It’s been quite a start to the season for Francesco Bagnaia. Still relatively fresh from announcing a deal that will see him climb to the MotoGP class in 2019, the young Italian has secured his first and second wins in Moto2 in the opening three races of the year.

Arriving in Spain for the beginning of the European slog, the 21-year old has already made good on the promise shown in his rookie campaign in the intermediate class, and finds himself fighting it out for a debut world crown for the first time.

If last season is anything to go by, Bagnaia is well on his way. Jerez was the first real showing aboard a Moto2 600cc machine, and from there he accumulated a run of twelve top ten finishes from 15. Crucially, there has only been one DNF in that time, too. Little wonder Ducati and Yamaha were keen to attain his services for the future.

Crash.net caught up with the Italian at the Grand Prix of Argentina in April to speak about deciding between two of MotoGP’s biggest factories, some of the practices of the VR46 Academy, and the unlikely relationship with fellow championship challenger Lorenzo Baldassarri.

Crash.net:
How does it feel to be a race winner in Moto2?

Francesco Bagnaia:
It’s different. My first win in Moto3 was incredible because it was with Mahindra, with Team Aspar, and it was my first. That was different, maybe more intense. To win in the Moto2 class with a race like this, and my team’s first win in Moto2, has been very positive. Starting the year like this was incredible and I’m feeling very strong now.

Crash.net:
Were you surprised that Lorenzo Baldassarri was the rider challenging you?

Francesco Bagnaia:
Yes. I was not expecting him in the race but finally he has a good mentality, I feel. Also in the race, in the last laps, he was really strong. He tried to overtake me and it was nice that he was with me. But I was not expecting him [to be there]! He will be an interesting candidate for the title win.

Crash.net:
Does the start to the season confirm the good work done by Kalex over the winter? It appeared KTM had stolen a march at the end of '17...

Francesco Bagnaia:
Yeah, last year we made good work at the last race in Valencia. The improvements we made with the bike are so big. For me and for my riding style, I’m more comfortable. I’m very strong with the bike and the team. It’s more easy for me. I think KTM will arrive. In this race [in Argentina] they will be with us, for sure.

Yes, I was thinking that they would be with us in Qatar because the grip wasn’t so good. When the grip isn’t so high, KTM is better. Maybe we have made a good step in front and KTM has lost something, because [finishing] ten seconds from me is too much, I think. But maybe something happened that is not correct and I want to see here in Argentina if they will be with us because the grip is low. Oliveira last year did a really strong race, especially in the last ten laps. If it’s dry for sure KTM will be at the front.

Crash.net:
You have always been strong at the end of the race. Is this something that you work on specifically away from the track?

Francesco Bagnaia:
In this preseason we have worked so much with used tyres and also [a] full [tank of] fuel so I could adapt to that. Now we saw in Qatar that during the first laps I was fast and strong. Also in the last laps I was constantly fast. But maybe if I have more feeling in the first laps, it could be worse later in the race. We have to see because in Qatar we were with very hard tyres. We have to see at other tracks like here [Circuito Termas de Rio Hondo], Jerez, Mugello or Le Mans in those conditions with softer tyres whether we can go faster in the last laps. For me, we can but we will have to see.

Crash.net:
When you say you’ve been working on this, is that riding around Italian tracks with an R6?

Francesco Bagnaia:
We worked on that and for me it was to help with long runs. But it’s a different riding style because you need to ride the R6 like a Moto3 with a lot of speed inside the corner. In the middle of the corner you can give full gas and the bike stays there [on the line]; it doesn’t slide or move so it’s unlike a Moto2 bike. But for us it’s better because we can make long runs, race simulations and it’s a very positive way of training.

Crash.net:
Can you explain some of the other benefits of being a member of the VR46 Academy?

Francesco Bagnaia:
I can say that we are very lucky to be in the Academy. In every area we have the best of the best. Training together with Valentino, or going to the ranch, going to Misano or Mugello to train with the bike… They are little things that make the difference. It’s a very, very positive thing for all the guys at the Academy. I can learn something from Luca [Marini – SKY Racing VR46 team-mate] or Luca can learn something from me. This is very important.

Crash.net:
A lot of you race against one another. Do you find the riders in the academy are open? Are you all willing to give advice?

Francesco Bagnaia:
The philosophy of Valentino is that. I live with Lorenzo in Italy. We are living together. It has been a strange when we arrived at home because I finished first, him second, and we were speaking about the race. It was nice.

