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MotoGP, Biaggi: "Rossi and I were two idiots, we played into the hands of the journalists"

VIDEO - Max remembers his debut in 500cc: "My record at Suzuka is not like Saarinen's. The president of HRC promised to support me, but then he went back on his word”

MotoGP, Biaggi: "Rossi and I were two idiots, we played into the hands of the journalists"
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25 years have gone by since the 5th of April 1998, when Max Biaggi made his debut in 500cc with a private Honda of the Kanemoto team. It was a perfect day for the four-time 250cc World Champion, who in his debut weekend at Suzuka achieved pole position, fastest lap and his first victory in the premier class. An outright record, as well as one of the symbolic moments of his career, which the Roman Emperor recalled with us in the latest episode of our Bar Sport (which you can watch in full above). A mix of anecdotes, curiosities and considerations, which began with his memory of the accident, right at Suzuka, in which Max raced with a dislocated shoulder.

"It was 1997. It was the second race of the championship after Malaysia, which I won from Harada on his debut with Honda. The Aprilia remained the bike to beat, because we were lacking in engine and power. The funny story is that the Japanese needed a little more power for Suzuka, which was a slightly faster track and in those two weeks they had made different cylinders, which they had given me to test on the Friday of the Grand Prix - Biaggi told us - In the morning I ran the bike in, the usual five laps, then I did three curves and when I closed the gas in fourth gear, the wheel locked up and I was launched off the bike. I had broken my shoulder, which was out of place, but the desire was so strong that in the Clinica Mobile I told Claudio Costa that I wanted to race. He had a look at me and said: 'Max, you want to race? Then I'll get you to race." He made me a sling and I raced with my shoulder out of place. On Saturday, I tried to do a few laps, but I started from the penultimate row because it was complicated, and it hurt like hell. On Sunday there was a doctor who gave me an injection. I got on the bike as if I had almost nothing and finished 7th in the sprint finish. It was a good recovery and those points helped me to win the World Championship”.

What do you think about the fact that now the riders no longer return like this?

“These are different times. Just think that now, when you poke your nose out of the fairing and look at who’s next to you on the straight, the wording 'under investigation' appears. It wasn't like that before. Once upon a time it was a little more genuine. Now, safety is fine, but your interpretation of that racing moment is always in someone else's hands. They are different periods, where technology is also taking over. I am sure that if you took the chief engineer of a company and analysed his subconscious, his dream would be to build a racing car without a driver".

MotoGP, with all the electronics, is sort of getting there a bit. When you first got on the 500 in Australia there was very little electronics. The engineer was not in charge.

“My first approach with the 500 in Australia was a test prepared as best I could, just to understand what it was all about. It had crazy power, low weight and testing it at Phillip Island, with that long straight, when you put it into third gear and go downhill it feels like you’re taking off, because they were powerful. It's true that before, the management of your destiny was more in the hands of the rider, but it's also true that in the 500cc paddocks you found more riders in plaster or injured than healthy on the bike. In the history of 500cc, there was hardly a top rider who did a whole season without an injury. But if 500cc was the premier class and it was prohibitive for everyone, now, with the new regulations, the 4-stroke engines, the electronics and the wings, it is true that it has become simpler, but we also have more riders on the grid".

Now the premier class no longer seems as unattainable as before. What impression did you have when you rode the 500 for the first time?

“I wanted to get on the 500 without too much haste, in fact I wanted to confirm my position in the middle class for several years, because it was the hardest fought class, it was great and a lot of fun, even if it wasn't the premier class. Finally, in 1998, I switched to Honda. I had already won the World Championship the year before in the 250 class and choosing the Honda was almost obligatory, because it was the best bike at that time. When I tested it at Phillip Island, as well as being exciting it was also shocking for all the power it had at all revs compared to the 250. I immediately got on well with the Big Bang engine, but to go fast I had to figure out what was the best technique, which I hadn't found yet in Australia. The two days of testing before the Japanese GP were useful for me to meet my rivals, but also because Suzuka with the 500 is something else. It went particularly well and Erv put me at ease on the bike. I had slightly different needs than Doohan, who was the defending champion. We came away from testing with the quickest time, but the unknown factor was the soft tyre. In 1997 I had a big chattering problem on the front, while in 500s it didn't exist and for me it was like being at a funfair".

Until Suzuka 1998, only Jarno Saarinen had been able to win on his debut. But you did even better.

“I took pole, set the fastest lap and won the race, so if one wants to be punctilious, as he didn’t set the pole, he didn't do all three. My record is different from his”.

What did Honda promise you?

"Before everything started in Suzuka there was the Welcome Party with the riders, the president of Honda and HRC. During the party, I asked the president at the time if Honda would have helped the satellite riders if they were ahead in the standings and he said to me: 'if a private Honda rider is ahead of the factory ones, Honda will support you'. Halfway through the championship I was leading the World Championship and I realized that Doohan and Crivillé had the screamer engine. I contacted the president to remind him of the chat and he told me I had misunderstood. The suspension, the engine, nothing arrived and at that point I was amazed, because I never would have thought that the top man at HRC would take a step back".

What did you think when they gave you the black flag in Barcelona?

“I was so in good faith that in the corner after overtaking, I had already lost the position, but it didn't help. It took them a long time to give me the ride-through, because it was already almost the end of the race. I didn't stop because I wanted to be the moral winner of that race. When I came back there was disappointment and anger, because with that disqualification I lost the chance to win the World Championship".

Even Valentino lost a World Championship in 2015 in strange circumstances...

“In 2015 it wasn't about a flag... I said it a month ago: we were idiots. Rossi and I always had the magnifying glass on us, and we played into the hands of our opponent. Not Rossi with Biaggi or Biaggi with Rossi, but the journalists”.

Yours was still a healthy rivalry, despite some borderline episodes. Like when you passed very close to Valentino at Donington.

“Races finish after the chequered flag. He hadn't passed the chequered flag. The race had to be over first. I was finishing my race."

But what happened on that corner exit between you and Valentino at Suzuka? What did he want to do?

“He wanted to overtake me, and he tried on the outside, because I was on the inside. That's the curve that leads on to the finish straight and it's a long curve. You know that if someone is behind you, he'll overtake you in your slipstream halfway down the straight, but he wanted to pass me at that point. Obviously, I widened the trajectory because I didn't want to be passed. But he persisted, until I put my elbow out to let him know I was there. He wanted to pass me on the outside, but you can't pass there. When Agostini expressed his opinion on this matter he said that you could not pass there. It made no sense and was also dangerous. Then, if you are in front, it is you who dictates the line. If you go to the outside, the other rider comes off the throttle and comes back in”.


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