By Christian Tiburtius

An exclusive interview with Goldbet BMW star Marco Melandri, a world champion in the 250GP class and title runner-up in both MotoGP and World Superbike.

Melandri is again in contention for this year's WSBK title, sitting third in the standings with eight races remaining, but will need a new team for 2014 following the news that BMW are withdrawing factory support at the end of this year.

A brief Q&A with Melandri's girlfriend, Manuela Raffaeta, follows the interview with Marco...
It was a far better day yesterday than Silverstone but you still looked a little unhappy? (Marco interviewed directly after the German round)

Marco Melandri:
Yeah we had a bit of bad luck yesterday in that it was strange to see the red flag in two races in a row on the same lap. In the second race I couldn't believe it. I thought it was a joke.

I was very sad because in race one I was leading and the win was possible and in race two, for sure it was more difficult but in the last lap, anything could have happened. Chaz, Eugene and me were all trying to win and were capable of doing it so I think it was going to be a very exciting last lap.

In Silverstone I blew up an engine in Superpole and had to start from the fifth row and that was made worse by the weather conditions being so difficult. In race two I went straight on when catching the top guys because I missed a gear. At the moment we're sometimes struggling with the gearbox.
Are you still optimistic for the title?

Marco Melandri:
Yeah, for sure anything is possible. It's going to be very tough, we're missing a lot of points but we've still got 200 points on the table and I think our bike is working well. Actually, I've got nothing to lose and I'll just push race by race. I'll go for the win race by race because I've got to make up the points to the leading guys, I can't really make a strategy, I've just got to push every time.
Is Chaz Davies pushing you harder than previous team-mates?

Marco Melandri:
I don't know because sometimes Leon [Haslam] was also very strong, but for sure Chaz is riding very well now. He brakes so strongly that he's not easy to pass. I think it's good for you to have such a strong team-mate though because we push each other more and more. A strong team-mate always increases your speed.
On your Wikipedia page it says that you live in England but I heard that you live in Italy, where do you live?

Marco Melandri:
I live in Italy, I moved back to Italy at the beginning of 2009. I used to live just a few miles from Donington and now I live a few miles from Imola so I always like to be close to a race track!
Are you recognised a lot?

Marco Melandri:
In Italy yes because Superbikes is now on the main TV channels and I pose for a lot of pictures and sign many autographs even when I go to the supermarket. I think that's good because they're often kids and they always make me smile. When people like me in that way it makes me proud for sure, it's great to be liked.
Your career so far is truly epic, how old are you?

Marco Melandri:
I'm 31. I started very young, I was riding a motorbike when I was four and racing when I was six, this year is my 17th world championship so I've seen many.

I spent my whole childhood traveling the world and I've got to say I really like the traveling lifestyle. If I stay at home for more than two weeks I already start to miss it. The problem for me is that all I see is some tracks and hotels, and sometimes the hospitals, but never the country itself. So in the future I'd like to see the countries more.

When I started doing the 125 championship I was still going to school and could move to the next class but in my second year of racing I was missing too many days so I had to stop. Luckily I've been able to make my job from my passion. I was 15 when I finished school.

When I was just racing for fun, my father said that I didn't have to be the best guy in the school but had to have a minimum class score of six which would have allowed me to progress to the next class. If I got a five, he'd take me off the bike until I got a six again. It only ended when I was racing in the world championship and missing too many days. He used my love of racing to encourage me to do well at school.

My father was a racer in the Italian championship, but it was really just for fun because he didn't have enough money. He's proud of me now though.
Was it Loris Reggiani who first encouraged you in your racing?

Marco Melandri:
He helped me at the beginning because he was friends with my father and when we didn't have enough money to race Loris helped me to get a bike. He put together a small team for the Italian championship and helped me understand about the world of motorsport. He was a mentor to me until the end of 2004 when he started to work for Italian TV. At that time I felt confident enough to try something different.
Is there any route to a racing career riding superbikes in Italy?

Marco Melandri:
Now it's different, but when I started Superbikes were four stroke and GP were two strokes and everybody was used to two strokes. I raced in the nation 125 championship, the Honda cup and then moved directly into the world championship. The bike in the world championship was more or less the same as the one I was used to riding so I felt it was probably the best way to start. I think the two stroke is a very good place to learn how to ride.

At the time the Superbike championship was small and I don't even remember a 600 class. Also you had to be a minimum of 18 years old so I didn't really have the choice.
Have Superbikes become more popular?

Marco Melandri:
Yeah, from this year they've moved to a big TV channel in Italy, previously only dedicated motorcycle fans were watching but now more people are getting interested in Superbikes. Now it's not only MotoGP and it's getting better and better for WSBK.