Crash.net:
You read stories of Valentino, his ranch and the riders that attend and you get a sense of guys just obsessed with bikes and racing. Are you the same when away from the track?

Francesco Bagnaia:
I like to clear the mind and think about other things, like staying with my girlfriend or staying with my friends, or my family. But I like to watch racing anytime it’s on television, to analyse the past races.

Crash.net:
Do you do this with Baldassarri?

Francesco Bagnaia:
Yeah, we watched the race two or three times in the last two weeks. Every time we saw something different.

Crash.net:
How did you get involved with the VR46 Academy?

Francesco Bagnaia:
We started the relationship in Phillip Island, I remember. We started speaking to Uccio. In January or February I signed a three-year contract with the Academy. I started to be an Academy member. Then in 2014 I moved to Pesaro and lived in a hotel. Before then [I spent] two months at home with Nicolo Bulega. In January in 2015 I moved to this home and I have shared with Balda from the first year.

Crash.net:
Your rivals for the year ahead have marked you out as a championship favourite. What do you think are your strengths on the bike at the moment?

Francesco Bagnaia:
It’s difficult to say because I’m strong in the braking but also in the middle of the corner I have a good speed. I can get the bike [picked] up very fast. It’s something that can really help with [conserving] tyres with this bike. But I think that most of the advantage that I have is in the braking.

Crash.net:
At the end of 2014 you left this team to go to Aspar Mahindra. What was the reason behind that?

Francesco Bagnaia:
Because understood that with my riding style it was very difficult to ride a KTM. Also the team was different. I needed something different and I moved to Aspar, that was like I wanted. It was very positive for me, to have two years on the Mahindra. I understood so many things. When I saw the team of SKY is like as it is now, then I moved back here and into Moto2. Now the team is completely like another world.

Crash.net:
So you’ve noticed a big difference with the team since you returned?

Francesco Bagnaia:
Completely different. [It’s] A different mentality, different [way of] work. This is what we need as a rider.

Crash.net:
Does that come from the team having more experience?

Francesco Bagnaia:
For sure. Now I have more experience and I can say to the team if I need something, like I need to work in this way, and they can follow me. This is very important for my part of the team. Last year in the first test it was important to understanding the way of working. Apart from the first three races we have made a good step in Jerez. [Before] We had changed too much the work but at Jerez we learned something and I think now we are very, very strong.

Crash.net:
In your first year riding for this team [in 2014], and then in that opening year at Aspar [in '15] you were fast but a little wild and inconsistent. There was definitely a big improvement going into 2016. What changed?

Francesco Bagnaia:
In 2015 I spoke so much with Uccio [Salucci - Valentino Rossi's best friend and boss at the VR46 Academy] and Vale. They said to me that I could go fast but that I needed to be more calm in the race because I was always too aggressive or braking too strong or too late. It was not correct for me and not good for the other riders. When I understood that in 2016 and I made a good step. I did the third podium in the first five races. It was a completely different season compared to the first three. Now I’m continuing to learn things. From the first test of preseason I’ve learned so many things again. We are continuing to understand different things to go better in every session.

Crash.net:
So remaining calm was an integral part of your development?

Francesco Bagnaia:
Yes, for everything.

Crash.net:
You have a deal to ride in MotoGP with Pramac Ducati next year. Lin Jarvis, Yamaha’s managing director, told us in Qatar that he was interested in signing you as well. Did you have a lot of interest?

Francesco Bagnaia:
I was speaking with Pramac in November last year. It was my objective. Ducati was my objective. It was a bike that I like so much. Also when I heard that Yamaha wanted me, it was very difficult. They are two ways that are so different but two good ways. It was difficult to say ‘Yes’ to Yamaha because Yamaha was without a [satellite] team. I preferred to sign with Ducati. My prospective with the team that was very good. I have a long contract because I have two years plus one. For me it’s a good way to start with a team in MotoGP. I have to learn so many things. It’s a completely different way of working. I need more than one year to understand everything.

Crash.net:
When you’re making these kinds of a decisions, is it normal to consult with Valentino, for him to give you a lot of advice?

Francesco Bagnaia:
We have spoken a lot; not before I signed, but in November last year. He said to me that the decision was mine, that Ducati is growing up a lot and that it could be a good choice. For sure the Yamaha is more, not easy, but for a rookie you can understand everything much quicker. Maybe it’s more easy to work with it. But he said the choice was mine, to think about it a lot, and only to sign when I was ready.

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