WSBK » Max Biaggi


Max Biaggi

Career

In a dramatic career that has twisted and turned persistently over two decades, Max Biaggi hangs up his helmet having secured a second World Superbike Championship title in 2012, a victory that comfortably assures his reputation as one of the greatest motorcycle racers of all-time..

Affectionately known as the ‘Roman Emperor’ by fans and commentators, labelled ‘Mad Max’ by his critics, Biaggi has developed a ‘love me or loathe me’ reputation in motorcycling over the years. One thing is certain though – Biaggi is nothing less than colourful.

A graduate of the 250GP class where he won a staggering four consecutive world titles from 1994 to 1997, Biaggi maintained his momentum when he entered the 500GP fray in 1998 - winning two races in his debut season and only losing out to Mick Doohan, at the height of his powers, in the title race.

A switch from Honda to the factory Yamaha team from 1999-2002 brought further race wins, but - with hindsight - he and Yamaha crucially failed to capitalise on the years between Doohan's injury induced departure early in 1999 and Valentino Rossi's first world championship in 2001.

Instead, Doohan's team-mate Alex Criville would clinch the 1999 world title (with Biaggi just 4th, with one win), while Suzuki's Kenny Roberts Jr won the 2000 crown (with Biaggi 3rd, having taken two wins).

Between Roberts and Biaggi was the Honda of countryman Rossi who, in his debut 500cc season, was already challenging Biaggi as Italy's biggest motorcycle racing star - with a bitter rivalry soon flourishing as the intense Biaggi settled into his role as the dark 'antidote' to the extravagant, happy and massively popular Rossi.

Comments in the press by both riders had inflamed the situation still further and 2001 (the last 500cc season) started off in controversy as Biaggi appeared to elbow Rossi off the start-finish straight at Suzuka at over 120mph… The #46 soon recovered, retaking Biaggi and lifting his middle finger as he did so.

The pair would continue to clash on and off track - with a physical fight breaking out on the way to the Catalunya (round six) podium. Part of the reason for such tension was that the pair were evenly matched throughout the early part of 2001 - and after round 9 (of 16), the German Grand Prix, Rossi held a mere 10-point championship lead over Biaggi. But thereafter Biaggi's challenge faltered, leaving Rossi to comfortably win his first premier-class crown.

2002 saw the first season of the new four-stroke MotoGP class, which Rossi and the RCV went on to dominate - but Biaggi was again his closest rival, the Roman breaking the RCV domination of Rossi and team-mate Tohru Ukawa by claiming the first ever Yamaha M1 victory, at Brno, before taking a second M1 win later in the season.

During 2001/2002 Rossi or Biaggi won all but five races… but unfortunately for Biaggi, Rossi claimed 22 wins while he took five.

During those years, Biaggi's Yamaha machinery (both the 500cc of 2001 and the YZR-M1 of 2002) was seen as being inferior to Rossi's NSR500 and RC211V - making many argue that Biaggi could potentially beat Rossi on a Honda.

Biaggi appeared to grow ever more inclined to this way of thinking and split from Yamaha at the end of 2002 to take a satellite Honda ride with the Pons team for 2003. He would not be on exactly the same spec bike as factory rider Rossi, but it was still a Honda RCV.

However, Biaggi now had a challenger for 'best of the rest' title behind Rossi with a resurgent Sete Gibernau winning four of the first nine races. Biaggi went on to win two races later in the season, but could only collect third in the standings.

Biaggi remained at Pons for 2004 and with Rossi having sensationally switched to Yamaha the pair produced one of the greatest races of all time in the South African season opener at Welkom - battling on the limit for the entire race as they finished just 0.2secs apart and over 7secs from third placed Gibernau. Rossi had won a legendary victory, but a brief shake of the hands after crossing the line showed that the bitterness between the two Italians had mellowed, and was being replaced with a greater level of mutual respect - although never friendship.

