Franco Morbidelli doesn’t come across as your average motorcycle racer. Smiling, laid back and rarely flustered in front of the camera, his demeanour doesn’t always speak of the usual fiercely driven individual with eyes on the ultimate prize.

His results – and riding - over the past twelve months tell another story, however, with his latest performance at Aragon showing he is every bit deserving of the MotoGP seat he will take up with Marc VDS in 2018.

Leading the Moto2 world championship by 21 points in an intriguing scrap with class veteran Thomas Luthi, Morbidelli is well on course to break Marc Marquez’s record victory haul in the four-stroke intermediate category too, with just four races left to play.

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Before the Grand Prix of Aragon, Morbidelli spoke to Crash.net at length on matters ranging from his early life in racing to that first grand prix win at Qatar, surrounding himself with experience, his title rival, and handling disappointment.

Crash.net:
Were motorcycles always a big part of your life when you were growing up?

Franco Morbidelli:
Yeah. My father was a racer in Italy so he was racing all his life. When he stopped he had a workshop. So when I grew up I was in his workshop. I grew up between his bikes and races. I always stayed in the racing environment. It’s what I know best in my life and it’s been part of my life since I was a little kid.

Crash.net:
You’re a big football and basketball fan. Was there ever a chance that you could have followed the football path?

Franco Morbidelli:
No. Football is something that I also had in my life since forever because, you know, in Italy it’s the main sport; it’s sport number one. Also, I’m half Brazilian. When I went to Brazil I played a lot of football with my friends and my family. So it’s something that I’ve always had. Basketball is something that I discovered a bit later. These are two sports that I really like, but there are many sports that I like. Also I like tennis or UFC. These are the ones that I like the most really. I’m just a sports guy. I’m just interested in it. But I know my sport is just one – motorcycle racing. It’s the one that I think comes out better from me. So I do that.

Crash.net:
Is it good to have these other interests as a kind of release from racing?

Franco Morbidelli:
I think, yes. As I said, I love sport so when I’m not following motorbikes, and I’m not following Formula1 or I’m not following British Superbikes, I’m following basketball, football, swimming… Whatever it is. If it’s on television… Competition. I love competition.

Crash.net:
You stand out from the other guys in the VR46 Academy, in that you came to Moto2 via the now-defunct Superstock 600 class, rather than Moto3. Why was that?

Franco Morbidelli:
Let’s put it this way: VR46 was born after I started my career in international racing. VR46 started to help me later on in my career under the management point of view. Other points of view, yes. But from the management point of view they started when I was already doing the European championship in Superstock [600]. I was doing that basically because I had no money to do anything else. Luckily Team Italia helped me to race in that year. I was very lucky to race anyway so I raced in the European championship. Then during that year VR46 started to follow me under the management point of view. They found some good opportunities for me directly in the Moto2 world championship. That was a great luck for me.

Crash.net:
When you were younger, you travelled to Tavullia, Valentino Rossi’s hometown. Was that specifically to make Valentino aware of your talents?

Franco Morbidelli:
Well, my father was friends with Valentino’s father so they knew each other. My father, as I said, used to race and when he was racing, he was doing so with a team from Pesaro. I was born in Rome. I grew up until I was ten in Rome. Then when we decided that motorcycles were the sport that I wanted to do for a living, my father had the experience of the Riviera area. He knew that was the best area in Italy where the rider can grow up and express himself. So he decided to move there and get in contact with the people that were following him when he was a racer. So he decided to give me the same environment when he was a racer. That’s what we did plus Vale was there. Also my father asked his father if I could train with him at his track. Then we started training together and here we are!

Crash.net:
Max Biaggi is a well-known Roman that raced, but you don’t hear of so many other Italian riders hailing from there. Is that because there aren’t many tracks there? Is it not so much part of the culture, like it is on the east coast?

Franco Morbidelli:
On this side, the truth is there is less passion. So there are less tracks, less sponsors, less people prepared and ready to help you if you need whatever. Let’s say, on the left side they like more football. On the right side they like more engines.

