For the first three years in MotoGP, Pecco Bagnaia represented No. 49 on the grid behind the mighty Valentino Rossi. Now he’s No. 36.
That statistic might bear little resemblance to the true age of the Sant’Elena rider, but it does represent a rise for this precocious young Italian who, when he arrives in Marlboro MotoGP this weekend, won’t be welcomed as an exile.
No, if anything, he’ll be looking to increase his popularity and he has a good chance to do just that, and not just in Italy. And this is no pox-on-both-your-houses note. For one thing, Ferrari, Honda and Ducati don’t care much what nationality the talented young men come from, and let’s face it, this isn’t Formula One.
We don’t mind our MotoGP riders being World Superbike champions, or IndyCar regulars and so on. What our fans care about is that they race and that they appear to be having fun. No grand style and not a lot of cynicism in race Sundays, either.
Pecco Bagnaia did just that in 2018, delighting Italian motorbike fans (and their TV audience) with his raw passion and, as we recall, “ridiculous” driving manners. His sky-high speeds and his firecracker displays made him something of a star.
How to top that?
Easy: “Go faster and go f***ing faster.”
“I do that, so my friends will envy me and I’ll have better times than them in tomorrow’s practice. And in Sunday’s race, I’ll have more time than them and I’ll overtake them. For a long time,” wrote Bagnaia.
That was music to the ears of fans everywhere and it’s a wistful image for those who remember the chaos of earlier eras when a vast number of riders were balancing their bikes on their opponents in wrecks, our heroes turning so fast that the drivers who joined the sport soon after were thinking in terms of how many years they’d been racing for fun before their exit.
Today, fans would be better off if some of the young Italian talent that comes out of that country (rather than leading tracks in races and then seemingly disappearing again after surviving the carnage) were to stay in the sport for the long haul and they just need to fight for every millisecond they get. Nothing more. Nothing less.
What they don’t want is a bunch of wins that seem to be happening because of dramatic damage control and kind of continual double-blows. They want those wins when it counts.
As for the strategy: we want to see them ride confident, like individuals. Not in a macho way, either, as if they were soldiers clearing bombs with sledgehammers.
If a rider goes out full throttle every time he rides, he loses the thrill and the potential for memories that go well beyond Saturday night.