A fast-closing runner-up to Fabio Quartararo in last year’s MotoGP World Championship, Ducati star Francesco Bagnaia won four of the season’s last six races. But 2022 has been something of a different reality for the VR46 Academy racer that the legendary Valentino Rossi helped into business. Off-season overrunning research and development work on the Ducati GP 22 added up to the Italian rider not being prepared for the start of 2022, hitting the asphalt at the season-opening Grand Prix at Qatar and then scrambling and struggling to a 15th-place finish at the rain-lashed Mandalika race in Indonesia.
Last Sunday in Argentina, however, things took a huge turn for the better as Bagnaia, despite a lowly 13th place starting spot, powered through the field to finish a fighting fifth overall. The native of Turin, Italy was stoked, telling the media, “P5 for sure is not the main objective, but it is very helpful for the future, for a start to think again about being on top.”
Now it’s time Round 4 at Austin’s Circuit of The Americas, which had Bagnaia even more stoked: “In general, I really like America,” he said. “I really like to come here to Austin and it is a track I really like. There is definitely a cool scene here. This winter I went to New York to spend the holidays and I also went to Miami and I really enjoyed everything.”
Bagnaia and the Ducati outfit believe their efforts to get back up front are bearing fruit.
“I feel for sure that we still don’t have a normal situation with the races this year,” explained Bagnaia of the tough start to the opening phase of the new racing season. “It was not easy for us to prepare. We needed more time after the testing. We have developed a lot of things and tested a lot of things. I was also needing to be more consistent with my improvements in riding. I needed more time. I was a bit late, but in Argentina I finally found my great feeling with the bike again. I was missing that. I needed a race like Argentina. My pace there was quite good and I was feeling that.
“It’s my fault — I need more laps every time every time we test. The situation that we have had with the first three races of 2022 was not the best for me; still it’s a very long season. Last year I needed more experience. I finished the year in a good way. I was battling for the championship. Fabio won the championship and deserved it more than all the others. Last year what I was missing was the experience. This year the experience is already there. The only thing was we had a bit of bad luck in the first races. We were more competitive in last week’s race. For that I’m happy. I’m not that happy at all for the race, because fifth position is not the best, but looking at the weekend, it was the best maximum result. For me and for the team, for these races we just need to do the best as possible. That’s important. No pressure!
“For sure it will be a long year because we have a lot of tough races, but our objective, for sure, will be to fight to be on top. For sure for the championship we will need more stability of results from the European races. All the riders can win and all the riders are fighting to win. I think from Barcelona or Assen (in June), everything will be more on the line like it is every year.”
Bagnaia emphasized how competitive the 2022 MotoGP has been, with the riders, teams and machinery as evenly matched as they have ever been in the history of Grand Prix motorcycle racing.
“Yeah, more than past years, for sure it is just so competitive,” said Bagnaia. “I remember, like in 2019, if you were one second slower than the first rider, maybe you were still inside the top 10. Now if you were a second slower, you’d be way outside of the top 10. It’s better like this. I like the challenge and it’s something very good. I really think it’s the highest level of competition ever seen in MotoGP. It’s something good for the sport and for everything. To be on top, you have to do great work at home and here during the race weekends.”
Bagnaia is counting on his experience, both last year and this, to help him break back into the race for the ’22 world title.
“We know our potential. We demonstrated that in 2021. We were so competitive, so my ambition is to be again like we were last year or even better,” he said. “I know that I live the best life, for sure. My work is my passion, so we are never at ‘work’ — I’m doing what I love to do. It is something I think about every day because not everyone has the possibility to do what they love. It’s great for me that I have this luck and I have to enjoy every moment.
“For me the best part is always when you do good work over the weekend and then you win. That is the best way possible to celebrate your work. You also have to always think about how to do the work better and to just not stress. It is better to be more calm and try to understand why things aren’t going well. Ducati was always my passion. The red was my favorite color from when I was young and it was a dream of my childhood to be all red. It’s special for me. It would be very good for me to win a title with me on this bike and to celebrate in Italy.
Back in Italy while he preparies for his new auto racing career, Valentino Rossi has been keeping in touch with Bagnaia and his MotoGP efforts.
“He’s always following us and following our weekends and he knows everything,” related Bagnaia. “He asked me why I was too slow and he tried to work with me to try and understand what to do better like we did like year. He’s really great with us. He’s always helping us. He’s a great figure in my life.”
So can Bagnaia and Ducati get their GP22 where they need it to be to make another run at the MotoGP crown?
“I will try,” declared Bagnaia. “I will try my best to first of all to recover the points we need and then to recover my feeling on the bike.”