As foreshadowed in my posting yesterday, current WSBK champion, Max Biaggi, announced his retirement from motorcycle racing last night, aged 41. At an age where most serious riders have already retired, Biaggi was known for his longevity.
The stats don’t really tell the full story of The Roman Emperor’s career (do they ever?). Six world championships (4 x 250cc grand prix) and (2 x WSBK). 63 victories to his name. 29 in the 250cc class, 13 in the 500cc/MotoGp class and 21 in WSBK. Pretty impressive I’m sure you’d agree. This spread over a career that spanned 22 years. Incidentally, if you are interested in the nitty gritty of Max’s career, the Wikipedia entry is pretty exhaustive.
But, as already noted, it was the man himself and his often stormy relationship with those around him that will be what he is remembered for most. Biaggi was notoriously grumpy, even as a young rider, finding fault with the media, the organisers, his mechanics and even his employers. Indeed, he famously fell out with his then employers, Aprilia, after winning three world titles in a row for them in 1994, 5 & 6, switching to a privately entered Honda for 1997 and winning his 4th 250cc crown and vowing never to ride for Aprilia again. In hindsight we can see that that was a relationship that healed over time, Biaggi returning to the “fold” in 2009 to work with the Noale concern and its new WSBK effort. That relationship yielded two world championships, 2010 and 2102.
As with most riders at this level there is usually a defining moment in their career and for Biaggi it will be that famous “wheelie” for which most of us will remember him.
Brno, 1998. Max was in his maiden year in 500cc racing and had just won the GP. His celebrations nearly went very pear shaped indeed.
In his later career, Max’s relationship with the paddock and the press became even spikier, if that were possible. Reclusive almost to a ridiculous extent, Max performed the PR duties required of him with precision but with very little grace. Indeed, whether or not I would even get to SPEAK to him while doing media duties at PI earlier this year was the subject of a bet with Jim Race that I fortunately did not make. Suffice it to say that Jim was spot on. Despite spending 4 days hanging around the pits, indeed spending nearly half an hour in the adjoining pit bay interviewing Max’s team-mate, Biaggi never once acknowledged anyone except his close coterie of friends who surrounded him for every moment he was seen in public.
It is normally expected that the top flight of riders be available and accessible, this being one feature that distinguishes our sport from the stupidity that is Formula One, but Max bucked the trend and will probably be remembered instead as one of the best riders of his era but also one who made the fewest number of friends.
Who will replace him? Well, the scramble has no doubt already begun. What effect will the absence of the #1 plate holder have for the WSBK championship next year? It probably is the worst possible timing for this aspect of the equation. Hopefully a new, bright star will emerge who will fly the WSBK flag. Quite who it will be I don’t know. Most of the top flight riders in the category now are nearing the ends of their careers. Tom Sykes? There’s an intriguing prospect.
Personality foibles aside, Max Biaggi has the runs on the board and retires at the top of his game, something few riders have the luxury of doing. I wish him well in retirement though he will probably never know that I have done so!!