stick. Only a late piece of chicanery by one of MotoGP’s most unscrupulous team bosses threatens to spoil the party, but hopefully the good guys will prevail and give the lad the chance his talent deserves. If karma shows up to lend a hand the said team boss will get what he deserves too.
While I was there I also settled myself into the media centre and fired off a few articles to websites and publications I work with. It was great fun and I learned a lot from just wandering around and talking to people, which is always the best way to find out what is really going on.
Nothing impressed me more than the resilience of Valentino Rossi, who, despite enduring a miserable first season with Ducati, appears as cheerful as ever and as willing as ever to spend time being photographed with the huge groups of fans that await him everywhere and signing endless autographs. Alvaro Bautista, Marco Simoncelli and Randy de Puniet were the only other premier class stars who made readily themselves available, while, although not as accessible as the others, Jorge Lorenzo did scoot openly around the paddock and appeared to have shaken off the ‘in the same trousers’ attention of ‘Shrek’ and the rest of the grim team that enveloped him after he won the greatest prize in motorcycle racing. I kept my camera cocked and ready in sports mode to catch anyone else, but actually lowered it when Ben Spies appeared in front of me. The taciturn Texan looked so unhappy as to be almost grief-stricken (could it have been the hot rumour that Andrea Dovisioso will replace him next season at Yamaha?), so I decided to leave him wallowing in the misery of racing motorcycles for a living at the highest level, the poor fellow. The other superstars of MotoGP were invisible throughout the weekend, hiding in their motorhomes or at the back of the plush hospitality suites in the restricted area of the paddock.
Comments from some of the Italians at Misano led me to the headline of this article, as there seems to be a growing resentment of Ducati’s developmental shortcomings, which are being blamed for tarnishing the glittering record of the nine times world champion. If it turns into a public backlash it will be an interesting case for marketing geeks, because it would assert Valentino Rossi’s personal brand over Ducati’s, which has for many years been one of the world’s most admired marques. It is an anecdotal observation right now, but if empirical evidence starts to emerge I might just have a crack at turning it into a PhD dissertation so that I can enjoy the irony of using ‘The Doctor’ to become a doctor.
With just three weeks to go until teams have to submit their final rider line-ups to the International Road Racing Teams Association (IRTA), finding sponsors was on everyone’s mind. Let’s not forget that MotoGP is a global business and teams are companies who provide bikes, technical, personal and logistical support for their riders, which is paid for by sponsors. They have all been hit by the continuing global economic slowdown and this has hardened the attitude in the paddock. Notwithstanding that getting the best riders is still important, many team bosses are now openly more concerned with gathering cash than collecting trophies. To reduce their financial risk, most teams have registered two or even three riders with IRTA for each slot on the grid, so there will be an unholy scramble between now and the October 2nd deadline when final nominations have to be submitted.
Like the top echelons of any sport, money talks in MotoGP and makes it a harder, more serious business than it was even a decade ago and it puts its performers under far more pressure as a result. For that reason and because I’m an optimist at heart, the final word goes to the sports brightest rising star, Marc Marquez, whose consistently cheerful demeanour reveals his love of motorcycle racing and promises fun for its fans when the Valentino Rossi era eventually draws to a close.