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Interview

The young Italian embodying his legendary MotoGP team owner

OPINION: Marco Bezzecchi has quickly marked himself out as a top tier MotoGP talent in his first two seasons in the premier class. His laid back, fun nature hides a fiercely dedicated rider – not unlike the legend who owns the team he races for…

Marco Bezzecchi, VR46 Racing Team

Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Turning up to his final debrief of the 2023 MotoGP season with a beer in hand having been caught up in a lap one collision to quite eloquently slam Marc Marquez for being “the dirtiest” rider on the field summed Marco Bezzecchi up to a tee.

Bezzecchi comes across as a cool, laid-back character, strolling the MotoGP paddock like it’s his playground. It’s easy to understand where that comes from. The VR46 team and the VR46 Academy that has developed Bezzecchi are, of course, owned by MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi.

MORE: How a struggling MotoGP sophomore saved his career but highlighted a wider issue

The nine-times grand prix world champion won the hearts of millions by being a rock star off-track who was devastatingly talented on it. Racing was fun, but the dedication needed to continue to be successful for such a long time was never lost on Rossi. That approach permeates every venture Rossi has undertaken in his career and is very evident in his riders, not least Bezzecchi.

“The balance between fun and job and good results needs to stay concentrated,” VR46 team director Uccio Salucci told Autosport in 2023. “For sure we are a family, funny team. But we need to remain focused.”

Bezzecchi has been a quick learner in grand prix racing. He scored a maiden podium in his first year in Moto3 before challenging for the title in year two in 2018. A step up to Moto2 in 2019 was difficult due to the lacklustre KTM chassis he was on, but a move to VR46 on a Kalex the following year yielded two wins. Not quite on par with the title challengers in 2021, Bezzecchi was still third in the standings and earned his promotion to MotoGP with VR46 Ducati for the next season.

Bezzecchi was a cut above the rest of the rookie crop in 2022, scoring a podium at Assen and finishing the year 87 points clear of the next newcomer in the standings. Year two has been standout, with the 25-year-old scoring three grand prix wins on his way to third in the standings on a year-old Ducati, remaining in title contention as an outsider until the Malaysian GP.

“I expected to go fast but never to get so many good results, especially because it’s only my second season,” Bezzecchi tells Autosport about his year. “But as soon as we started, I saw that with the bike I was feeling confident and I was going fast, having good lap times in the test. But test compared to race weekend is always different, so I wanted to wait until Portimao, which was a track that normally never gave me really good sensations. So, when in the race I made the podium I said ‘ok, this year I will be strong every race’. But I didn’t expect to fight [for] the championship.”

Bezzecchi scored three grands prix wins in 2023

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Bezzecchi scored three grands prix wins in 2023

Bezzecchi contributes his big step from 2022 to 2023 on his experience of the Ducati, but also being “more in shape to ride the bike”. Being part of the eight-rider Ducati stable has also provided him access to a lot of data with which he has been able to improve from.

Consistency is something that did elude Bezzecchi at times in 2023, with strong weekends often followed by dips in form. After his Argentina win, he was sixth in Austin. After his Le Mans win, he was second in the Mugello sprint but only eighth in the GP. A late-season collarbone injury didn’t help his cause, but he concedes the big weakness he needs to iron out is his starts.

FEATURE: Ranking the top 10 riders of the 2023 MotoGP season

“What I know that I’m missing and what I’m trying to improve is a bit the start,” he explains. “And because of the start the first couple of laps are where I’m still not really strong, especially if I start in the mid-group. I struggle in the start and then I lose some positions, then in the beginning of the race [it] is really difficult and to recover is tough. And sometimes I’m able to recover, like in Austria, like in Thailand, but sometimes it’s more difficult. Or you can get involved in an accident. In India I was involved but I was in pole position. But the start is still a problem that I have. I’m trying to solve. Sometimes I find the solution and sometimes no.”

Part of his starting issues were not totally of his making. He didn’t receive the updated start device that the factory Ducati runners got midway through the campaign. However, Bezzecchi insists “I have to improve” just as much as he needs his bike to evolve. As such, that may make his decision to remain with VR46 on a year-old Ducati in 2024 seem a little odd given he had an offer to join Pramac on a fully factory-supported GP24.

"Everyone is motivated, so I am also very motivated even if I have a lot of fun and I enjoy a lot staying with them. But when it’s time to work, I like to work deeply in what I want and they are like me" Marco Bezzecchi

Bezzecchi felt remaining in his current surroundings would be better for him, not only to evolve as a rider, but to ensure when the majority of factory team contracts come up for grabs at the end of 2024 that he didn’t miss the boat by struggling early next season in adjusting to life at Pramac.

“If I have to change team, I want to change to a factory team,” he affirms. “But a real factory team. Pramac has a factory team of course, but it’s not the factory Ducati team. And for me to change satellite team for another satellite team makes no sense, even if the bike is a little bit better. At the end, my dream is to go into the factory team of Ducati. So, why do I have to change the team made just for me with the people that chose me at the beginning of last year to go into another team with the same bike – a little bit better, but not a real factory bike – with completely different people?

“So, my target and also the Academy’s target is to make the riders grow and make them step [up] to a factory team. So, until I don’t have the possibility to go to a factory team I will not change for another satellite team. But my decision was because I want to go to Ducati red.”

Valentino Rossi isn't a

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Valentino Rossi isn't a "pretend" team owner, which has helped Bezzecchi to grow in his second year

Room at the inn will be the issue, with Francesco Bagnaia now a double champion, Jorge Marin chomping at his heels at Pramac and of course the arrival of Marc Marquez at Gresini. For now, this is “not a problem”.

Coming from Bezzecchi, you can sense he means that sincerely. And that is testament to the job VR46 has done in creating a surrounding within which Bezzecchi can be himself: a rider who likes to “have a lot of fun” but also “work deeply” on his racing.

“The team is making a wonderful job,” he adds. “All my crew is fantastic, I know them from many years and I have a very good relationship with them. Also, we take care of every detail at home because I have the possibility to work with Uccio, Matteo [Flamigni], because they are Italian, also from home. So, for me it’s important to also have this relationship to try to sometimes meet also at home, go to have lunch and just speak about everything – not just about motorcycles.

“But to build this relationship with them, for me it was important. Then also they all want to fight for victories and podiums and good results. Everyone is motivated, so I am also very motivated even if I have a lot of fun and I enjoy a lot staying with them. But when it’s time to work, I like to work deeply in what I want and they are like me. So, we are very similar like this and we motivate each other and we charge each other. They are also very good technically.”

Representing the Valentino Rossi brand – and, by association, carrying forward his immense legacy – should be a daunting prospect. But Bezzecchi considers this “more a privilege than a pressure” because Rossi is “not a team owner who pretends. He wants you to go fast, but if you are struggling, he is the first guy who comes to help”.

After his second season in MotoGP, it’s not hard to see why Rossi took Bezzecchi under his wing and continued to back him. His decision to turn down a factory bike to stay within a surrounding that is allowing him to thrive speaks volumes about his maturity and his strength in backing himself to be even more competitive in 2024 on a year-old package.

Rossi and the VR46 Academy may have already tasted championship success through Bagnaia. But Bezzecchi is fast marking himself out as being a rider who is more than capable of adding to this tally in the future.

Bezzecchi has the factory Ducati team seat in his sights for 2025

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Bezzecchi has the factory Ducati team seat in his sights for 2025

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