There is a domestic Superbike championship but the level is not very high, the English Superbike series is the best one I think.
Could you be persuaded to go to BSB?

Marco Melandri:
I don't know, for me I think the tracks are too dangerous. I watch them race and the level is very good and the show is very good but the tracks look too small and dangerous. I think the walls are too close and there's not enough run off area.
So I guess the TT is out of the question?

Marco Melandri:
Maybe with a scooter, but even then I'm not sure!
Which racing do you enjoy watching?

Marco Melandri:
I watch everything actually. I love watching BSB though, the racing is always exciting with big battles and sometimes even the riders look like they're crazy because they push so hard. I saw Byrne crash at Brands, and that looked like a big one.

MotoGP is perhaps less exciting because there are only really three guys in it, the last two races looked fun though. Normally Moto2 is always good.
Looking back at your long career, which would you say was your favourite one?

Marco Melandri:
I hope this year actually, I hope to have a good go at the championship and have something to celebrate at the end.
And how about your worst year?

Marco Melandri:
Too many. For sure 2008 [Factory Ducati team in MotoGP] was my worst year at a personal level. I had a very difficult feeling.

For me at Ducati the problem was at a personal level rather than necessarily the bike. Now everybody thinks that the bike has a problem but when I was there everybody though it was maybe the best bike in the field so the team, the garage and the paddock all thought that I was the problem.

Personally I spent the year fighting with everyone and that was the main problem for me rather than that the bike didn't have such a good performance.

I felt they were always looking at me when they should have been looking at the bike, in a way I can understand that though because my team-mate [Casey Stoner] was winning. For me the big problem was that nobody tried to help me or listen to me. It was a frustrating season and I almost stopped racing. At that time I was also having problems off track so wasn't having any fun on or off the race track.

I can't put my finger on the exact thing that was so different about the Ducati, there was not just one thing. It was just different.

2003, my first year in MotoGP, was also a difficult year for me because I had so many injuries.
Your performance on the Hayate [unbranded Kawasaki MotoGP entry in 2009] was good though?

Marco Melandri:
Yes the Hayate was a bike with really good potential to be developed into a really fast bike and helped to build my confidence. Confidence is important for any rider and is the secret of being fast. The team and garage supported me a lot and really helped me to come back strong.
Colin Edwards once said that MotoGP is business and Superbikes is pleasure, would you agree?

Marco Melandri:
Yeah, for sure. For example in Superbikes you have a press conference in the middle of the paddock in the middle of the people and that's good because the fans like to have some contact with the riders. In MotoGP it would be impossible to interact with riders. It's more friendly in the Superbike paddock and I prefer being there.
So a move back to the MotoGP paddock is unlikely?

Marco Melandri:
I don't know. My priority now is to get a bike that can win, if I can get a bike that can win, I'd think about that.
Kawasaki, Yamaha and BMW have all withdrawn from the championship when you were riding for them, do you think you would have achieved more with some continuity?

Marco Melandri:
I think so. The end of last year for example was totally different for me because BMW Germany were withdrawing. We were fighting for the championship but nobody had a job for the next year. We were under pressure to win but it wasn't a very healthy atmosphere to best do that.

It's a difficult situation and I don't know what to think.
When you arrived at BMW there was a noticeable increase in performance, not just for you, but also for Leon Haslam.

Marco Melandri:
Yeah, because it's team work. The rider can't do it alone, they have to have good people around them who can interpret your comments and therefore improve the bike.

When I first went to BMW, they had a lot of technology but were missing motorcycle experience. I brought many people from Yamaha one of whom was an electronic guy who totally changed the strategy of the bike. We brought everything with us actually and that would have helped Leon too.

The electronics that BMW were using was from the car racing world and is totally different from what a bike needs. They started from the base they were using in F1 but a bike has to lean.
So when you move teams, do you always take your crew with you?

Marco Melandri:
Yeah. I have the same crew now as I had at Yamaha. The crew chief and electronic engineer I met at Yamaha in 2011, Andrea I met at Kawasaki in 2009 and one mechanic from 2005 so I've kind of met my people along the way.

For me the continuity I get from working with the same people as I move is very important.
Is the GoldBet BMW you're riding this year and the official factory BMW you were riding last year the same motorbike?

Marco Melandri:
We've been trying to improve the bike race by race. Unfortunately all the plans we had at the end of last year to improve, we had many plans for the engine, had to be cancelled because BMW decided to withdraw.

The bike I'm riding at Goldbet isn't the same motorbike though and the results didn't start out so good because we had to start again from zero also with the chassis. The chassis was developed by the team and not the factory like it was last year and we had to find the way to go. Also the 17 inch tyre was also a change we had to work with.

For me the garage feels the same because I've got the same crew.
Do you feel that the bike is now as good as it was last season?