Crash.net:
Did you find that the Superstock 600 class was good preparation for Moto2? Would you recommend the Supersport route to Italian kids that don’t have a lot of money?

Franco Morbidelli:
No. The best path is go from Moto3, from GP bikes, because it’s a prototype. That’s the difference. That’s the main difference between this world and the other world, and I’m talking about Superbike. Tyres, frames, the way of working, riding style – everything here is more… everything is more. Also the technical things are more on the race side. On the other world, they’re more on the street side but brought onto the track. It was a hell of a lot of work and it is a hell of a lot of work to get used from a street bike to a prototype. So it’s hard. It was really hard in the beginning. But anyway, it’s not something impossible. You can do it. We’ve seen also Sam Lowes can do it. [Cal] Crutchlow. Nicky Hayden. Colin Edwards. I think if you have the right approach, you can do it. If you keep the same approach that you had in street bikes, you won’t go anywhere. So to answer your question, it’s better to come from the GP [background] and go ahead with the GP.

Crash.net:
You mentioned Sam Lowes. He has mentioned that he feels he’s several years behind his competitors because they’ve been in this paddock, in this schedule, racing these tracks since they were 16. You came to GPs a little younger than Sam, but do you feel something similar?

Franco Morbidelli:
Yeah. I mean, there are many things that I still have to learn. I’m learning. I will keep learning and I will try to keep open to new things. Of course the experience, in some occasions, makes the difference. But I think that experience is not everything. Experience is something. It’s something that can help you on track but not always. If you have less experience than somebody else, but maybe you have something else more, you can still be a good rider. I have less experience that I think most of the people in Moto2. But anyway, I try to recover this lack of experience that I have and I try to learn from every moment here in the paddock. Well, not in the paddock, but in the box with my crew. I try to learn as quick as possible. I try to recover this disadvantage that I have.

Crash.net:
So having a great deal of experience around you can compensate for your own lack of experience…

Franco Morbidelli:
Yes. That’s definitely true. Around me I have very experienced people that are ready to help me in every occasion. I’m blessed.

Crash.net:
If we look back to your first season in Moto2 in 2014, you scored your first top ten at the Sachsenring, the ninth race of the year. Was that when you first felt you were getting the hang of this class?

Franco Morbidelli:
Actually no. But it was a really nice moment of my life, my career at the Sachsenring because it was the first time I was there. It was incredible for me. It was my first year in Moto2, the first year in world championships. I was coming from nowhere and I didn’t know most of the tracks, including Sachsenring. So I ride the Sachsenring like, ‘Take it easy and learn the track.’

Crash.net:
And that’s a difficult track to learn…

Franco Morbidelli:
It’s a special track. It’s an unusual track. It’s really narrow and all left-handers. It’s still nice so I arrived there and surprisingly I was fast. I remember during the qualifying, usually when I finished the run you look at the big screen and you’re trying to find yourself in the first twelve. I was always starting from the bottom and I wasn’t finding myself. I went twelve, eleven, ten… I was like, ‘F**k, I’m nowhere. Where am I?’ And I was third. I was really happy to see that. It was a really nice moment. But actually I didn’t know why I was that fast [there]. That was just a flash. I started to understand a bit more how things go in Moto2 a bit later in the championship, maybe here [Aragon]. Here I was a bit more ready.

Crash.net:
You mentioned the importance of having experience around you. You have crew chief Pete Benson, who worked with Nicky Hayden in the year of his MotoGP title, in your corner. What’s it been like working with Pete?

Franco Morbidelli:
Yeah, Pete Benson is a great person first of all. He has a great attitude in racing. He’s so focussed and passionate for winning. He’s chasing that. He has this magnetic thing. He’s chasing the victory but he’s able to make also his crew chase the victory. He makes the ambition to grow up. So when I first came here I was, not shocked, but very impressed by his style. I’m a really laid back guy and I came here and was like, ‘OK, let’s take it easy. I have to learn a bit.’ He was like, ‘You know, don’t take it too easy because we’ve got to win!’ [laughs] I was like, ‘OK, I will try. I will try not to take it too easy.’ This is what I did. We found a compromise. The first race [in Qatar, ’16] we were already fighting for the victory but there were a few less people there. We made the first half of the championship, let’s say, growing up and then after that we were on top always. I really think that it’s also because of his determination.

