While a win-less maiden campaign as a factory-backed Ducati rider wasn't exactly what he and Davide Tardozzi had originally been striving for, Michel Fabrizio still entered 2009 with a solid foundation from which to progress.
And progress he certainly did, the charismatic Italian ending his sophomore season by scoring a debut victory – a feat he would repeat on two further occasions -, a total of 15 podiums and a third place finish in the standings.
Aiming to stamp his mark on 'number one' status in light of Troy Bayliss' departure and Noriyuki Haga's arrival, a tardy start to the season would instead leave Fabrizio out of the running for the title fight, as well as hand his team-mate the psychological upper hand.
It was an unfortunate occurrence as, for the most part, Fabrizio had the pace of title rivals Ben Spies and Haga at times in 2009. However, while the Roman found his consistency mid-season to complete an unbroken run of eight podiums, he was never anything closer than arm's length to the championship lead.
Furthermore, while he has emerged from 2009 with an envious set of statistics, Fabrizio didn't always endear himself to rivals, fans and commentators alike over the season. His bungled attempts at an overtaking manoeuvre over Spies at Brno prompted a furious reaction from the normally placid American, while his 'surprise' victory over Haga on home ground at Imola led many to blame him for the Japanese rider's failure to secure this year's title.
On-track incidents and conspiracy theories aside though, Fabrizio came of age in 2009. While his win at Monza was fortuitous and his Imola victory controversial, he went some way to redeeming himself with a fine last lap win at Portimao, a result otherwise ignored amongst the hubbub of the title conclusion.
Regardless of whether Fabrizio lost himself a few friends at Ducati, he stays put for another season and Haga knows he will be kept on his toes. After all, there is no better way to make people forget about previous 'indiscretions' by launching a title challenge of your own – and Fabrizio seems very capable of doing that in 2010…
1st (Monza, Imola, Portimao)
Top 10 WSBK Rider of the Year 2008:
Top 10 WSBK Rider of the Year 2009:
- Regis Laconi
- Jakub Smrz
- Troy Corser
- Shane Byrne