Marco Melandri:
It's different because of the new tyre, but when it's working well, it's working very well, that's for sure.
When you heard that BMW were withdrawing, was it a surprise?

Marco Melandri:
No, it wasn't a surprise for me. When they moved the German team to the Italian Goldbet team it seemed strange to me. When you've got a team fighting for the championship like we were doing last year, it's a very strange move to change things like they did. The only reason I could think was that they maybe wanted to save money.

We had a lot of plans for the engine and gearbox at the end of last year, but the people we made those plans with disappeared and didn't come back this year so it felt like something was happening.

As a team, we don't want to think about next year and BMW withdrawing, we just want to take it race by race. The atmosphere in the garage is OK though.
In general, what would you say are the strengths and weaknesses of your riding style?

Marco Melandri:
My weakness for sure is qualifying, many times in the dry I can't get a good place. A good point is that I can improve my lap times as the race goes on.
You're also known for your spectacular late overtaking manoeuvres, are you conscious of that?

Marco Melandri:
It's important to overtake if you want to win the race! I don't know why I overtake from so far back but it's only something you can do if you have a good feeling from the front.
What do you feel about Dorna's plans to make the racing simpler and cheaper for next reason?

Marco Melandri:
I'm just a rider and just want to ride the best bike I can and policy really isn't my job. For me it's important that we don't take any steps back in terms of technology though. Technologically I think that the level we've got now is correct with many manufacturers fighting together.
Have you had any offers for next year?

Marco Melandri:
I can say I've been talking to everyone but nothing is decided. At the moment I'm concentrating on having as free a mind as possible to do the job this year. I'm mainly talking in the WSBK paddock and everybody knows I'm free so everyone comes to talk.
Thanks Marco.

Marco Melandri:
No problems.

Manuela Raffaeta Q&A
Did you know that you're almost as famous as Marco now?

Manuela Raffaeta:
That question makes me smile, I think I'm only famous because of Marco. People love Marco and as a consequence love me.
What were you doing before you met Marco?

Manuela Raffaeta:
I'm a model; I worked for TV, fashion and advertising.
Were you into motorcycle racing before meeting Marco?

Manuela Raffaeta:
No, before I was a model and I worked in the fashion and the racing world was completely unknown to me. Now it's my life and also a great love of mine.
How did you meet? In Ravenna [both Marco and Manuela come from Ravenna]?

Manuela Raffaeta:
We met at a racing fair. I was working as model there and he was a guest at the stand where I was working. Someone introduced us to each other and our love story started there.
How long have you been together?

Manuela Raffaeta:
We haven't got an exact date but more or less eight years. We're been living together for four years now and I'm really enjoying it.
What do you consider your role to be in the pits? Do you have an official role?

Manuela Raffaeta:
My role in the pit is to stay close to him and do anything I can to help him do his job. I prepare and clean all his stuff even when I'm still modelling.
When you're in the pits, do you know the camera is on you?

Manuela Raffaeta:
Yes I know, but they do the same with all the girlfriends or wives. I like it but sometimes when I'm nervous I know that I don't look so good, I think I look like a "stuffed fish"!
You always look happy and confident in the pits watching, are you really?

Manuela Raffaeta:
Yes, I'm generally really happy, I try to keep the atmosphere calm.
Do you enjoy the attention?

Manuela Raffaeta:
Sometimes yes, sometimes no, it depends on the results.
How about the travelling lifestyle?

Manuela Raffaeta:
I don't really like it because I get travel sick in cars and planes, having said that though I love the family stability and travel for the man I love. I've travelled to races with him for four years now but we still manage to find time to be at home.
How do you feel when watching the races?

Manuela Raffaeta:
It depends how the race is going, sometimes good or sometimes with my heart in my mouth.
Who do you hang out with at races, other wives and girlfriends?

Manuela Raffaeta:
Yes usually with the other girlfriends and wives, we support and understand each other very well. I'm not shy though and love to talk to everyone.
Would you ever ask Marco to give up racing?

Manuela Raffaeta:
I'd never ask him. Sometime I've thought about it in difficult times, but there I'm just thinking of myself.
How is it when Marco has had a bad race?

Manuela Raffaeta:
It happens to everyone, I let him relax for a while and then approach him with a smile and try to get him to see the positive aspects of the situation. I try to be kind.
What are your ambitions?

Manuela Raffaeta:
I want to enlarge our family, become a good mother and support my man to get to his dream.
I believe you are getting married, are there any plans, where would you get married?

Manuela Raffaeta:
So far I've got the engagement ring but we're just taking things step by step. We haven't chosen a date yet because at the moment we've got other priorities, but as Marco always says, we're already married anyway!