Crash.net:
And also his ability to motivate those around him…

Franco Morbidelli:
Definitely. Apart from this, his technical ability, knowledge and experience is also incredible. I have a great crew. Also Andrea [Canto], my data girl, is fantastic. They are ready to work at four in the morning to improve just a little thing on the bike. If everybody is going to the same way, you can do really good things. If every person in your crew really wants the victory and really wants to go forward, I think that’s the key for being fast and successful in racing, I think, but in every sport.

Crash.net:
You came so close to winning your first race several times in the second half of ’16. When you eventually won in Qatar this April, did it feel like a big relief, as though someone had lifted a great deal of pressure off your shoulders?

Franco Morbidelli:
Many people asked me this but I have to tell you it’s not like this. Last year I was getting a lot of podiums towards the end of the year, and I was getting a lot of good results. I was still happy for that. I was happy. Sometimes, in some occasions, two occasions – here and Australia – those were occasions where I could really get the victory. Unfortunately, here I was starting from seventh position and I had a bad start, and in Australia Luthi was better than me. I had no regrets and I had not a heavy way to carry the victory. I wasn’t obsessed by the victory. I was just happy to do good results and I was trying to improve my level and work my best with the crew. I think that we’ve seen, this year, we were able to get seven victories. The first three were in a row so we started the championship in a great level and a great style. To answer your question, it wasn’t a relief. It was just a victory and just one of the best days of my life. But I didn’t feel like, ‘Woah!’ I didn’t feel like this.

Crash.net:
Was that because you knew you had the package to fight for the title this year? That more wins would follow that one in Qatar?

Franco Morbidelli:
Yeah, I’m not always a sure and confident guy. But I know that sooner or later, and if I work well, I’ll get what I want. After all, it’s all the meaning of that: hard working, and concentration, dedication to the sport. Also talent. You don’t have to discount that.

Crash.net:
Are you surprised at how this championship has unfolded? During the preseason did you expect Luthi to be your main challenger?

Franco Morbidelli:
No, I was expecting more people fighting for the championship this year, like at least me, Alex [Marquez], [Miguel] Oliveira and Tom. And also [Lorenzo] Baldassarri. Everyone was expecting Baldassarri but for some reason he didn’t make a good championship in the first part so he’s a bit far behind now. But here we are. We are two; me and Tom. I’m in a moment where I just have to keep focussed on me and go ahead. I was hoping that I could arrive at this point in the championship and still be fighting. Here I am and I will continue!

Crash.net:
Is it slightly frustrating that you have been so dominant for so much of the championship, scoring seven wins [eight after the race at Aragon], but Tom is still so close?

Franco Morbidelli:
No, it isn’t. This is how it goes. This is how it is. I think I showed that I have speed and I can win races. Tom showed that he also has speed in races and he’s constant, he’s consistent. I think that it’s nice. We are two completely different philosophies of racing and philosophies of approaching the races, but we’re both on the top. It’s going to be two riders, but also two states of minds, two moments in life, because he’s also a bit older than me. Also, two ways of racing, fighting together. I think it will be nice.

Crash.net:
Do you share a good relationship with Tom?

Franco Morbidelli:
Yeah, he’s a great person. He’s a great rider. I used to cheer for him when I was watching races, you know? I remember in my first year when I came here to Moto2, he was already really nice with me. So I really like him and I always liked him. Now it’s a great thing to fight for the championship with him. I feel good.

Crash.net:
When you have a bad result, like Misano for example, how do you cope? Are you one to scream, shout and throw things in the garage? What’s the real Franco like in those situations when the camera isn’t around?