A string of consistent top three results put Biaggi just one-point from Rossi after round eight of sixteen, but back-to-back DNFs at Portugal and Japan soon after would see him drop away from Rossi and again fall victim to Gibernau. Biaggi would only win one race in 2004, with Gibernau taking four wins and Rossi eight.

Rossi's 2004 season had taught Honda that they needed the best rider possible in their factory team - machinery alone was not enough - and with Gibernau contracted to Telefonica Movistar, making him unable to join the Repsol backed factory team, Biaggi finally got a dream factory Honda ride for 2005.

Legendary tuner Erv Kanemoto was reunited with Biaggi to help his title attack, but the dream soon to into a nightmare when - despite headline grabbing pre-season testing performances - he suddenly began suffering chattering and other handling problems with the bike just before the start of the season.

Incredibly, and for whatever reason, those problems would never be solved to Biaggi's satisfaction - with a third place in the rain interrupted second round at Estoril proving a false dawn as Biaggi continued to struggle during practice and qualifying, but would often produce strong race performances.

The only highlights of an otherwise frustrating season were a strong second place in his home Italian Grand Prix - after which he rode with a huge pirate flag, summing up the 'black knight' role to which he has been cast - and a further runner-up position to Loris Capirossi in the Japanese Grand Prix.

In total Biaggi took four podiums for a lowly fifth in the championship - having failed to win a race for the first time since he joined the premier-class in 1998. Worse still, young team-mate Nicky Hayden won the US GP and finished third in the points, with satellite Honda rider Marco Melandri - with whom Biaggi would clash for alleged blocking during qualifying at Assen - taking two wins on an RCV to finish the year runner-up to Rossi.

Biaggi's subsequent downfall after the 2005 season would prove every bit as dramatic - and well publicised - as his duels with Doohan and Rossi, with the first signs that Honda was losing patience with the Roman coming at the tail end of 2005, when it was rumoured that he would not be allowed to ride due to criticisms of the company.

HRC appeared to have been angered by comments, attributed to Biaggi, that there was some sort of conspiracy against him - thoughts fuelled by Italian journalists who pointed out that some satellite RCVs had a higher top speed than his factory machine - although no official comment was ever made.

After his nightmare 2005, it was no surprise when Biaggi was replaced by 250cc star Dani Pedrosa, but the depth of Honda's disapproval of Biaggi only came to light when it emerged - towards the end of 2005 - that HRC did not want Biaggi on any Honda in 2006.

Usually a former factory Honda rider has no problem securing a satellite Honda seat when they leave the team, as the likes of Tohru Ukawa and Alex Barros had done - and Camel, title sponsors of the Honda Pons team, made clear they wanted Biaggi back for 2006.

But Honda held firm and, with Camel remaining loyal to Biaggi, began searching for a seat with other MotoGP manufacturers. A third factory Kawasaki looked likely, but the deal fell apart in December and Camel were eventually forced to admit defeat in finding Biaggi a 2006 seat.

The fallout from the saga wasn't only limited to Biaggi since Camel - disgusted with the "unsporting" attitude of Honda (and some other manufacturers who had denied Biaggi a ride despite the money on offer) - withdrew sponsorship from the Honda Pons team - that had lined up Carlos Checa and Casey Stoner for 2006 - and took it to the factory Yamaha outfit of Rossi and Colin Edwards.

The loss of Camel backing in turn forced the Pons team to withdraw from the 2006 MotoGP World Championship.

Meanwhile, Biaggi turned his attention to World Superbikes - who were keen to welcome the Roman - but negotiations with reigning champion's Alstare Suzuki fell apart when they were unable to guarantee 'machine equality' with factory riders Troy Corser and Yukio Kagayama. The problem appeared to be that some of Alstare's (Japanese) component suppliers weren't willing to supply the extra Biaggi bike - further fallout from the Roman's Honda split?

Before the collapse of the 2006 WSBK negotiations, Biaggi made the headlines once again by testing a Midland F1 car at a wet Silverstone (Rossi having been testing a Ferrari on and off the previous year) while plans were made for a possible motorcycle comeback in 2007…

That comeback was duly confirmed when Biaggi signed to ride for Alstare Suzuki in the 2007 World Superbike championship, at the expense of Corser.

