AS WE KNOW, ITALIAN MOTORCYCLE RACING LEGEND, VALENTINO ROSSI, RETIRED FROM GRAND PRIX RACING RECENTLY. THE BIG MOTOGP QUESTION IS WHO WILL BE NEXT IN LINE TO THE METAPHORICAL THRONE AND THE HEARTS OF MOTORCYCLE RACING FANS ACROSS THE GLOBE?
As this fair scribe sits here with Oasis Knebworth ’96 playing in the background and musing over the recent retirement of Valentino Rossi, it’s becoming more and more clear that the future of MotoGP is in decidedly safe hands; it just needs to be viewed differently by those lamenting the departure of The Doctor. The future of Grand Prix racing is in a strong position if you look at the plethora of young talent coming up through the ranks.
As for a direct replacement for Rossi, that isn’t going to happen. Those days of happy-go-lucky riders are gone, replaced by dedicated and extremely professional riders that don’t necessarily lack Rossi’s character – or at least something near – but who rather keep that side suppressed to allow them a complete focus on the job at hand. MotoGP today allows no room for error, a foot off line and someone will be there to take advantage such is the close racing of modern-day Grand Prix racing. Different bikes, different tyres, different electronics, and different people from the heyday of Rossi and the Aliens mean a new breed of rider. And they’re seriously fast.
Ducati Corse pilot and runner-up in the 2021 MotoGP championship, Pecco Bagnaia, is seemingly Rossi’s heir apparent as the next Italian MotoGP World Champion. He has all the credentials as a former Moto2 World Champion and just as important he has the bike, an Italian one at that, to propel him one step further up the ladder in 2022. Bagnaia outscored eventual champion Fabio Quartararo after the summer break and was left lamenting the lost points in the early season as he got to grips with the Ducati GP21 as well as errant tyre choices and the occasional DNF, while FQ20 made hay while the sun shone aboard his trusted Yamaha M1. Pecco is his own man, though. He has been the VR46 Academy’s brightest star this season and will only become stronger.
Bagnaia has so far mirrored the achievements of stable-mate Franky Morbidelli after the hybrid Brazilian Italian (©Ian Wheeler) took Moto2 honours under the MarcVDS banner before stepping up to MotoGP with the same squad. Morbidelli raced to second place in the 2020 championship behind Suzuki’s Joan Mir. Morbidelli’s 2021 season was curtailed by a knee injury sustained in a training accident which kept him out of several GPs but upon his return was promoted to the Factory Yamaha team after the departure of Maverick Viñales to Aprilia post-Austria. Should Franky recover fully over the winter then it will be a fascinating battle between the stable mates as to who comes out on top in 2022.
After Bagnaia and Morbidelli, who will be next to follow in the yellow-edged wheel tracks of the nine-time world champion? There is a good production line in place from the academy with half-brother Luca Marini already having completed his maiden MotoGP season it’s Marco Bezzecchi that makes the step up to the big class to join Marini at VR46 Racing while Fabio di Giannantonio joins Enea Bastiannini at Gresini Racing MotoGP. It’s not expected that the new breed will challenge the positions of Bagnaia and Morbidelli however, Enea Bastiannini has shown glimpses of brilliance in 2021 and, despite not being a VR46 rider, is currently third in line to the throne so to speak.
Outside MotoGP, the landscape is changing for the VR46 Academy as there is no longer a clear path with a VR46 team after they withdrew their Moto3 concern ahead of 2022. Many riders have benefitted from riding with the junior team, the likes of the aforementioned Bagnaia along with Celestino Vietti, Andrea Migno, and Dennis Foggia. Both the Rivacold Snipers team and Avinitia Esponsorama (the former MotoGP team) will house four Italian stars and starlets next season. Academy riders Migno and Alberto Surra will run in the Snipers colours while VR46-supported (but not Academy) riders, Elia Bartolini and Matteo Bertelle will ride for Avinitia. Proof that you don’t need to be an Academy rider to benefit from the master's reach.
Racing for the VR46 Academy doesn’t command instant success, however. Fenati was dropped after ten races in 2016 despite finishing fifth and fourth in the ’14 and ’15 Moto3 Championship for falling foul with behavior issues and the disappointing Nicolò Bulega, a rider who never reached the heights expected through Moto3 and Moto2. Bulega will line up on the World Supersport grid in 2022 aboard a factory Ducati. Of the nine Academy riders who lined up at Valencia, Stefano Manzi is the only rider to currently be without a confirmed ride for 2022. A lacklustre career in Moto2, after a promising RB MotoGP Rookies campaign in 2014, has seen the Italians career stall.
There is no doubt the future remains bright for Italy in the Grand Prix paddock but there is stiff competition coming from Spain and we’ll take a look at those riders next time.