Question: Did Marco Melandri exceed expectations in 2012 by turning the BMW into a race winning title contender for the first time, or does he deserve criticism for scuppering those championship dreams quite so spectacularly? Answering the question depends very much on your perspective to the argument…
Coming off the back of a headline-grabbing debut year with Yamaha, though there was little doubting Melandri's qualities as a rider on proven machinery, the natural assumption that he would be a title contender in 2012 was clouded by his switch to BMW.
After all, Melandri had shown he could be quick on a Superbike, but could he help develop one that had – in three years – not yet scored a single win?
Such fears were cooled when he sprung to the podium in his very first race aboard the S1000RR, though fairly mediocre results over the next three rounds certainly didn't suggest he would emerge as a title contender. However, Melandri would begin to turn it around on his happy hunting ground at Donington Park – scene of his first WSBK win a year earlier – when he not only scored BMW's long-awaited first win, but did so by striking a psychological blow over team-mate Leon Haslam, with whom he had been fairly evenly-matched beforehand.
The infamous fracas with Haslam on the final corner of the second Donington race and a DNF at Misano again appeared to suggest that Melandri was slipping away into a learning year on the BMW, but a run of four wins in seven races would transform that status as he quickly hunted down Max Biaggi at the top of the leaderboard.
The form was relentless, so when Melandri reeled off his sixth win of the season at the Moscow Raceway, it was his name at the head of the standings. Such momentum with three rounds remaining would even prompt many to stop taking bets on who would walk away with the title…
And yet, having taken nearly all season to build a convincing title campaign, it would take barely any time for Melandri's hopes to come to a stuttering halt. Tumbles in both races at the Nurburgring tipped him onto the back foot before a messy fall at Portimao struck a critical blow to both his back and his title dreams, leaving him third overall in the end.
While Melandri has never given much away about the accidents – pressure, complacency, simple bad luck… -, the man himself certainly believes he competed above and beyond expectations in 2012 and, in many ways, he did.
Notwithstanding the higher proportion of mistakes he committed, Melandri was arguably the best race day rider out there, which is no mean feat on a bike he says has a fairly small window of optimum performance. Somewhat more ominously for his rivals, there is seemingly much more to come, with his qualifying and wet weather performance notably lacking in 2012.