Biaggi avoided pre-season predictions, but then stunned the two-wheeled world - and silenced his critics - by winning on his WSBK race debut at Qatar. Biaggi went on to take at least one podium from each of the first six rounds, although it took until round nine - at Brno - for his second race win.

Biaggi's third and final win of the year came in front of his home fans at the penultimate Vallelunga round and propelled Biaggi into title contention heading into the final round of the year at Magny Cours, which began with James Toseland, Biaggi and Noriyuki Haga covered by 33 points (with 50 still available).

Unfortunately for Biaggi, he had little experience of the French circuit and, while Haga stormed to a double victory, Toseland took the crown by just two points from the Japanese. Biaggi claimed 6-2 results to finish an excellent debut season third in the championship, 18 points from Toseland, having taken 17 podiums from his first 25 WSBK races.

However, Biaggi had still not re-signed for Alstare Suzuki as he left Magny Cours and it was soon confirmed that he would not be riding for the team in 2008 due to the loss of title sponsor Corona - although Biaggi insisted technical assurances were his main concern.

Biaggi looked in real danger of being forced into retirement, but be then linked to a satellite Ducati ride on one of the brand new 1200cc 1098s. Former BSB champions GSE were initially (incorrectly) linked to running the Roman, before Ducati's existing WSBK satellite team Sterilgarda named Biaggi alongside 2007 race winner Ruben Xaus.

Despite the ‘satellite’ tag, Biaggi showed impressive pace on the Ducati during the opening round to climb onto the podium twice, but a mammoth accident at the following Phillip Island would leave him with a fractured wrist.

Although he returned to action at the next Valencia round, Biaggi didn’t return to the podium until the eighth round of the season at Misano when he trailed team-mate Xaus for a historic 1-2 finish for Sterilgarda.

The result kick-started a run of good form for Biaggi, who managed a further four podiums before the season was out to end the year a respectable seventh overall. However, while he finished the year ahead of Ducati factory rider Michel Fabrizio, he remained win-less.

For 2009, Biaggi was tipped to be heading for a dream role with Ducati Xerox following the news that Troy Bayliss was to retire. However, despite Biaggi making noises about his desire to go, the announcement that Ducati has signed Noriyuki Haga left him looking elsewhere.

Nonetheless, Biaggi would keep his Italian fans happy by confirming a move to WSBK returnees Aprilia, reviving a relationship that had yielded several 250cc titles a decade earlier.

Although question marks over the RSV-4’s competitiveness lingered at the start of the season, Biaggi immediately emerged as a surprise front runner, securing a double podium finish in only the bike’s second event.

While it would take Biaggi another four months to find the rostrum again at Donington Park, he would go on to find the top step at the very next event in Brno for his first win in two years and Aprilia’s first WSBK triumph in seven. With the bike proving both fast and reliable, Biaggi managed another five podiums for Aprilia to end the season a fine fourth in the overall standings.

As expected, Biaggi re-signed for 2010, his fine end to the previous season seeing him touted as a potential title challenger. It was a status he embraced, Biaggi shrugging off a fairly average opener in Australia to stamp his authority with a double victory at Portimao.

Harnessing the RSV-4 evident straight-line speed advantage, while Leon Haslam had the edge on him during the opening half of the year, a mid-season rout saw Biaggi snatch and runaway with the initiative to gallop to a popular title win.

His victory was as masterful as it was cool, Biaggi finishing every single race – and only twice outside the top six – and claiming ten victories in all, including four ‘doubles’. An Italian legend winning on an Italian made and sponsored bike, Biaggi duly assured himself of legendary status.

With a second child on the way, rumours suggested Biaggi would take the opportunity retire on top ‘a la Bayliss’, but while he kept us guessing for a little while, he committed to another two seasons with Aprilia.