Franco Morbidelli:
I mean, home races are getting a nightmare for me. I never was able to get good results in home races. After Friday and Saturday in Misano I was really confident that I could have got a good result in front of my crowd. But once again it wasn’t possible for me. But I have to admit that it was my mistake and it was me. The only thing I could get angry with was me. Actually, in this moment I didn’t get angry. I mean, I got angry but I don’t express my nerves, I don’t pop, I don’t explode. After the race of Misano I was just depressed and thinking that my home was just 15 minutes away. I just went home, got on the sofa, and started watching Sky. That’s it… Eating chocolate, you know, like a guy that splits up with his girlfriend.

Crash.net:
Seven wins this year - some of those have been really impressive races. Argentina, where you withstood pressure from Alex all race was one. Assen, where you passed Tom on the last lap, was another. Do any of those wins stand out as a really special performance?

Franco Morbidelli:
Yeah. The last one you mentioned, Assen, was the best race I did so far in my life, I think. I had so much fun. I wasn’t sure at all that I was going to win. But it was really nice, because in the moment where both riders had to give the maximum, both riders in that group that had the most, had to give the maximum. It was me and Tom. We were fighting for the victory on the last lap, we both gave the maximum and I was able to beat him. My maximum was better than his maximum, so I was happy. I was really happy after that race. I was happy for the meaning of that race. I think again I was nine points ahead and I could have gone [away from Assen with a] four [point lead]. Instead I went another five ahead. One of the good things of that race was that. The other one was that it was a fight between a lot of riders, and at the end it was a fight with my main rival. So it was really nice – the best race of my life.

Crash.net:
Earlier this year Johann Zarco said he received more attention in France for those first six laps in Qatar than he did in the previous two years of winning in Moto2. Obviously bikes are bigger in Italy. Has your life changed much this year now that you’re a race winner and championship challenger?

Franco Morbidelli:
Yeah. I mean, I get a lot more attention. It’s like this. It’s something that I like. I have to deal with it. It’s not so bad, not a big deal. There are a lot of people that love you and a lot of people that have passion for the sport and are just happy to see you. This thing is fantastic. When a lot of people call me for a photo or an autograph, I try my best to always be kind with these people. I see myself six or seven years ago and if I had seen, I don’t know, Tom Luthi, in the paddock I would have gone crazy. I see myself when I see people in the paddock, asking for photos and stuff like that. I try to be the most kind that I can be with [people like] me, six years ago.

Crash.net:
One final thing - you train and ride a lot with Valentino Rossi. He’s back riding this weekend so soon after breaking his leg even though the championship is all-but-gone. Can you explain why he’s chosen to risk it all and return so soon?

Franco Morbidelli:
The answer is passion. I’ve been in his same position. I’ve been at home watching races and watching somebody else on your bike doing races. It’s not a good thing at all! For him it’s the second time so I understand him and I understand why he wants to come back this early. If he wants to do it and he has the experience to judge these things. If he does it, it means he’s ready to do it. I’m just curious to see what he’ll do.

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Smashing interview. A good lad with a nice smile and not much swearing. Hope he wins the title, but I hope Luthi wins it too. So I'm a bit stuck.

Good guy and very fast too. Its nice to see him coming to MotoGP, much better than if his team mate could go there... Wish him good luck with big boys next year and win this championship as well. 

Franco is an exciting racer to watch, and I hope he does well aboard the Honda next year.  Who knows, if he does, maybe hes on a factory ride in no time.  Really humble guy, with a great attitude.  Win Moto2 this year, and good luck in MotoGP next year!

Put Franco on Dani's factory Honda and he will eat Marquez alive.

Well, Marquez might improve over the winter, you know.

Maybe he'll get to the same level as Zarco, Morbidelli and other Moto2 champions. He's got alot of potential, that Marc kid.

ha ha ha!

He should do very well, as mentioned by others, he is very humble but has the spark and the confidence to go toe to toe with anyone on the grid.  He knows he belongs and should be in the top ten every weekend as long as Honda plays "nice" with the Marc VDS team.