Confident of retaining his title, despite the loss of the gear-driven camshafts that more cynical observers felt aided his championship win, Biaggi’s 2011 season was characterised by an occasional lack of composure, particularly when under pressure.

His Donington Park exploits, which included an embarrassing spat with former MotoGP sparring partner Marco Melandri, several get-offs and a DQ for a blatant jump-start, suggested Biaggi was still prone to moments of mental frailty, while his Monza drive-thru for not heeding the limitations of the circuit proved another much-talked about controversy.

Even so, his results elsewhere were far better, even if it took him until Motorland Aragon to taste the winners’ champagne, a feat he would repeat just once more over the season at Brno.

A bizarre foot injury at the Nurburgring, which kept him sidelined for three events, made it hard to guess exactly how well a fully-fit Biaggi would have fared overall, though most will agree it wouldn’t have been a title challenge against a dominant Checa.

Staying put for 2012, Biaggi’s indifferent title defence meant he was only casually regarded as one of the year’s championship challengers. However, a win at the opening round – coupled to a marvellous fight back from last to second position in the second race -, immediately suggested he would be a more convincing contender this time around.

Ironically, given the explosive start to his season, Biaggi proceeded to build his championship advantage with consistency, rather than outright success, so much so that it wasn’t until round seven that he found himself at the top of the podium again.

A run of three mid-season wins at Misano and Aragon would see Biaggi pull as clear as 60 points in the overall standings, only for errors to creep into his game at Silverstone and Moscow, allowing a charging Melandri back into the title reckoning.

As it happens, Melandri’s challenge would come apart at Nurburgring and Portimao, though Biaggi would still have to contend with the in-form Tom Sykes coming into the final round. Another accident during the first race at Magny-Cours will give Sykes a sniff at a shock title win, but Biaggi would do just enough to secure a second career crown by a mere 0.5 points.

Proof that consistency is key to a title challenge (Biaggi didn’t win the most races or score the most pole positions in 2012), Biaggi’s victory was tempered with rumours that he may choose to bow out on a high and head for retirement.

After several weeks of silence and speculation, Biaggi eventually revealed that he will hang up his helmet with immediate effect, concluding a glittering career that yielded 13 500GP/MotoGP wins, 21 WSBK wins and a total of 6 world titles to his name.



Career Highlights:

2012: World Superbike Championship, Aprilia, Champion (5 wins)

2011: World Superbike Championship, Aprilia Alitalia, 3rd (2 wins)

2010: World Superbike Championship, Aprilia Alitalia, Champion (10 wins)

2009: World Superbike Championship, Aprilia Racing, 4th (1 win)

2008: World Superbike Championship, Sterilgarda Ducati, 7th

2007: World Superbike Championship, Suzuki Corona Alstare, 3rd (3 wins)

2006: Did Not Compete

2005: MotoGP World Championship, Repsol Honda, 5th

2004: MotoGP World Championship, Pons Honda, 3rd (1 win)

2003: MotoGP World Championship, Pons Honda, 3rd (2 wins)

2002: MotoGP World Championship, Marlboro Yamaha, 2nd (2 wins)

2001: 500cc World Championship, Marlboro Yamaha, 2nd (3 wins)

2000: 500cc World Championship, Marlboro Yamaha, 3rd (2 wins)

1999: 500cc World Championship, Marlboro Yamaha, 4th (1 win)

1998: 500cc World Championship, Marlboro Kanemoto Honda, 2nd (2 wins)

1997: 250cc World Championship, Honda, Champion (5 wins)

1996: 250cc World Championship, Aprilia, Champion (9 wins)

1995: 250cc World Championship, Aprilia, Champion (8 wins)

1994: 250cc World Championship, Aprilia, Champion (5 wins)

1993: 250cc World Championship, Honda, 4th (1 win)

1992: 250cc World Championship, Aprilia, 5th (1 win)

1991: 250cc World Championship, Aprilia, 27th

250cc European Championship, Aprilia, Champion

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